Notes from Head of School

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!

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.

Summer Notes

by Tamara Mount, August 6, 2014

Well, I thought things might slow down in the summer, but they haven’t . . . It has remained extremely busy and productive up here on top of the hill!

The Arts Barn: The Barn is nearing completion. The community has pulled together and we have the resources to move forward on getting most of the furnishings. We aim to have the equipment and furniture necessary to have it up and running when we get our “Certificate of Occupancy”. The current projected date is just before school opens! We plan to have a ribbon cutting ceremony at the All School Community Picnic on September 5th!

AfterCare Program Expansion: We are expanding our AfterCare program to include Lower and Upper Elementary students in a separate group with a new staff person excited to bring outdoor exploration, gardening, and games to the older students. In bad weather, they will use the space in the Arts Barn. We will also be offering more After School Programs, from 3:30-4:30 after a group snack time in the new Barn space.

Playground: We have had many generous donations towards new additions to the Children’s House and Elementary playgrounds. We are working hard to get things in place for the start of school.

Toddler Program: We are setting up the toddler program. We have full enrollment (with a waiting list) and need to get everything in place for these youngest students. A grant from the Henderson Foundation is supporting our Toddler Program start-up costs.

Program Improvements: There are several program improvements in the works – new nap bags for Children’s House, more math facts for Lower El, a new writing program for Lower and Upper El, math restructuring for Middle School, etc.

New Street Address: We’ve been informed by the Town that because we now have 4 buildings on our property (the pump house counts as a building for emergency responders), we need to have our own distinct road.

The Middle School house was built in 1905. It was known as the Stafford Family Farm. We have chosen “Stafford Farm Hill” as the new name for the driveway/road leading to the school.

The name reflects both the land’s history and our own teachings of farm to table, growing food for MS endeavors (and future farming dreams) and is in keeping with the Arts Barn, which clearly every farm should have! So, by the time everyone returns in the Fall, Hilltop Montessori School is likely to have a new street sign and a new address:  99 Stafford Farm Hill.

SummerFun: All the while, SummerFun has been robust and exciting. We have had an eye to next summer and how to continue to further develop our summer camp.

We are working to get these programs and facilities in place by September 3rd. Please come help us get ready at the Community Work Party on August 25th at 4 p.m.

Orientation day is Tuesday, September 2nd, with a regular school day starting for all programs on September 3rd. On those days, each family will receive a full packet of forms and information including, health forms, Student and Family Handbook, After School Programs information, etc.

Please look in the regular mail for the annual summer letter from your child(s) teachers that includes program specific news and information, including how orientation will be done for your child(s) program. If you are interested in other calendar dates for the school year, please visit the school calendar on the website – hilltopmontessori.org.

We look forward to seeing returning families and welcoming new families!

See you soon,
Tamara

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)

The Importance of Blending the Three Years within a Program

by Tamara Mount, Sept 12, 2014

One of the critical components of an authentic Montessori program is mixed age groups, usually three years in the same classroom. Hilltop has always had three years together for Children’s House, Lower Elementary and Upper Elementary. At times labels for the three years within each grouping have been used. To further blend the years, we are moving away from the using grade names and only occasionally using the “Younger”, “Middler”, and “Older” names. The more fully these three years are mixed, the greater the benefits. A few of the advantages of having the mixed ages are:

Older children solidify their learning and confidence when helping or teaching younger children, and younger often learn better from another child than from an adult.

Children can learn a skill or topic when they are developmentally interested, not at a predetermined time when students are “normally” learning that topic. All children of a set age do not need to be learning the same skill.

Children can take the time they need to work on a topic and then move to the next, whether that be longer or shorter than others, without being labeled “ahead”/”advanced”/”accelerated” or “slow”/”remedial”/”special”. A child with particular strength in one area can move more quickly through material, while a student who needs more practice on concepts can take more time. In doing this, they are just getting the “lessons” and doing the work that is right for them, no labels necessary.

Social diversity among ages gives more choices for friendships allowing for different levels of maturity and interests among ages. Students are not restricted artificially by chronological age but have a greater variety of friends to choose among.

In this type of environment, the distinctions of grade and the perception of someone being ahead or behind their grade don’t exist and students see each other, and themselves, more as individuals learning what they need to learn, able to help others in some topics and benefiting from others in another subject. Elementary age students might wonder at being in a math group with so many older children, or being in a reading group with younger children. In time, however, these perceptions break down and students see themselves and others engaging in material that is interesting and appropriate for them. They also begin to relish their roles as teachers themselves.

This mixed age grouping is not only for specific lessons, but also for the choices of follow-ups to the cultural/science lessons. For example, with the Lower Elementary class studying Nouns, there is one follow-up work to “label the environment”, another to list nouns that fit into categories (things that are “fuzzy”), and another work of identifying nouns in a “big book”, or classifying concrete and abstract nouns. If a child is really getting into nouns, they could do them all!

In conjunction with this academic and social mixing, we also have projects that are built into the traditions of each classroom, especially in the third year of each program. The “Olders” of Children’s House have pottery class in the winter; the “Olders” of Lower Elementary their biography and atlas projects, and the “Olders” of Upper El their Individual Study Project (ISPs). These traditions are important rite-of-passage and leadership opportunities at each program level.

We need partnership from parents to help reinforce the fact that people learn things at different times and paces at Hilltop Montessori School. Each child works on the lessons that they are ready for and interested in:

  • when your child wonders why they are in a math group with so-and-so, explain that the groupings are determined by who is ready for each lesson
  • when your child talks about a new friend, rather than asking what grade that child is in, ask what your child likes most about them, or what they talk about, etc. (For additional tips on questions to ask your children that get more conversation going than “How was your day at school?” check out this article.
  • if your child wants to be in a reading group that is doing chapter books, encourage her to read more with you at home to become a more fluent reader (it takes practice, not smarts)
  • if your child is asked what grade they are in by a friend or family member, please help them explain the three year groupings and use it as an opportunity to explain one of the many attributes of Montessori.