The Morning Magic Three


Villa di Maria Staff Members,
If the stars align and the universe leans in your favor, what THREE things can kick your morning off on the right foot each and every time?  
Do tell.

Reghan McAuley (Primary I Directress)- 
1.  Hot shower
2.  Coffee
3.  Hugs from my girls!

Jess Jente (Primary 1 Assistant)-
1.  Must have coffee (preferably iced coffee) already made in my fridge
2.  Must have breakfast- toast with almond butter, blueberry jam and banana (if you’re truly curious)
3.  I have to leave my house by 7:43 or else I feel late and rushed.

Robyn Milos (Primary II Directress)-

1.  Thirty minutes of quiet before anyone gets up
2.  A cup of coffee
3.  Great music for the drive to school

1.  Fresh water in the vase of flowers
2.  Great oil blend in the diffuser  
3.  Sharpened pencils everywhere!

Christina Kerr (Primary II Assistant)-
1.  Special green smoothie  
2.  Special coffee
3.  Quiet time
*Christina, We think you need to divulge what makes your smoothies and coffee “special.”  You have piqued our interest!

Heather Steinman (Primary III Directress)-
I will say my days start off in a better place if I have had…

1.  More than a couple of consecutive hours of sleep
2.  Breakfast
3.  Hydration
I have spent this year in survival mode (new baby!), but maybe I’ll have early morning yoga and meditation on my list someday.

Maria Burr (Primary III Assistant)-
1.  Breakfast:  egg over medium with a little salt and lots of pepper (yum!), extra crispy bacon and orange juice with extra pulp
2.  Children in car by 7:15 AM, ready to go, buckled up, smiling, holding lunch boxes  
3.  Nice, leisurely drive with NO traffic, arriving extra early to school

Anna Schwind (Lower Elementary Directress)- 
1.  Tea  
2.  Kisses and hugs
3.  Exercise
(And, a breakfast with protein!)

Sophie Andre (Lower Elementary Assistant)- 
1.  Peaceful, happy wake up of my daughter
2.  Breakfast
3.  Enough sleep

Melissa Urspruch (Lower Elementary Assistant)- 
1.  An early bed time  
2.  Time to exercise
3.  Lots of natural sunshine when the alarm goes off

Rebecca Callander (Upper Elementary)-

1.  A rocking anthem to jump around a bit
2.  Hugs from Winston and belly rubs for the cats
3.  Some 15-20 minutes of a good read:  insightful, humorous, academic- you name it!
And… A clean kitchen
And, And… No traffic on Geyer Road

Melissa Anderson (Upper Elementary Assistant)- 
1.  Coffee
2.  Like…four hours of quiet time 😉
3.  Sunshine

Karolina Hanus (Floater and Late Stay Lead)-
1.  My cats wake me up by licking my hair and kneading me (they have a biological alarm clock).
2.  I spend appropriate amount of time in the bathroom, showering and primping.
3.  I eat breakfast, which is almost always delicious, with my best husband.

Nicole Cook (Business Manager)- 
1.  Wake up at 4:45 AM to avoid feeling rushed
2.  Lunches prepared and clothes laid out the night before, ready to roll in the morning
3.  Leave the house at 6:30 AM to be at work by 7:00 AM.  (It’s a mind thing).

Hilary Lord (Director of Operations)-
1.  At least 30 minutes all to myself
2.  Eat scrambled eggs with green veggies (broccoli is my favorite)
3.  Able to be outside for at least an hour- pulling weeds, gardening, taking a walk, or eating my breakfast outside

Laura Ceretti-Michelman (Head of School)-
1.  Workout
2.  Green tea
3.  My family working to get out the door on time with house left neat and tidy
*Assumes that fundamental grooming is a necessity for all (e.g. brushing teeth)



Sophie’s Montessori Moments


Our beloved Lower Elementary Assistant, Sophie Andre, shared two of her Montessori Moments from personal experiences at home with her daughter, Lynne, who will be joining one of our Villa di Maria Primary classrooms this fall!

Also important to note is that Sophie is French, so her blog posts are written en francais and then translated into English immediately following each.

Special Montessori nuggets with a pre-primary child you won’t want to miss!



Writing in the Montessori classroom.

Where does it begin?  

How does it progress?  

Our favorite Dr. Maria Montessori described writing as a complex task involving both physical and mental capabilities:  lightness of touch, the ability to adapt the hand to an amount of space given, coordination of movement, isolation of sound, visualization and recognition of symbols.  In addition, she emphasized that children must develop self confidence AND the desire to write- the desire to combine sounds with symbols to form words.

What Dr. Montessori termed an “EXPLOSION” into writing fascinated her.  Through her observations and close work with children, she found that children are so well prepared in the Montessori environment that when they do experience the natural urge to write, they are more successful.  This writing process occurs through guided discovery where the directress indirectly prepares the child to write, so “the child comes away with the impression that he/she has discovered writing.”

This INDIRECT PREPARATION in the Children’s House starts with:

  • Children telling their own stories and conversing
  • Children talking about their experiences
  • Children being read to
  • Children listening to music
  • Children engaged in Practical Life activities that require concentration and sequencing and lead to confidence in the children as they successfully complete purposeful work
  • Children being exposed to an abundance of vocabulary in every corner of the environment.  
  • Children develop finger strength, lightness of touch and control through lessons including: cylinder blocks (knobs), touch boards, touch tablets, sandpaper globe and pouring.

Then the DIRECT PREPARATION begins with lessons:

  • Sandpaper letters- Not only tactile, but kinesthetic, visual and auditory as well.  The child learns each sound and the shape that each “sound” makes by tracing lightly and repeating to mastery.  Hand-eye coordination develops in the process.
  • Movable alphabet- This lesson essentially allows for word formation without frustration.  The child uses the sound-symbol relationships to build words with small sandpaper letters and then strings them together into phrases and sentences.  They vowels are blue; the consonants are pink.  They’re connecting letters phonetically to make words before having to write them correctly using pencil and paper.  Another step in building success and the desire to write!
  • Metal insets- These geometric shapes are used concurrently to trace and develop lightness of touch and create different types of lines for letter formation on paper.  
  • Cursive writing on paper- Here’s where the EXPLOSION begins!  Stories!  Thoughts!  Observations!  Poems!  Jokes!  Lists!  They all come spilling out of the child’s mind through the hand onto the paper.  

And, then.  The EXPLOSION into reading…  to be saved for another day!

For now, examples of Storytime in the Villa di Maria Children’s Houses:

Practicing sounds and letter formation
Practicing sounds and letter formation
More tactile work with individual letters, focusing on each sound
More tactile work with individual letters, focusing on each sound
The GLORIOUS MOVABLE ALPHABET!  Color-coded vowels and consonants.  That Maria Montessori... big brains.
The GLORIOUS MOVABLE ALPHABET!  Color-coded vowels and consonants.  That Maria Montessori… big brains.
Practicing cursive
Practicing cursive
Transitioning into storywriting
Transitioning into storywriting
The stories and illustrations start flowing and flowing and flowing!
The stories and illustrations start flowing and flowing and flowing!
We've got one heck of an animal lover here!
We’ve got one heck of an animal lover here!
The stories lengthen.  The personalities expressed!
The stories lengthen.  The personalities expressed!

Several more writing progression examples from our Children’s Houses!  To be savored!



Shall We Have Lunch?


The Elementary Hot Lunch has historically been a highly coveted experience at Villa di Maria Montessori School.  A long-held tradition.  Practical life at its finest.  The chefs deem it one memorable week when it’s THEIR turn to plan, prep and execute Friday’s meal for the first through sixth year students.

Woven and layered into hot lunch, you’ll “see”:

– Interpersonal skills at work: the art of compromise, problem solving, sharing of responsibilities, negotiation with peers and treatment of others with respect and kindness

– Mathematical skills in play- basic calculations with addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals; higher level problem solving

– Practical life lessons expressed- planning a meal, grocery shopping, preparing and cooking for a large group, serving etiquette, sweeping, washing dishes and returning the kitchen back to its “resting” state

  • First, we’ll view how hot lunch works from beginning to end with the help of beautiful photographs taken by Melinda Smith, VdM mom and photographer (round of applause for Melinda!)
  • Second, we shall share the inside scoop from several Elementary students, who kindly volunteered to answer some questions via a written interview.
First, the three cooks for the week meet to discuss menu options and finalize a main dish, a side dish and a dessert.
First, the three cooks for the week meet to discuss menu options and finalize a main dish, a side dish and a dessert.
Grocery lists are written!
Grocery lists are written!
Kitchen supplies and ingredients are checked.
Kitchen supplies and ingredients are checked.
The week's menu is displayed on the whiteboard and hung in the kitchen, enticing all who pass by!
The week’s menu is displayed on the whiteboard and hung in the kitchen, enticing all who pass by!
To the grocery store they go!  One of the classroom assistants accompanies the cooking crew, but the students manage the shopping, calculate amounts of each item needed and keep track of costs as they make their way through the store.
To the grocery store they go!  One of the classroom assistants accompanies the cooking crew, but the students manage the shopping, calculate amounts of each item needed and keep track of costs as they make their way through the store.
Choosing the healthiest options to add to the cart!
Choosing the healthiest options to add to the cart!
Check out time.
Check out time.
Friday morning!  The chefs divide tasks and dig in. 
Friday morning!  The chefs divide tasks and dig in. 
Serving table readied
Serving table readied
The feast is about to be served!
The feast is about to be served!

Hot Lunch Interview:

*Note:  GAC = Gabby, Ava and Cecilia (Upper Elementary students who completed the interview collaboratively)

1. When it’s your turn to cook hot lunch for the week, how does the entire group decide upon a menu?

Chase:  They agree.
Marguerite:  We all decide on something and vote on it.
Ella:  We all think about what kind of meal by ourselves, and then we have a vote on which one sounds best.
Emily:  We throw random ideas together and vote on our favorites.
GAC:  The three students all bring up suggestions of food they’d like to eat and vote upon them.  It can be frustrating because everyone has different tastes.

2. Describe your trip to the grocery store:

Marguerite:  It is awesome!
Ella:  We have a certain amount of money to spend to get the stuff you need, so you have to find the best deal, round up your answer and subtract every time.

What store do you typically go to? Do you go to more than one place?

Klaus:  No, just Schnucks.
Marguerite:  Dierbergs.
Ella:  We only go to one place- Schnucks.
GAC:  No, just Schnucks!

How do you know how much of each item to purchase?

Klaus:  We look at the recipe.
Marguerite:  We measure the pounds, and we see how many people and how much we need.
Ella:  You have to know how many people are eating hot lunch and then see how much food is in the box.
Emily:  We multiply.
GAC:  We usually figure out the number of servings we have before we go to the store, and we write down how much we need.

Do you have any grocery store tips to share?

Ella:  If you don’t feel you’re great at math, I would practice it.
GAC:  When doing math, do it fast so you can go look at the desserts.  Also, try to get things that are on sale, so there is money left to buy candy!

3. Do all the students help make each part of hot lunch or do you divide tasks? How do you decide?

Ella:  The three people who are cooking hot lunch split up and choose what they want to cook and serve.
Emily:  We all pitch in, but I prefer to cut the fruits and veggies.
GAC:  The students are put on different tasks by the adult, and when the students finish their task they can help others with theirs.

4. What has been your favorite hot lunch to EAT so far?

Klaus:  Tortellini and pumpkin muffins
Marguerite:  Whoopie pies and mini burgers
Ella:  My favorite hot lunch is the one where we have brunch- breakfast for lunch!
Emily:  Biscuits and gravy
Cecilia:  Calzones- they were super delicious!
Ava:  Fettuccine Alfredo- it was tasty!

5. What has been your favorite dish to MAKE so far?

Marguerite:  Whoopie pies and mini burgers
Ella:  Blueberry muffins, salad, spaghetti and a fruit bowl
Emily:  Hmmm… Pancakes!
Cecilia:  Pizza
Gabby:  Oreo bark
Ava:  Macaroni

6. What are all the tasks involved in cleaning up once everyone has enjoyed hot lunch?

Marguerite:  Washing the dishes, cleaning up the table from hot lunch and saving the leftovers.
Ella:  Washing the dishes, drying them, putting them away.  We also sweep the floor and wash the countertops.
Emily:  Dishes
GAC:  First we all take the leftover food to the kitchen and the rest of the items on the table.  Then we wash all the dishes and dry them and put them away.  Last, we sweep the floors and wipe the counters.

7. If you could design your very own hot lunch, what would you make for the entire elementary?

Klaus:  Pizza, watermelon, pumpkin muffins and ice cream
Chase:  Sushi and tuna salad and bacon and cookie dough chocolate donuts
Marguerite:  Whoopie pies, biscuits, chicken and rice
Ella:  Spicy chicken, fruit bowl, root beer float, chips and dip
Emily:  Ice cream sundaes, hot dogs, French fries
GAC:  Macaroni with bacon, salad bar, lemonade and cookie bark

8. What has been the funniest thing that has happened either in planning, shopping, cooking, serving or cleaning up?

Marguerite:   We didn’t have enough money!
Ella:  To me, the funniest part of hot lunch is cooking because I love cooking with my friends.
Emily:  Well, when I was cooking the pancakes, I flipped one too high, and it fell on my head.  Ha!
GAC:  Ava dropped cheese on the floor, and Mrs. LeBeau got upset, but it was just a little cheese!  Cecilia’s group once added their shopping answers (the grocery list bill) in a tent full of beer.  Once Mrs. LeBeau handed Gabby a tray of vegetables to put on the table to serve, and Gabby just started dumping the vegetables into the compost pile.

9. Are you the master of making anything special at home? If so, what is your specialty?

Ella:  I’m not great at cooking, but I am fairly good at making desserts.
Emily:  Omelets and fruit compote- In fact, I can do it myself without an adult.
GAC:  Eggs, cookies, guacamole with herbs and spices

10. When the new elementary building is built, what do you think the new kitchen should have that it currently doesn’t have?

Emily:  More counter and storage space
GAC:  A donut fryer, 2 refrigerators, more counter space, clear dishwashers

11. Name at least ONE important thing you’ve learned while cooking hot lunch:

Ella:  I’ve learned to make better deals at the grocery store.  Like if you want to get parmesan cheese and one small packet is not enough, you would get the big one instead of two small packets because it is less expensive.
Emily:  Don’t burn yourself and never close your eyes
GAC:  Keep your hands clean.  Do the dishes first so that you don’t have to do them at recess.

12. Finish this sentence:

If I could choose anyone in the world to be my special guest for hot lunch, I would invite

_________________________ because ____________________________________ .

Klaus:  Augustin Hadelich because he is a good violinist
Ella:  My mom and dad because they aren’t picky, so they won’t offend my food.
Emily:  My family and neighbors because they’re awesome!
Gabby:  Dad because he makes everyone laugh
Ava:  Uncle Chris because he’s awesome
Cecilia:  My dog because she’s really funny


Last but not least, recipes for the above photographed hot lunch:

Cheese Tortellini in Garlic Butter Sauce

Best Ever Pumpkin Muffins

Give a Listen!



Mrs. Rebecca was invited to join the Villa di Maria Girl Scouts to a wolf howl Friday evening!  Many thanks to Marjory Rudiak and Ruth Reese, troop leaders. for organizing the event for the girls!

From Mrs. Rebecca:
This is a sound recording from the Girl Scouts terrific outing to the Wolf Sanctuary. The folks asked if our group would like to be docents because they listened so intently and could answer so many questions. The first part of the recording is the wolves. Second is our group. We ended the eve with hot chocolate, giggles and smiles along with the smell of campfire as a memory of a great evening with a great pack of VdM pups!