Last Friday the Elementary children had an adventure of an afternoon hopping from one room to another learning about Passover. The Lower Elementary and Upper Elementary classrooms were mixed together and divided into four groups to enable a full mixed-aged, cross-classroom experience.

In the Great Room, the children learned a traditional dance from our skilled PE teacher, Diana Barrios. The graceful movements came together with the music and the children (as always!) enjoyed moving their bodies with purpose.

In the Racks and Tubes classroom they tasted a variety of Jewish foods. Latkas and toppings were prepared by the children that morning!

Photo Credit: Shannon O’Connell

The Upper Elementary classroom offered a hands on experience, making an  Elijah’s cup, after hearing about the ceremonial cup being left out at the Seder meal.

The final, and perhaps favorite station was in the Checkerboard classroom where parent, Dan Sweeney, shared the story of Passover. He warmed the students up by teaching them how to make some of the sounds of the Hebrew language and encouraging them to repeat the sounds all day. From there he delved into the story of Passover, leaving ample openings for children to chime in with what they knew or what they had questions about. They were rapt with his storytelling and fully engaged when he invited them to taste matzos and sparkling grape juice. He ended the session by showing what is served at a traditional Seder meal and explaining what each food symbolizes.

The afternoon was an opportunity for some children to share their traditions and for others to learn something new. Our thanks to Dan, Diana, the entire Elementary staff, and Jade Venditte for putting this rich experience together for our children!

You Read the Blog! Good Job!

There is little quite as joyful as watching your child succeed. The swelling of the heart at their triumph is real. It can be understandably difficult to contain this joy which often bubbles out with a “Good job!”

You’ve likely heard words in the Montessori world before about praise. The goal here is not to pile on but rather offer a quick reminder on the importance of your words.

There are a few things to consider when you’re praising your most precious people. First, our children want to please us. (Yes, even when it doesn’t seem to be the case… it mostly is. They want to please us.) When we explicitly praise our children, we can unintentionally condition our children to expect and perform for praise.

Instead of being internally motivated to try new things, succeed at a task, etc., their motivation becomes external. Keeping motivation internal supports our children’s creativity and drive to take (healthy!) risks. If they’re always looking to us for approval, we squelch their independence.

Also, it conditions them to expect praise for the simplest of actions. Yes, the first few times they put their socks on it’s exciting but, let’s be real, this is a life skill they should be developing. You do not need to throw a party for their every feat! Rest assured they will be pleased enough with their own accomplishment!

So, for those times when your child does look to you after accomplishing something and you want to do more than just smile…
When your young child has put on their shoes how about, “You put them on!” Or when your child shows you their drawing, “You drew that. Would you like to tell me about what you drew?” These phrases show our pleasure in their success but they pin the pleasure more closely to the pleasure they internally experience through their own accomplishment. As your child grows, your feedback can become more explicitly linked to the process the child has gone through rather than the product. “You put your shoes on!” transitions into “You worked really hard to figure out how to solve that.”(Think: growth mindset.)

Lastly, overdoing the “Good job!” strips it of it’s meaning. Our children either look for it at every turn or they dismiss it as meaningless because we use it incessantly. Save it for the time you need it. Keep its meaning intact.

Okay, one last thought because supporting concentration is so very important … please don’t interrupt your children to praise them. If they are focused, don’t break their concentration to let them know that you think they’ve done a good job. Their concentration speaks volumes about the contentment they get from their task at hand. Allow your children the pleasure of focus.

Melinda, you knocked it out of the park yet again with this set of pictures! Thank you!

Thank you, Ms. Brea!

This week has brought the return of our beloved Ms. Megan! The children are delighted to have her back, and are at the same time missing Ms. Brea who seamlessly stepped in while Ms. Megan was away.

Subbing is never easy work, and Ms. Brea did it with aplomb. She worked closely with Ms. Megan. This ensured  a smooth transition for the children as well as keeping a conscientious teacher at ease.

Ms. Brea fit in with the staff, helped with “outside of the school day” events, brought dance to our Elementary children and was (of course!) beloved by the Checkerboard children in particular. She is observant – so important for a Montessori teacher! – and insightful. She gave lessons, sparked research and deftly guided the social work in the Checkerboard classroom.

There is much to be said for the Guide and Assistant relationship which supports the work of the entire classroom. Ms. Brea and Ms. Sophie worked together brilliantly. Thank you, Brea for coming to St. Louis to be with us. You have made our – and in particular, our children’s – year richer by your presence. We sincerely hope that your path crosses with Villa di Maria’s again in the future!

Here’s a peek at Checkerboard students working on a thank you project for Ms. Brea!

Ms. Brea, you will be missed!

Melinda, thanks to you for these beautiful pictures highlighting Ms. Brea’s role in our Elementary environment!

Sleep Baby Sleep…

Spring is finally here, and we have all been delighting in the sunshine we so longed for! It feels good to finally say “Yes!” to a child asking to go outside rather than nagging them to spend some time outdoors.

The trade off to this weather is, at times, sleep. Games go late at night, outdoor dinners linger. While it may feel good to give our children more time in this glorious weather, we can’t forget that their bodies depend on sleep.

All of this joyful exuberance….

Not to mention all of this important work…

Depends on, and needs to be balanced with, lots and lots of…

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Children act differently when they are tired. Sometimes getting overly upset, being inflexible, not being able to concentrate or being grumpy, is just a sign of tiredness. If you’re having trouble with any of the above, look at your child’s sleep patterns. Are they consistently getting enough sleep?

2) Sleep begets sleep. Staying up late does not equal sleeping in (especially for children!). Earlier to bed can equate to waking up later! The corollary to this is that sleep deprivation adds up.  In other words, *carefully* dole out those late nights. There’s no shame in being the parent that leaves the park early. Sleep is important!

3) Bedtime is not the same as asleep time. When you check those handy charts indicating how much time your child should spend asleep, or the ones indicating what bedtime should be based on wake up time, remember to consider how long it takes your child to fall asleep. (Tip: Printing out these charts can help take the struggle out of bedtime. The chart says you need 11 hours of sleep; the chart says it’s bedtime – not the parent!)

Sleep is malleable. You can change your child’s sleep habits. Yes, it takes time and work, but it is doable and so important! Like providing healthy food for our children, supporting healthy sleep habits is one of the foundational things we can do to provide a good environment for our children. Sleep gives children the opportunity to thrive. And take good care of your own sleep needs. For all the times you’ve said, “I wish I had more patience” ask yourself if you’re getting enough sleep. Being well rested is good for all of us!

For more info on the importance of sleep and tips for bedtime, here’s another blog post for you!

Thanks to Melinda Smith and Samantha Clarke for the pictures!


Take a look at one of the big events at VdM last week … hosting and interacting with the exhibit “Pollinators: Little Helpers, Big Results.”
The exhibit, which is normally installed in museums, zoos or aquariums, made a special visit to our school and Extended Day through Elementary children were invited to interact with the exhibit.
The exhibit discusses the importance of pollinators, the biodiversity of pollinators, why they are declining, stories of folks who are helping save them and what anyone can do to help.

The children learned about bat bats, hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. In Montessori fashion the exhibit was even more specific  – lesser long-nosed bat, Monarch butterflies, ruby-throated and rufus hummingbirds and the rusty-patched bumble bee.
Our great thanks to VdM parent Charmin Dahl for bringing her work with The Paly Foundation to Villa di Maria and facilitating the children’s interactions with this exhibit. She started from what the children knew – asking the Extended Day children about the parts of a plant and if they knew of any pollinators. The children were all over it, “A bee is a pollinator!”
Charmin shared, “Conservation is extremely easy to teach to young children because they are still entrenched in that “fairness” milestone of development.  Children “get” conservation on that level — “it’s only fair that animals should get a chance to live out their lives in a habitat and without threat of extinction, because I want the same.””
“Pollinators” along with other Paly Foundation exhibits can be viewed online. Look over what your children experienced and use this as an opportunity to start a conversation. Charmin notes that, “The field of people who create exhibits (or create ed programs at zoos, etc.) know that conservation messages are more effective when learned as a multi-generational unit. … Whatever that magic is about the family unit, we know that the conservation message sticks and that behavior is more likely to change (such as donating to a conservation org, or using reusable shopping bags, etc.).”

Credit for the brilliant photography is due entirely to Melinda Smith