The Winter Holidays in St. Louis – Things to See & Do

Photo credit: Melinda Smith

We are on our second-in-a-row snow day at VdM, so it’s time to start planning some winter family activities. Some of St. Louis’ best destinations get gussied up with lights and sparkle this time of year, ready for festive celebrations! Read on for ideas for your family in the coming weeks.

Outdoor Fun

Take the family sledding at Art Hill in Forest Park, Crestwood Park in Crestwood or any of these awesome sledding hills in and around St. Louis. You can do this for free and for as long as there’s snow on the ground.

Art Hill in Forest Park
Image courtesy of Riverfront Times

Ice skaters can head downtown to Winterfest Ice Rink in Kiener Plaza. On Kid/Family Sundays, you’ll be joined by characters like Snow White and Elsa. Winterfest Ice Rink also has a great new year’s eve celebration. Lace up your skates now through January 26.

Winterfest Ice Rink in Downtown St. Louis

For more outdoor ice skating, check out Steinberg Skating Rink in Forest Park through March 1.

Union Station and the Aquarium Grand Opening

Union Station opened as a train station 125 years ago and has reinvented itself many times since. This year Union Station completes an extensive renovation including the brand new St. Louis Aquarium. The Aquarium opens December 25 and is sure to be a fantastic experience!

St. Louis Aquarium in Union Station – Opens December 25

The new Union Station also offers a glimpse into St. Louis history in the Grand Hall, a giant Ferris wheel, a carousel, a ropes course, mini golf, several delicious restaurants and, during the holiday season, The Polar Express Train Ride. Purchase tickets to experience the magic of the classic children’s book through December 30.


Colorful and bright, elegant and tasteful and (ahem) flashy and full of character—there’s no shortage of holiday light displays in this town.

Drive, walk or take a carriage ride through Winter Wonderland in Ladue’s Tilles Park, an extravagant light display put on by St. Louis County Parks. Purchase tickets now through January 2.

Winter Wonderland at Tilles Park in Ladue

In St. Louis Hills, drive or walk through Candy Cane Lane—a neighborhood transformed by its residents into a fun, kitchy and beautiful winter wonderland. To round out the tradition stop at Ted Drewes on Chippewa first. The entrance to Candy Cane Lane is right behind it. No tickets are required, and the lights are up through December 31.

Candy Cane Lane in St. Louis Hills

Many more gawking-at-lights opportunities are available, including Wild Lights at the Saint Louis Zoo through December 30, the Way of Lights at Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, IL through December 31 or Celebration of Lights in O’Fallon, MO through December 30.

Missouri Botanical Gardens

One more light display that cannot go unmentioned is Garden Glow at Missouri Botanical Gardens through January 4. This is an awe-inspiring display that transforms the already beautiful garden grounds into a truly magical place.

Garden Glow at Missouri Botanical Gardens

In addition to Garden Glow MOBOT has a calendar full of winter holiday events. On December 22 there’s a traditional Jewish holiday celebration, Chanukah: Festival of Lights. There will be dancing, music and a menorah-lighting ceremony.

Chanukah: Festival of Lights at MOBOT

For train and/or flower lovers, MOBOT hosts the Gardenland Express Train and Flower Show, with model trains traveling through a miniature holiday scene, through January 1. Also on MOBOT’s calendar is the Holiday Wreath Display and Auction through January 4 and the Victorian Christmas through December 29.


Each year Saint Louis Ballet treats audiences of all ages to The Nutcracker at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at UMSL, and it is a beautiful production every time. This year you can relive (or start) this tradition with your family from December 18 through 23.

The Nutcracker at the Touhill

Another annual tradition is the St. Louis Irish Arts Holiday Concert. Musicians, dancers and singers from St. Louis Irish Arts put together a festive, traditional show that the whole family will love. December 21 at Sheldon Concert Hall.

St. Louis Irish Arts Holiday Concert

And More…

There really are so many things to do with your family this season in St. Louis. Here’s a list of a few more:

Winter Getaway and Noon Year’s Eve Celebration at the Missouri History Museum – December 27 through 31

Home Alone in Concert with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at Powell Hall – December 20

Holiday Dreams: A Spectacular Holiday Cirque! at the Family Arena – December 22

Information courtesy of,,,

We Are VdM: The Donohues

The very best part of Villa di Maria is our people. Our community of families, faculty and staff is something to be proud of. In this series, We are VdM, we’ll highlight the energies, talents, humor and wisdom of some of our amazing people. Today we’ll feature one of our newest families, the Donohues. They joined VdM and Ms. Braud’s Children’s House this fall and we hope they will be with us for a very long time! In the interview below, the Donohues answered our questions from the perspective of their current VdM student.

Villa di Maria: Tell us a bit about you and your family.

The Donohues: We are one of the newest additions to the Villa community and we have loved it so far. I am four and a half and in P2, and my one and a half year old little brother will hopefully join me there later next year. My mom has played the violin since age four and she has just started giving me lessons. My dad is the oldest of twelve and knows how to speak Latin. As a family, we love traveling and exploring new places. We enjoy hiking outdoors especially when we can do so while checking off National Parks and monuments from our bucket list; maybe one day we will visit them all!  From our most recent home in Cheyenne, WY we were able to visit six of these incredible national wonders. Our favorite was probably Arches National Park in UT, which was breathtaking, and totally worth the trip.

VdM: Where are you from and what brought you to St. Louis and Villa di Maria?

The Donohues: Mom and dad are both originally from opposite ends of the East Coast (mom is from FL, dad from NH), but they met in the middle while they were both working in the DC area — and the rest has been history! I was born in VA, and my little brother was born in WY. Dad is an Air Force JAG lawyer and his job requires that we move a lot. We are hopeful, however, that we will get to spend several years in the Saint Louis area before we have to move again.

VdM: What is your experience with Montessori? How did you find it?

The Donohues: My mom went to Montessori schools as a child and it was her experience as a Montessori child that sparked our family’s love for Montessori education. Mom is also an AMI Montessori teacher by training. Before she had me, she worked in DC for four years as a Montessori teacher. As soon as we found out we were moving to Saint Louis last winter, Mom started researching schools in earnest. On our first visit to the area we visited all of the AMI schools and absolutely fell in love with Villa. The beauty and order of the campus and classrooms combined with the vibrancy of the community were readily apparent, making our choice relatively easy. We look forward to continuing to build friendships and contributing to that community!

VdM: What is your favorite family tradition in the winter months?

The Donohues: We love celebrating the winter season in every way we can. This includes playing outdoors in the snow, sledding, making snowmen, and snow angels. Since we have lived in four different states over the last five winters, our winter activities have varied a bit from year to year. Last winter I learned to ski in the Rocky Mountains, and my dad has promised he will teach me to ice-skate this winter. Given all of that change, our favorite winter tradition would have to be our celebration of the season of Advent. Each week throughout the month of December we light another of the four candles in the Advent wreath combined with the songs and prayers for that week. The three purple and one pink candle all help us keep in mind where we are in our journey towards our celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas. Our Advent celebrations are also interspersed with the feasts of Saint Nicholas and Saint Lucy. On Saint Nicholas’ day on December 6th, we make special cookies and then leave out our stockings and shoes when we go to bed. On Saint Lucy’s day (December 13th) we make cross shaped saint Lucy buns and I wear a special crown with candles.         

 VdM: What is your favorite thing to do on the playground?

The Donohues: My favorite thing to do on the playground is to play “dog” where I’m the dog and my friend is the owner. I also enjoy “playing mommy” where I use the lovely wooden tables and pretend to cook a big meal for my kids.  

Thank you, Donohues! Welcome to St. Louis and to VdM. We are so happy to have you here.

Family photos provided by the Donohues.

Getting Ready for the Winter Concert in Upper Elementary, or The Art of the Student-Run Play

Over the past few days we’ve looked into the Children’s Houses and the Lower Elementary as they’ve been preparing for the Winter Concert. The excitement is mounting as we are two days away from the big event! Today we’ll round out our winter-concert-sneak-peekery with the Upper Elementary.

Each year, in the weeks before Winter Concert, our Upper Elementary transforms into a performance arts academy of sorts as the students write, direct, produce, design and manage an original musical play based on a historical event or period. Guides Rebecca Callander and Katie Nelson, along with UE Assistant Justin Shepard and PE Specialist Diana Barrios, offer guidance throughout the process with editing, musical instruction, help with procuring materials and much more, but make no mistake—the Upper Elementary Play comes from the creativity, intelligence, practice and hard work of the UE students.

Over the course of the fall semester, ideas for the play begin to percolate among the UE students as they are inspired to delve deeper into historical topics they’re learning in the classroom and through their own independent research. The guides and assistants work with them to narrow down the choices—there are so many!—and come to a consensus.

Then the fun starts! Students sign up to be writers, directors, costumers, props masters, set designers, dancers and musicians, and auditions are held to cast the play. Most students take on multiple roles, and their days begin to fill with construction, crafting, sewing, painting, memorizing lines, learning dance steps, band practice and rehearsals.

photo credit: Katie Nelson

The best part of the UE play is that our students are given opportunities to showcase their individual talents and to explore new interests, while at the same time coming together in cooperation and collaboration. They work hard, push themselves toward a goal and have fun doing it.

This year’s UE play will time-hop through history in a most excellent way (that’s a hint!). We can’t wait to see it on Saturday!

Cultivating Gratitude and Generosity in the Children’s House

photo credit: Melinda Smith

This time of year many of us find ourselves struggling to keep a hold of gratitude and generosity; they slip so easily out of our daily lives when things get hectic. The holidays give us the opportunity to renew these virtues by actively practicing them with our families and friends. We voice what we’re grateful for and remind our children to say their pleases and thank-yous. We send cards or letters, give and receive gifts and keep our people in our thoughts. We exercise the gratitude and generosity muscles with the ultimate goal that they stay with us always.

For our youngest children, the concepts—the abstract ideas—of gratitude and generosity are still out of reach because they are concrete, literal thinkers. So, how do we teach them? In the Villa di Maria Children’s Houses, our guides lay the groundwork for gratitude and generosity through grace and courtesy.

It is not necessary for them to possess the ability to consider abstract concepts. The child begins at birth to become a citizen. They are working to become human beings of the community. It is our responsibility to offer them the best example of being good citizens of the world.

Reghan McAuley, P1 Children’s House Guide

Guide Reghan McAuley from our P1 Children’s House explains, “The young child, 0 – 6, is observing, absorbing and self-constructing continuously. This is their work in the first plane of development. The child simply absorbs all aspects of their environment without bias, discrimination or ability to filter. They absorb and take in how to be among others in a group through the amazing powers of the mind. The child learns This is how we do here. Therefore, it is essential that we, the adults in their lives, always model optimal grace-and-courtesies of the child’s culture. The child 100% absorbs these grace-and-courtesies. It is not necessary for them to possess the ability to consider abstract concepts. The child begins at birth to become a citizen. They are working to become human beings of the community. It is our responsibility to offer them the best example of being good citizens of the world.”

Exercises in grace and courtesy are part of the Montessori practical life curriculum. These are lessons to help children become aware of the other people in their surroundings. They learn how to greet someone with a handshake and eye contact, how to ask for a turn with a material that’s being used, what to say and do when they have accidentally (or otherwise) hurt a friend, and how to introduce themselves. These lessons give young children tools they need to interact respectfully with the people in their lives.

And since we want our children to not just exercise behaviors of grace and courtesy, but to learn how to live with these virtues in their lives, our Children’s House guides and assistants also consistently model kind, gracious, courteous and respectful behaviors. In fact, all of the adults at VdM strive to treat all of the children with respect and kindness. Mind you, this is not a difficult thing to do—these children are interesting, funny, thoughtful, serious, kind, loud, quiet… they are amazing children on their way to becoming amazing grown-ups. We have genuine affection and respect for each of them.

photo credit: Melinda Smith
photo credit: Melinda Smith

By simply being kind and respectful to each other and our children—by practicing grace and courtesy ourselves—we are modeling what it means to be kind and respectful people. For the youngest child, the absorbed, learned behaviors might just start as imitation; the child says “thank you” because she hears us say it. But over time, the behaviors become a practice, a way of relating to people in her world.

Then, as children get older and begin to ask why, they begin to link the behaviors of grace and courtesy to the abstract concepts. They begin to reason out the significance of showing respect to the people in their lives. They learn empathy and understanding. Grace and courtesy, gratitude and generosity, become things they can feel and experience, a part of their social and emotional development as they move toward adulthood. The solid groundwork of grace and courtesy they’ve received in the Children’s House strengthens this development, gives children a sort of muscle memory for kind and respectful behaviors, so they can concentrate on the hard work of internalizing the concepts.

photo credit: Shannon O’Connell

At Villa di Maria. we are fortunate to watch the evolution of grace and courtesy in our children as they move from the earliest years in the Children’s House toward Elementary, from the first to the second plane of development. As they grow, they instinctively begin to take on the role of modeling kindness and respect for their younger classmates. It is a virtuous cycle and a beautiful thing to see.