Notes from Head of School

Peace Education Presentation on Grandparent and Special Friend Day

October 6, 2017
The national political rhetoric, climate, and actions of the past year have been disturbing to me. I could have been thrown into a deep depression, finding it hard to get out of bed each day, were it not for what we are doing here at Hilltop Montessori School. The events in Charlottesville, just before the start of the school year, especially hit home, as I went to the University of Virginia, and therefore feel a familiarity and attachment to that town. And now there is the incident in Las Vegas, and the challenges in Puerto Rico, again emphasizing how people are viewed and treated differently, and the many challenges we face as a society.
I have gone back to Dr. Maria Montessori’s writings and have been reminded of her motivations and discoveries. A hundred years ago she saw that the mechanized approach to education was designed to produce people who blindly followed leaders and allowed themselves to be controlled. She put forth the idea that children could be respected as individuals, given choices in what and how they learned, and be supported by caring adults who served as guides to an environment prepared for their learning. This approach supported children in developing independence along with a deep appreciation and understanding for the connectedness and community that they have with all people, with all living creatures, and with the world and universe. Montessori can be seen as an approach to education, but she also developed it as a methodology towards world peace. She evolved her ideas in the context of World War I and II, and was nominated several time for a Nobel Peace Prize. Many of her comments on education and peace resonate strongly today.
At Hilltop Montessori School, we “teach” peace in many contexts:
  • self – developing inner peace and the skills to make peace with others
  • environment – instilling an understanding and appreciation for the environment
  • cultural – celebrating our differences and knowing our connectedness, compassion for all
  • community – living our supportive interdependence
The role that Hilltop Montessori School is playing in supporting the development of responsible citizens, and striving towards peace has kept me going. This was the theme of the message I shared on Grandparent and Special Friend Day along with this presentation. I welcome any comments or reflections, by emailing me or stopping by anytime.

Guiding the Child at Work

September 8, 2017
It is only week two and the classrooms are already settling in and getting “normalized”. As Montessorians we use the term normalized to describe when the students have the rhythm of the day and, together and independently, work and grow where they need to.
Children are choosing their “work” and building their concentration. In Montessori classrooms we call the student activities “work” because the children are choosing materials that are helping them to grow where they are developmentally needing to grow, and that is their “work” as children. Dr. Montessori also chose this word knowing that “work” should ideally have the same joy and appeal for adults, as the activities the children are choosing on which to work. We should all be learning and growing through our “work”.
As guides in the classroom, the adults are careful not to interrupt a child at work. We want to foster that concentration and focus, rather than encourage distraction. This is something you can work to build at home too. When your child is engaged in something, let it come to a natural close, rather than interrupt with any words of praise or requests for another activity.

Supporting Middle School Micro-Economies, A Real Life Experience!

September 29, 2017
Co-authored by Lily Buren-Charkey, Middle School Entrepreneur, and Tamara Mount, Head of School
Throughout the year the middle school takes on the daunting task of raising around ten thousand dollars for our odysseys! This year we are raising money for our River of Spirit Odyssey to Boston, a comparative world religion and science of water study, connecting with many different faith communities and cultures. In the middle school we are guided by the question,  “What Does It Mean To Be Human?”  Our trips help to answer this question as we experience things first hand, including the task of raising the money.
Raising ten thousand dollars by June seems like an overwhelming task, but with the student run micro-economies it becomes possible. Not only are we cooking and preparing food, we are managing businesses, practicing organizational skills, marketing our products and developing customer relations skills. These business are all about taking the initiative to get things done, which plays into the middle school’s philosophy of independent learning. Micro-economies are small, usually eighth grade student run, businesses. Micro-economies already underway this year include:
  • Bagel Lunch, in which we make bagels to order every Wednesday to serve to the whole school
  • Bake Sales at the Coop once a month
  • Rockin’ Ramen at BrattRock last Saturday
  • Coffee Cart on Thursday mornings, now by donation as part of welcoming parents to stay and see All School Gathering (next one on Oct. 12)

Free Play

September 15, 2017
Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath it’s shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between waking and sleeping” ~ Maria Montessori
If you travel to Hilltop Montessori School around noon on a weekday, you might be surprised to hear chatter and laughter coming from the forest adjacent to the parking lot. Walk the short dirt path into the woods, and you’ll encounter children darting among the trees, building forts from bark and fallen branches, collecting fistfuls of acorns and pinecones, and creating a magical world of their own making. This environment offers lessons that are just as valuable as those taught inside our classrooms. Just as our morning classroom work cycle gives students the freedom to choose the “work” that they are developmentally ready for, our Elementary recess and after school time lets children choose any activities from fantasy play in the woods to developing their skateboarding skills.
In the increasingly structured and technological world in which we live, it is of utmost importance to provide children with unstructured play time in the natural world. At Hilltop, Elementary Recess and After Care are both designed to offer this time for children to engage in imaginative, free play within a safe, supervised environment – often in “Haytown”. The name “Haytown” has been around for years! Originally children collected cut grass from the freshly mowed fields and used that as their currency.
For our elementary students, social-emotional learning is a component of free play that we support during Recess and After Care. Children are constantly driven to resolve conflict with peers, collaborate on long-term projects, negotiate around shared resources, and make decisions to reach their own goals. We repeatedly see children devising compromises to divvy up bricks, logs, acorns, etc., working in a group for weeks at a time on elaborate forest dwellings, and learning to navigate the socially tricky ins and outs of running a Haytown business. Outside of Haytown, we often observe groups of students working together to develop rules and guidelines for games like Four Square, Capture the Flag, and Monkey Bar Tag.
Another enormous benefit of unstructured play is physical fitness and dexterity. Practicing pull ups on the monkey bars, lugging logs through Haytown to build a fort, learning how to ride a unicycle, balancing on a fallen log in the woods; these activities allow children to build their strength and coordination through play.
Finally, playing in the natural world allows children to expand their sense of wonder, creativity, and imagination. The economy within Haytown is living testament. Children open restaurants, antique shops, insurance agencies, newspaper publishers, general stores, arcades, and drive throughs. Customers looking to buy goods or services can use quartz stones, known as “crystals”, to make their purchases. Children are continuously dreaming up original business schemes, finding new uses for old materials, and using their imaginations to create a true culture and community within Haytown. This is a genuine joy to observe.
So, next time you pick up your child take a moment to observe some of the amazing structures that have been built and the learning that’s occurring during that unstructured time. As Maria Montessori reminds us: “Play is the work of the child.”

Not So New to Us!

So often things that are reported as new “discoveries” or trends in education are things that Maria Montessori observed 100 years ago and incorporated into the time tested, scientifically proven approach we use at Hilltop. Three such ideas are: the importance of movement in learning, the benefit of developing internal motivation rather than being given external rewards, and how to have STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) in education in an integrated, concrete, real-world way. These are all important components of the curriculum and experience that students have at our school from toddlers through Middle School.
The connection of the Hand to the Mind:
This article, “Why Kids Need to Move, Touch and Experience to Learn,” explains the reason behind our classrooms that encourage movement, and materials that require manual manipulation. The human mind is wired to learn through moving and experiencing, not through sedentary rote memorization. The classroom and outside environments at Hilltop, encourage concentration, movement and experiential learning.
Internal Motivation, Not External Rewards:
This article “Could Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose be the Keys to Motivating Students?” uses a TED talk by Daniel Pink to suggest that, just as financial incentives have been seen to not motivate employees to do creative problem solving, so using tests and grades and other external motivators are not beneficial to children. To foster intrinsic motivation students should be given opportunities to do real-life problem solving and feel a sense of purpose from doing real tasks where they can develop a sense of skill, pride and accomplishment. This can be:
  • serving a friend snack, as the toddlers do with great enjoyment and pride
  • washing a table, a classic Montessori activity often accomplished in our Children’s House classrooms
  • writing persuasive letters to the Head of School on why Lower El needs a bigger garden, and seeing it through with materials, digging, and planting!
  • building lamps for the auction, using precise measurements, calculations, and skilled craftsmanship
  • running a bagel business, soup business, coffee cart, and providing childcare to raise money for an odyssey (as our Middle Schoolers doSTEM and STEAM have been what Montessori is all about for 100 years:
There is a movement in education circles to talk about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) or when you throw the Arts back in there it becomes STEAM. This approach emphasizes how all fields relate to each other and that project based learning on real life situations is a better approach to learning that segmented subjects with hypothetical questions. Again, this is what Montessori is based on and what happens every day at Hilltop Montessori School.
  • The metal insets combine art, with geometry, and are a preparation for writing.
  • The “timeline of life” is a lesson in history, biology, geology, and can be beautifully rendered in colored pencils, or felted wool!
  • Developing the “Museum” projects in Upper Elementary requires combining disciplines to prepare a written and physical illustration to communicate a complex concept.
  • Building water wheels combines math, physics, and design in a hands-on building project
At Hilltop Montessori School we do STEAM!

Classism in the Classroom

April 16, 2015

On Wednesday, Kerstin (Lower Elementary Teacher), Rebecca (Children’s House – Willow Room Assistant) and I attended a training at the Vermont Learning Collaborative on “Classism in the Classroom” (http://www.learningcollaborative.org/classism). At Hilltop, we work consciously to address diversity and inclusion in many ways. In Southern Vermont, we do not have as much opportunity to experience racial and ethnic diversity but we strive to whenever possible. We do have more diversity of family structures and many members of our community who are gay and lesbian. We also have the opportunity to be sure to be inclusive of the economic diversity that we have. And, as we are thinking about expanding that economic diversity, we want to be aware of all the potential class biases that we might have. This training, in conjunction with the discussions we have been having with students, faculty, and the board, are informing how we move forward with increased awareness and inclusion. It is important to ask:

 “Is this accessible to all students?” “Are we excluding people with this curriculum/book/action?”
Much of the training served to reaffirm the cultural curriculum and peace curriculum that is a part of our programs. And, there is always room to analyze, update, and improve.
Some of the topics that come up in this context include:
– how can fundraising be handled in an inclusive, respectful way
– how directly should we be addressing class differences in the classroom with children at different program levels
– what books and materials could we add at different levels to be sure to be including people of different classes
– how could the “fundamental needs” curriculum of Lower Elementary be augmented to more directly address class differences
– additional fees for extra things (after care, pizza lunch, etc.) can exclude some, despite our attempts to include all the fees in the tuition
– would a sliding scale of fees for some things be a way of being more inclusive
We will be continuing to look at these topics within the current context of our community and looking to the future.

Graduates on Board of The Putney School!

April 7, 2017
We are proud to share that two of our 2015 graduates, Emmanuel Keppel and Greta Wolfe, have recently been elected to the Board of Trustees of The Putney School, a position of great responsibility and honor. Emmanuel graduated from Hilltop having started in the Children’s House and Greta joined Hilltop for the two years of the Middle School. Both students thrived at Hilltop. “Hilltop taught us to notice all of the fine workings of a community and discover our place in the world. With that foundation, we continue to do so at Putney, and will be learning with every responsibility we take on for the rest of our lives” – Greta Wolfe.
Both Emmanuel and Greta were perhaps inspired by their father’s roles on the Hilltop Board of Trustees – Patrick Keppel, Emmanuel’s father, was on the board for 7 years, including three as Chair, and Rich Wolfe, Greta’s father, is the current Board Chair at Hilltop. Each of five student candidates gave a speech to the school at an assembly meeting and later in the day, students, faculty, and staff all cast their votes for the position.

 

This is a 30 person board and the two students elected serve as full voting members. The responsibilities include discussing reports from various members of the school community, such as Diversity and Admissions, and making decisions regarding funding and planning for the school’s future. Greta and Emmanuel follow in the footsteps of Maeve Campman, a 2012 graduate of Hilltop who also held a student trustee position at The Putney School, as well as many other graduates of Hilltop that have thrived in other various leadership positions at The Putney School.

 

An Invitation to All

We realize and appreciate that you are trusting us to educate your child and to help her or him grow in a way that, for many of you, is very different from your schooling. We know that without grades and test scores, you are having to use other measures to know that your child is growing and thriving in this environment. We really emphasize the process in the work that is done here, but often it does result in an amazing product too. Many of the events coming up next week give you an opportunity to appreciate the products of the works of the students in our older programs. Please mark your calendar to attend these events. If your child is younger, you and your family are more than welcome to attend these events. The Poetry Night for the Middle School is sure to be magical in our new Arts Barn theater. These events are a wonderful way to see what Hilltop Montessori School encourages in all students.

Lower El Poetry Performance
Thursday, December 18th 8:45AM

Upper El Museum
Thursday, December 18th 2:00PM
Friday, December 19th 8:30AM

MS Poetry Night
Thursday, December 18th 7PM

Let’s Grow Kids

By Tamara Mount, November 14, 2014           

Time and time again, Dr. Maria Montessori’s ideas from 100 years ago are proven by modern science. Hilltop has been participating in the state-wide campaign, Let’s Grow Kids (http://www.letsgrowkids.org/), a public education campaign to raise the awareness of the importance of the early years in development. This campaign is to make Vermonters aware of facts that Maria Montessori noted in her early writings, “The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.  For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement is being formed.  But not only his intelligence; the full totality of his psychic powers. At no other ages has the child greater need of an intelligent help, and any obstacle that impedes his creative work will lessen the chance he has of achieving perfection.”

Or, as Let’s Grow Kids puts it, “Eighty percent of a child’s brain is developed by age three and 90% is developed by age five.” And, “Getting kids ready for school means more than helping them with their ABCs, packing their lunch boxes, filling their backpacks, and getting them to the bus on time. It starts the day they’re born with quality early experiences.” Montessorian’s have known it all along – the early years of development are critical and are worthy of investment – the investment of providing the quality experiences that happen at Hilltop every day.