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Friday, 19 Dec 2014
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Let's Grow Kids

  by Tamara Mount, November 14, 2014

 Time and time again, Dr. Maria Montessori's ideas from 100 years ago are validated by modern science. Hilltop has been participating in the state-wide campaign, Let's Grow Kids, 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 observations 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...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.

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.

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 -

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

See you soon,

New Mailing Address for Hilltop

     July 22, 2014

 We've been informed by the Town that because we now have 4 buildings on our property, we need to have our own distinct road name.

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.

Hilltop Montessori School DOES Arts Integration!!!!

  by Tamara Mount, April 15, 2014

Time and again, important components of the Montessori approach, developed one hundred years ago, are proven to be beneficial in a modern context. One of these is the benefits of integrating arts into other components of the curriculum. In most traditional schools, arts are self-contained “specials” taught only for 45 minutes a week (or often cut from the curriculum) with a teacher who comes in only for that class. In our authentic Montessori classrooms drawing, music, drama, and performance are integrated as a means of learning and expressing all areas of the curriculum.  

Arts integration is something that Hilltop Montessori School does amazingly well. The regular classroom teachers are at least bilingual, if not trilingual, in “academics” and art, music, and/or drama. Some of them have professional or educational backgrounds in the arts, while others have strong “hobbies” and passions that they bring to the classroom and share with the students. All have a deep appreciation for the arts as a means to further explore and express both personal ideas and knowledge gained.

The math manipulatives, language, science and cultural lessons all can have follow up works that use art. Here at Hilltop, I have seen art, music, and drama integrated in such an amazing, organic, and natural way! A few examples of note:

Elementary Poetry Performances that include music, naturally keeping more children engaged in each poem and considering how to express the tone, emotion, and content of the spoken word


All School Gathering where students of all ages naturally “perform” by sharing their work weekly with an audience of 150!


Daily work at all levels using drawing, painting, and other artistic media to explore new concepts and to express learning.


Students create 2 dimensional art (in background) from the 3 dimensional Montessori materials.


Middle school students baked cakes to represent the Binomial Cube, a material used at every age group!


Upper El and Middle School plays use drama, music, and visual arts to express learning and personal growth.


Cultural and geography studies grow into beautiful artistic map work.

This integration of the arts grows students who view themselves as artists, musicians, and performers. Many parents have commented that because of their experience at Hilltop, their children have brought music into their families lives. It also helps children learn and retain academic skills and information, as this article highlights.

This arts integration happens every day in every indoor and outdoor classroom at Hilltop. Shortly it will also happen in our Arts Barn!!! It will be wonderful to have this new space for further demonstration of performance arts as a part of the integrated curriculum at Hilltop Montessori School!!!

Hilltop New Teaching Teams for 2014-15 School Year

 by Tamara Mount April 25, 2014

It is with great excitement and confidence that we announce staffing decisions for a growing teaching team for next year!

We had a high number of applicants for all of the openings posted earlier this year. With so many qualified candidates, we had some difficult decisions to make in selecting the best possible teams out of this deep pool for the Children’s House and Toddler Programs and the Learning Specialist position. We are pleased to report that as the interviews proceeded, a leading team became clear and our first choice candidates have all enthusiastically accepted our offers to join the wonderful teachers at Hilltop Montessori School. If you have any questions about these outstanding teaching teams, please stop by or email me to set up a time to talk.

Learning Specialist

Wendy Lynde will be joining our staff as an in-house Learning Specialist. This part-time position will be flexible to meet the needs of our community, and will include:

  • - assessing children’s literacy progress (focusing on students in Children’s House and Lower Elementary)
  • - supporting teachers implementing additional techniques into the classroom to augment the Montessori reading, writing, and spelling curriculum
  • - assisting teachers in determining when additional educational assessments should be recommended to parents
  • - serving as the in-house case manager for students with Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) or other accommodations
  • - providing professional development on recent educational research and making recommendations to teachers
  • - direct teaching of small reading groups in Lower Elementary

Wendy is an ideal candidate to fill this position. She has almost 20 years experience working with children who need additional support to be successful in the classroom. She is a certified Wilson Reading Instructor and has worked privately with students from Hilltop Montessori School. She has a wealth of knowledge from both her professional experience and from a long history of professional development workshops and conferences on understanding academic, behavior, and diversity needs and developments in children. Wendy has great respect for the goals and methods of Montessori classrooms, which are renowned for naturally accommodating children with different learning styles. Wendy is enthusiastic about bringing her expertise to Hilltop.

Children’s House Lead Teacher - Willow Room

We have enticed Jonathan Sellers to join us as a teacher in the Children’s House! Jonathan has his Children’s House certification from the Princeton Center for Teacher Education. He has five years of experience teaching in Montessori Children’s House classrooms, including at Amherst Montessori School and the New Century School in Baltimore, Maryland. Jonathan has a calm, nurturing, thoughtful, and mature demeanor. His colleagues and supervisors rave about his teaching skills: “In my 25 years in Montessori, I have never seen anyone embody Montessori more.” His teaching style encourages children to find their paths and learn naturally in the Montessori environment. He and his wife will be relocating to the Brattleboro area where they will be closer to family and she will be working as a nurse at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend, while finishing her studies to become a midwife. Jonathan will be visiting the school again in May to give parents and children an opportunity to meet with him and learn what a great teaching resource he will be.

Children’s House Assistant Teacher - Willow Room

Rebecca Baiser will be a fantastic addition to the team as she puts her Montessori training and experience into practice as the assistant teacher in the Willow Room. She obtained her Children’s House credential from the Princeton Center for Teacher Education in 2002 and received her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education in 2007. She has been an educator for over a decade and has taught in schools in California and Brattleboro before staying home with her young son. She is excited to have found a position at such an authentic Montessori school. She brings with her a warm, approachable manner and a wealth of knowledge about early childhood. She will be joining the Willow Room one morning a week from now until the end of this school year to give children and families a chance to get to know Rebecca and share our confidence in the teaching team for the Willow Room for next year.

Toddler Program Lead Teacher

Ellie Pennell is excited to design and develop Hilltop's new Toddler Program just next door to her friends in the Willow Room. Ellie holds both Montessori infant/toddler certification and Children's House certification in addition to a Masters in Education. Prior to joining Hilltop in 2010, she spent 2 years leading toddler classrooms in Massachusetts and 7 years at home raising her 3 young children. She will apply her Montessori toddler training and experience to Hilltop's newest program, while being available to assist with the Children's House students. Ellie has been an amazing team player through this interview and selection process, demonstrating maturity, thoughtfulness, a sense of responsibility, enthusiasm, and deep concern for the well being of the children and the growth of the school. We are so lucky to have her!

Toddler Program Assistant Teacher

Serina Keppel will be a wonderful complement to our Children’s House and Toddler Program team as she lends her knowledge and experience to the assistant position in the Toddler Program. Serina has her B.S. in Early Childhood Education from Boston University and has worked in early childhood programs for over 15 years, most recently running her own program in her home for 4-6 children between the ages of 18 months and 5 years. She is excited to delve into the pedagogy of Montessori and have a cadre of colleagues with whom to collaborate. She is experienced with the State of Vermont STARS program, in which Hilltop participates. She is in the process of obtaining her Vermont State Early Childhood Educators License which will be a significant benefit to Hilltop. She is excited to join the team of teachers she has so respected and appreciated as her two children have been enriched through their years at Hilltop.

These teams will be further supported by Cheryl, Sarah, and Mariam. We are thrilled with the strength and complementary skills of the team. Now that we have more information to share and new teachers for the children to meet, the teachers in the Willow Room will begin talking to the children next week about the transition. Rebecca will be joining the class on Tuesday! It will be exciting for us all to see the new team coming into place, as we share our appreciation, love, and respect for Melissa as she moves to a new stage in her career.

Once again, if you have any questions about these outstanding teaching teams, please stop by or email me to set up a time to talk.

We were thrilled with the turnout for Curriculum Night!   

 by Tamara Mount March 14, 2014

 More than 60 adults joined us to hear about how we implement the peace curriculum from Children's House through Middle School. We started out with a wonderful shared dinner including the children. (I know I've moved to Vermont - I've never has so many delicious kale salads!!) Then the children (30+!) went off to enjoy playing with Middle Schoolers or watching Dolphin Tale.

For the program, we focused mostly on the social and conflict resolution components of the curriculum - starting off with words from the children captured in this quick video:

What is the Peace Curriculum?

Then each program did an activity/presentation of a component of the curriculum at that level:
Children's House - Peace Works - from "making silence" to the conflict resolution at the Peace Table

Lower Elementary - Why and how to use "I statements" role playing activity

Upper Elementary - "Community Meetings" that went "live" with parents brainstorming and sharing solutions to real issues they wanted to bring up!

Middle School - a group activity to define Peace

Admin - How families can partner with the school to support children developing the skills of taking responsibility for their own happiness, advocating for themselves, reflective listening and becoming leaders in social problem solving.  

In the course of the evening there were a few books mentioned. Some of you were interested in the titles:

The Peace Rose (out of print - Cheryl's copy might be a collectors item!)

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children

How To Talk So Kids Can Learn

We thank you so much for joining us. The teachers and staff put a great deal of thought and time into these nights and it is so rewarding to have such a great audience!!

Educating for Peace

  by Tamara Mount 3/7/2014

 "Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war." -Maria Montessori

You have re-enrolled with us - now come learn more about what you are paying for!

The Peace Curriculum permeates everything we do with students at an authentic Montessori school like Hilltop. Maria Montessori developed her philosophy of education during the tumultuous years of WWI and WWII. Those disturbances greatly shaped her life, her world view and became the lens through which she viewed education. The curriculum she developed, which we follow at Hilltop Montessori School, includes:

  • classroom environments and practices that allow each individual to confidently develop their own rhythms and skills
  • geography/cultural lessons that show how all humans share the same "Fundamental Needs"
  • science lessons that illustrate the interconnectedness of all organisms, including humans, in the web of life
  • history lessons that analyze past cultures' contributions to human understanding of the world/human knowledge
  • conflict resolution lessons that teach us all how to be peacemakers and advocates for peace in our communities

On that last point, in particular, we need families to partner with us in fostering children's skills in advocating for themselves and being respectful and caring towards others. Please join us Tuesday evening, March 11 at 7pm to learn more about our Peace Curriculum and how you can help support it.

New Employment Openings at Hilltop for next year

 by Tamara Mount, February 28, 2014

  We are starting to plan for the needs of next year! With all the returning contracts and new students applying, we will continue to build and grow our programs. With the Toddler Program, more After School Programs, increased use of After-Care, and the completion of our new Arts Barn, we will have a need for more staff. We also will need to fill the shoes of Connie Rugg-Damery who is going to try to retire from Hilltop a second time. This time, we might have to let her, though it will be impossible to find her combination of skills, experience, dedication and modesty. In fact, we are thinking it will take two people to replace her! We will miss Connie.

We will not know our exact needs until enrollment is set, but we would like to begin identifying and interviewing candidates. Some candidates may be in-house and some from outside. Please see the employment section of the Hilltop website for more details. Here is a quick list of the positions we expect to need to fill.

Children's House Assistant

Toddler Program Assistant

Learning Specialist

Teacher Assistant/Substitute

After-Care Teacher for Older Students

After-Care Teacher for Younger Students

Facilities Caretaker

Montessori Conference Notes

 by Tamara Mount, January 24, 2014

 A group of us traveled to Franklin, MA to attend the Montessori Schools of Massachusetts annual conference. As many of you have probably experienced, these professional conferences can be inspirational or a real drag. This one was fantastic! We all came back with new ideas and enthusiasm for things to implement at school and at home!

The keynote speaker was Sarah Ward ( who spoke about "Practical Strategies" to help with "Executive Function Skills". She had great ideas for Children's House through Middle School and on. For example, she shared that instead of using checklists to help someone who has trouble getting ready to leave the house, it is better to have them "picture" what they will look like when they are all ready to go. For many, it helps to actually have a photograph of themselves when ready, and use that to learn and do the detailed steps. She also had suggestions for helping with long term assignments, time management, etc. She might be a great person to have as a parent education speaker!

Amelia attended two sessions presented by Starr Snead (no, she is not a Dr. Seuss character, but a school consultant). She got Amelia all fired up about "Type A" events, giving portfolios, and forming event and development committees. Watch out!

There was an excellent presentation from Middle School teachers at The Inly School ( Much of it reinforced what our program does, as our teachers have shared information with that program in the past. They had specifically given thought to how to adapt the "Growth Mindset" put forth by Carol Dweck ( to their Middle School program, as they transition their students into taking tests and seeing grades. The group had a great discussion about how "Hard is good!" If work is too easy, no mistakes are being made, grades are perfect or close to it, that means things aren't challenging enough. Mistakes are opportunities for learning, when they are coupled with self-reflection - useful to remember at any age.

One session was led by the Learning Specialists team from the Montessori School of Northampton ( The attendees discussed their models for identifying and supporting students who need additional help within or outside of the Montessori classroom. Another session was about integrating iPads into the Montessori Elementary classrooms and considering coding as the next basic skill to address as educators. It was useful to hear, as we continue to assess and improve our services at Hilltop Montessori School.

As with the board training that we had last month, much of what we learned reinforced what Hilltop has done to date, confirmed what we are working on to day, and inspired us to continue to evaluate, grow, and improve!

Learn and share about Hilltop programs...

  by Tamara Mount, 1/10/2014

 Being knowledgeable about all Hilltop Montessori School programs helps you, as a parent, understand and appreciate the education your child is receiving. It also helps you be an advocate for the school.

Parents are our best source of referrals of new families. Adding new, enthusiastic families to our school builds stronger programs and augments the entire school community. Please consider attending and/or participating in many of the upcoming events that will increase your understanding of our Montessori programs. You will learn or share information about:

  • Programs new to Hilltop Montessori School - Stepping Stones Open House - Mini-Class
  • Work your child is doing currently - Children's House Parent Classroom Visits, Elementary Work-Share, Middle School film presentation
  • Programs your child is growing towards - Open House, Moving-Up Night

New Toddler Program Open House, Friday, January 24, 2014 / 9 - 10am

We are inviting interested parents and their toddler to join us on Friday, January 24, 2014, from 9 to 10am, for our first toddler Open House. Our goal is to share the plans we have for the toddler program in the fall of 2014. This will also be an opportunity for us to meet your toddlers and for you to meet the program director, Ellie Pennell. She will talk about the plans for the program and answer your questions. Please call Lauren Campbell at 257-0500 ext 101 to register for this event.     

All School Open House, Tuesday, January 28, 2014 / 9 - 11:00 am

Hilltop parents will be there to share their stories and eighth grade students will answer your questions about their Hilltop experience.  

9 am Welcome

9:15 am - tour and observations

10 - 10:30 am meet with program director for discussion and Q&A

10:30 - 11:00 am wrap up session including a Q&A with 8th grade students, Head of School and Admissions Director

Winter is here!

 by Tamara Mount, 12/13/13

 Being new to this school and to this "climate" (both literally and figuratively), I am relieved that the decision to close or delay school due to snow does not lie with me. As most of you probably know, Hilltop Montessori School follows the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union's call on whether to close, delay opening, or have an early closing. With the snow upon us, we thought it would be useful to review the notification procedures here in a newsletter to save anyone who is unclear from having to dig out your Family Handbook at 6 a.m.  Let it snow!!!

SNOW POLICY- FROM THE HANDBOOK (p. 22): Hilltop follows the WSESU school closing policy for snow days. Cancellation of school will be announced over local radio stations by 7:00 a.m. (WTSA 96.7FM, 1450 AM or WKTV 92.7 FM, 1490 AM). School closing information is also posted on the date in the Public Access Calendar at our website, by going to and clicking on "calendar" and at . (Click on "School Closings" and then select Hilltop Montessori under "Select a District".) Other school functions will be cancelled in the same manner when necessary with as much notice as possible.

In the event of a two hour delay, school will start at 10:30 a.m. and early morning care will be cancelled. In case of early closing of WSESU schools, Hilltop will email parents to notify them and will post the closing on the website. All attempts will be made to keep the school open. The after school program is sometimes shortened or cancelled and relevant parents will be called. In the event of 6 or more snow and/or emergency days throughout the school year, these days will be made up at they end of the school year.

All this being said, we want all families to feel safe driving to and from school. So if the weather looks questionable and you feel that it is not safe to venture out, or the weather turns bad during the day and you would like to retrieve your child early, we understand completely.

Announcing the Stepping Stones Program!

 by Tamara Mount, 11/15/2013

 Some of you may have noticed some new furniture, materials and rugs in the "Quiet Room" renamed the "Toddler Room", soon to be the "Stepping Stones Program". We are moving forward on having a toddler program starting in September 2014. We have been granted a change to our early childcare license to include the younger children and will be working on the details of offering this Montessori program to our community. This room, that was designed for such a program, will now be filled with little voices.

Starting in September of 2014, Hilltop Montessori School will have a Stepping Stones program that will:

  • serve toddlers ages 18-36 months
  • be available for 3 or 5 mornings a week, or 3 or 5 full-days per week
  • provide high-quality, authentic Montessori approach, materials, and activities for these younger members of our community.

For those of you who haven't seen a Montessori toddler program in action, you are in for a treat. They are absolutely beautiful and amazing, as you see the: supporting of the child's abilities, choice of work, development of practical life skills, and satisfaction in growing independence applied at this young age.  So many physical and cognitive skills are just coming online and the whole world is opening up to them for their exploration and mastery. To have this happen in a Montessori prepared environment tailored to their size, abilities, and interests is a gift!

We will be continuing to put the pieces together for this program over the coming months. If you have any questions, comments, or ideas, please stop by, call, or email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

There is so much wonderful involvement and enthusiasm for Hilltop Montessori School

by Tamara Mount November 1, 2013

There is so much wonderful involvement and enthusiasm for Hilltop Montessori School these days! I've heard:

"That was the best beginning of school picnic I've even been to!!" [referring to the Spofford Lake event]

"There was more excitement and participation in the Annual Fund Carnival Kick-Off party than anything Hilltop has even had!!"

"That was the best Upper El Parent/Student soccer game ever!"

We also had fantastic participation in the Annual Fund, exceeding our financial goal and achieving an amazing 91% participation. We had great response to the families' survey and have had nice turnout for All School Gatherings, soccer games, Middle School presentations, etc. Parents and grandparents have stopped by my office or caught me at the circle in the mornings to share their observations about how well things are going. I've also had parents email me and/or set up appointments to share concerns they have about a particular situation or suggestions for improvement. I welcome it all. Please keep the communication coming.

To further this interest, involvement and communication, we will be hosting "Parent Gatherings" in the mornings after All School Gatherings. This week we won't have an All School Gathering, as it is a short week and we have an Open House for perspective families on Thursday. But we will start the next week, on Thursday, November 14th - Mark your calendar!

Survey Responses

 by Tamara Mount October 11, 2013

 We are thrilled with the participation and responses from the families survey!

We have received 53 responses so far. Response from about half of our families (assuming there were some families with two people responding) is well above the expected results from such a survey. All of the feedback was very helpful in informing plans for the future. We greatly appreciate the effort and thoughtful participation of our families!

If you haven't taken the survey but would like to have your voice heard, there is still time. Click here to take the families survey. After you respond, please email Ann, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ,  to have your name entered in the drawing for a coffee mug!

We will be doing a more thorough analysis next week, but some initial noteworthy comments include:

Many people suggested online conference scheduling. We've already started looking into how to make that happen in the future.
Twenty people liked the idea of a coffee chat before All School Gathering and a few noted that they were not aware that parents were welcome for All School Gathering, SO...


Please feel welcome to join our school community for All School Gathering on Thursday mornings. It is always a fun time with very sweet and/or informative presentations from children of all ages and fun songs led by our minstrel Jay, often with musical performances from the children. The schedule is:

8:15 - 8:30 - Drop off children
8:30 - 9:00 - Coffee and toddler playtime in the Quiet (future Toddler) Room for adults and toddlers
8:45 - 9:00 - Peace Buddies find each other and gather in Middle School (good weather) or Upper Elementary (bad weather)
9:00 - 9:20 or so - All School Gathering - a heartwarming, informal community time

Childcare/Enrichment activities for the conference days: There wasn't enough potential participation in the Irish Dance for the Friday conference day to make it worth the expense. There was a need expressed for care during these kind of days with no school. In the future, with the barn space available and more advance scheduling, planning, and notice time, we would like to provide more choices and opportunities for care and enrichment. Though it did not make sense to pull off Irish Dancing this time, instead we will offer the following

Care During Conference Days

Free Childcare During Your Conference: As has been done in the past (but not everyone knows) there is childcare offered free of charge during your conference time. So, if you need to have Mariam watch your little one while you meet with the teachers, please feel free to drop him/her off at the playground or Quiet (Toddler) Room.
After Care During Conferences Day and a Half: For families who need care for the afternoon of Thursday, October 24th and during the day on Friday, October 25th when there is no school, we will offer care (until 5 p.m.) at the regular After Care rate of $7.50/hour. We will not be able to have a separate napping group, so this will need to be for children who do not need to nap. (Please sign up at the front desk by Friday, October 18th, if you intent to use this child care service.)
Mask Making Enrichment Activity: We also have a fun Mask Making program to offer older children!

Just in time for Halloween: Mask Making

Thursday October 24th 12:00 - 3:30 and Friday October 25th 8:30 - 12:00 (follow-up time after school TBD if needed) Upper El & Middle School  - $65
Tools of transformation, masks can inspire awe, wonder, and mystery in the mask-wearer, as well as the viewer. Students will learn the fundamentals of designing and creating their own masks, focusing on sculptural techniques to capture the "essential spirit" of the mask. Participants will sculpt in fabric, cast in duct tape-mache and learn painting techniques to give their masks maximum play. (Please sign up and pay by check at the front desk by Friday, October 18th, for your child to participate in this fun activity.)

Why Cursive Writing in the Digital Age?

by Tamara Mount, October 4, 2013

For many years there has been a debate about how much time and effort should be put into teaching and practicing handwriting now that we are in a digital age with the majority of communication being through a keyboard. While keyboarding skills are important, there are good scientific reasons to continue having children work on handwriting, including cursive writing.

Maria Montessori was one of the first scientists to emphasize the connection between the hand and the brain. She speculated, long before MRIs could prove it, that the movement of the hand stimulated many areas of the brain. "The first movement of his small hand toward external objects should be eagerly awaited. . . Since he must develop himself through his movements, through the work of his hands, he has a need of objects with which he can work and provide motivation for his activity."   Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood

Since the adaptation of the Common Core Standards across the country, and in Vermont, there has been debate specifically about teaching cursive writing. Cursive writing is not in the Common Core Curriculum, yet there are many reasons to teach cursive:

  • the slow, deliberate training of the hand and mind for cursive in the early elementary years has developmental advantages
  • children who enjoy handwriting, have a new artistic venue to develop
  • children who have rushed or sloppy handwriting, have a new, "more advanced" skill to work on that improves the legibility of their handwriting
  • the fluid movement of cursive can help to extinguish letter reversals that are often still common in the early elementary child
  • a new way to focus on letters and words helps with reading, as it works to improve writing

At Hilltop Montessori School, we directly teach both manuscript and cursive writing in the Lower Elementary program. Children come from the Children's House having learned formation of their letters using sandpaper letters, metal insets, sand trays, the chalkboard, and the movable alphabet, and are beginning to write on paper.

In the first year of Lower Elementary children learn to focus on handwriting and follow explicit instructions for forming manuscript letters. These lessons are extremely prescriptive, with an explicit right way to form letters. Having developed that discipline, in the second year of Lower Elementary, children review manuscript and learn cursive. Some children take off with it! Loving the new way to write. Others need to work at it slowly. In the third year of Lower Elementary, students review their cursive letters and initially do all of the work that is copying using cursive. For example, if they have done an antonym matching work and are then writing it down, they will do that in cursive. But, they can do original writing of a first draft in manuscript, and then do the final in cursive. By the end of the school year, all written work will be expected to be done in cursive.

This emphasis on cursive writing has been shown to bring many long-term benefits to children. Both reading (decoding) and writing (organization and mechanics) have been shown to improve in children who have had an increased emphasis on handwriting. It can also help with memory of information. There have been many studies and articles on this topic. A few are listed here:

Montessori Principles Are Embraced...

Time and again we see studies and articles that espouse exactly the conclusions that Maria Montessori drew from her observations 100 years ago. It is affirming to see components of the educational approach we use acknowledged and embraced by others. Most recently, there was an article in the New York Times about the importance of "social-emotional learning".  

Lessons that teach children how to identify and handle emotions and resolve interpersonal conflicts can have a significant impact on their success in life. "So-called non-cognitive skills - attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness - might actually be better predictors of a person's life trajectory than standard academic measures."

This article shows the benefits of exactly the kind of lessons that occur daily in every classroom at Hilltop Montessori School. In addition to, and integrated with, the lessons in math, language, science, and culture, there are lessons on social-emotional learning, such as:

  • a young child identifying the emotion felt by a child in a photograph
  • having children role play how to solve interpersonal issues
  • an elementary class holding a class meeting to discuss the social issues that come up in Haytown
  • the Middle School students discussing what it means to "speak with integrity".

On Tuesday, I attended a focus group in preparation for the Governor's Early Childhood Summit. Educators from Brattleboro and throughout Vermont heard a policymaker from Washington, DC (Tom Schultz) and made recommendations for how the Governor's early childhood education initiative can "promote a holistic, shared and consistent approach to pedagogy and practice from infancy through third grade." We discussed several studies that showed most school programs requiring children to spend an increased amount of time "listening, sitting, and watching" versus DOING. The consensus in the room was in support of so many components critical to Montessori: learning through doing, choice work, social opportunities, time outside, project based learning, an integrated curriculum, etc.

In some ways it can be frustrating to have others see as enlightening the concepts that seemed obvious to Dr. Montessori, to view as groundbreaking what we have been doing everyday. On the other hand, it is rewarding and fulfilling so see our ideas and pedagogy confirmed and endorsed by a larger community. It would be a better world if all children had access to a more Montessori approach. Or, as the article concludes, "If you have that kind of instruction [whole child, social-emotional learning], from kindergarten [or earlier!], I think that in 20 years the world will be a very different place."

Peace Education

"Peace Education" is one of the most important components of a good Montessori program, but it is also one of the more difficult integrated aspects to put your finger on and explain. Peace Education is teaching, modeling, and encouraging:

  • reflective listening and conflict resolution on a personal and global level (from the peace table to international treaties)
  • respect of self and others
  • self-calming (anger management)
  • grace and courtesy
  • justice and human rights
  • interconnectedness of all things
  • environmental stewardship
  • befriending and caring for people who are "different" from you

The celebration of the International Day of Peace (established by the United Nations in 1982) at Hilltop Montessori School is a component of our peace education. We discuss, model and sing about being "peaceful." The day also marks the beginning of the relationships between the "Peace Buddies." This is certainly the most anticipated part of the day for the children. Each Middle School child is paired with a Lower Elementary child and Upper Elementary and Children's House children are matched. These relationships start on Peace Day and are cultivated further throughout the year, especially during the All School Gatherings.

Seeing these relationships begin was, as they say, "priceless"! The conversations were so precious:

Older: "So, what is your favorite color?"  (Always a good conversation starter.)

Younger: "Blue!"

Older: "Blue is a great color. I like blue too."

Younger: "Do you know, Sarah, the teacher?"

Older: "Yes, I had Sarah in my class when I was in the Birch Room."

Younger: "Isn't she nice?"

Older: "What do you think of when you think of peace?"

Younger: "I like playing with Legos."

Older: "I feel relaxed when I play with Legos too."

After meeting their Peace Buddy, the children made pinwheels together, coloring them beautifully, and writing words of peace on them. The children then shared a work or a book together in the classroom, walked outside for songs by the pond and a silent walk behind the "Peace Dove." We then gathered in a big circle and shared a poem about peace, and what peace meant to us. At this huge circle of more than 136 people, the first to speak up was a 3 year old, "I feel peaceful when I play with my sister, and come to school." It was a wonderful Peace Day.

Parent Orientation Night    

   Please come on Tuesday night and get "oriented" to your child's (or children's) program. This meeting is an important opportunity to see the teachers, learn about the curriculum for the year, and participate in the community that your child spends every school day with. The teachers will be covering the daily schedule and the happenings of the classroom. This information will help you communicate with your child about their school day.

Instead of holding all the meetings from 7-8 p.m., we would like to hold the Lower Elementary meeting from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. (and have the other programs from 7-8 p.m.), so that the many families with children in Lower Elementary and in another program can attend both. This schedule will also allow Dan Filler (as Director of Elementary) and me (as new Head of School) to attend both the Lower and Upper Elementary meetings.

Schedule Change:  Parent Orientation Meetings Tuesday, September 17th:

Lower Elementary - 6-7 p.m.

CH, UE, MS - 7-8 p.m.

Child care will be provided from 6-8 p.m. Please sign up at the front desk, if you haven't already.

We look forward to seeing you on Tuesday night.


  by Tamara Mount, September 6, 2013

  As a new head at an established, strong school, the typical advice is to take the first year to do the Montessori thing and observe, observe, observe - see how things are done, notice the flow of activities, soak in the culture, don't make any waves until you really learn the lay of the land. However, I was hired because I have specific skills and experience that is directly applicable to the programs at Hilltop Montessori School. The board specifically charged me with directly applying my expertise as soon as possible. While I can't make changes that significantly affect the budget that was set last year, I have found ways to tweak what is happening for the better.

For example, morning drop-off seemed a place to make an improvement.

Having been a teacher, I really appreciate and want to guard the teacher preparation time in the early morning.

Having been a parent of young children, I know that it is hard to organize your morning to have drop-off occur at a specific minute in time.

Having been a manager, I know consistency always makes things more clear.

So . . . drop off time is now consistently a 15 min. window from 8:15-8:30 a.m. for all programs. CH and Elementary children will need to be in Morning Care if they are here before 8:15 a.m.. Teachers will have that valuable time in their classrooms preparing the enticing lessons for the day, without child supervision responsibilities, until 8:15 a.m.. This is a slight change that I hope will help things run more smoothly.

We'll be making more adjustments as we see the need. And, as part of the process of observing, learning about the school, and being a part of the community, please don't be surprised or alarmed if you see me cc'ed on an email from a teacher, or if I get back to you about a question you might have asked another staff person. I want to be involved, to learn about the school, and be engaged in the day-to-day workings of the school. Additionally, if you have some feedback to share, please email me or stop by!

So glad to be here! 

by Tamara Mount, August 23, 2013

A school is made by the people. A beautiful campus doesn't hurt, but the people make the school. The commitment, dedication, and excitement of the staff, parents, and children that I have seen in just my two months here has been inspiring.

Tonia had told me the staff was incredibly dedicated and strong, and, while I certainly believed her, I was still amazed to see teacher after teacher from every program area come in over the summer to:

  • check on the new materials ordered for the younger children
  • decide what books will best meet the literacy needs of the children as they begin to tackle bigger books
  • build shelves for the re-invention of the "art" room
  • share the excitement for new curriculum ideas from an intense training program
  • water the new grass seed on the soccer field and "patio" area

At most schools, once classrooms are packed up in June, teachers aren't seen until that first in-service day. The Hilltop gang was in the loop all summer. While I've been assured that every teacher did take some well-deserved time to relax and rejuvenate, it is so clear that this Montessori community and teaching these children is what they live for. see the parents rolling up their sleeves, "wearing" their babies and washing the windows, painting the shelves, sorting out the supplies, etc. at the Work Party last night was equally heart warming. The camaraderie and spirit of parents (and children!) working alongside teachers for the good of the children was incredible. A school is made by the people and this school is a gem!

August Update

by Tamara Mount, August 16, 2013

I LOVE MY JOB!!! Really, I am so excited to be here in this wonderful community and this beautiful setting. I attended Montessori Administrators training over the summer and must say that I was the envy of the group to be starting at such a strong, established school.

And here we are with summer almost over...soon the halls and classrooms will be bustling with your children. Staff and teachers have been working on many preparations for September. You all should have received letters in the old fashioned mail that discuss the upcoming year and the intricate schedule for the next few weeks. I look forward to meeting everyone and the start of the new school year.

Commencement Crescendo!

By Tonia

Moving up, moving on, beginning, ending - however one wants to define it, there were many commencements the last week of school, and there was a Montessori thread of "responsible independence" that ran through all of them.

It started with a smile-producing kindergarten ceremony. There were mobiles hanging above each child's head with pictures/words of favorite activities. There were songs. There were personal statements from each child proudly read off to the assembled smiling parents. There were songs and there was the candle walk. And then there was...CAKE! The kindergarteners are moving on.

The next commencement was centered around Jessica's farewell, and also the thirds becoming fourths. The Lower El had a private, quiet farewell with the students reflecting on their experiences in Jessica's classroom. This was followed by a celebratory party hosted by Lower El parents.

As with Lower El, the sixth grade graduation was a classroom ceremony. And it was astonishing. There were individual personal statements read to the class. Their sense of self-reflection about who they were when they started in Upper El and what they learned during their years with Dan and Tom were full of humor and honesty. There were gifts to and from the sixths, there was a song, there was poetry, there was a candle walk.

The crescendo came with Middle School graduation held in the pouring, POURING rain on Friday night (though once the event started no one even noticed the rain). In all my years of Hilltop graduations, this reached phenomenal heights. Memorizing a very personal speech and giving it in front of a large assembled crowd of parents, grandparents, friends and teachers is no easy task, and yet this year's eighths delivered their very personal words with grace, aplomb, humor and wonderful timing. They left the tent with black umbrellas sheltering them, stood in a line by their pond with backs turned and then in a crescendo of music, turned around, waving proudly, umbrellas and hands twirling. They are ready to commence their new lives.

Responsible independence: at each age level the students reflected on what they liked, how they had grown, what community meant, how grateful they were to their families and teachers. They spoke in front of their families, their friends, their classmates. They were responsible and they were independent. Those moving on, moving up, commencing and graduating - CONGRATULATIONS!

Lost Until Translated

By Tonia

Juice goose not for the JBLs. Redundant conduit. Two hot legs. Cap 5 terminate. Followspot.

At this Wednesday’s barn design meeting, former HMS parent and theater guru Gerry Stockman, Finn, and parent Dave Snyder spoke in this near incomprehensible language with architect Frank Balla about the theater needs.

What I came to realize from this particular meeting is how the theater will become an integral part of Hilltop’s curriculum as students learn about how to use sound, light, and staging to enhance their school performances; and that a vocabulary, which is foreign sounding to me, will need no translation for the upcoming generation. What has traditionally been mysterious, technical, behind the scenes done-on-Broadway work, will now be available to all Hilltop students.

Today I toured a parent of one of the first Hilltop Middle School graduates. He was totally agog, having bumped through the infancy of the Elementary and Middle School. He spoke of how Hilltop exposed his his son and daughter to new ideas, intellectual risk-taking and critical thought, and how that has allowed them as adults to develop skills and expertise in fields that were just emerging during his children’s early years.

It was, as you may have guessed, an “aha” moment for me, and one which makes me more committed to the Barn project, determined to ensure that all the “redundant conduit” or “hot legs” are included.  It makes me – and I hope all of you – more determined to ensure that the pond and the playground, these final pieces of the Keystone Campaign, are finished so that today’s students learn vocabulary and skills that will serve them in fields that are in their infancy today.

Odd and Even

By Tonia

A very simple material. Round wooden red counters. Wooden numerals from 1-10. Sample layout laminated on a card for the child as a model.

Emma laid out the numerals and the counters. Several of the numerals were backward and a couple of the counters were askew, but in my mind she had been patient and copied the model accurately.

Melissa came over and sat down next to her. After complimenting Emma on the layout, she wordlessly put her finger next to the backwards numeral 7. Emma quickly turned it. Same for the numeral 9.

Melissa then asked her to look at the laminated card and back at her work and said, "The counters have a pattern. Can you see what it is?" Emma took a look at the model and moved the lone (odd) counters to the bottom middle of each (odd) numeral. The word "odd" had not yet been used.

Melissa placed her finger above the counters and below the numeral. She slides it down until it rests on a counter, and says "odd" and moves it to one side. If there is no counter to stop her she slides her finger all the way down and says "even". She did this for each of the numerals/counters. Emma watched. No words while Melissa slid her fingers down the row. Only to say the word "odd" or "even".

After doing this for the numerals 1-10 and the counters below them, a discussion ensued about how they were different. How "odd" actually meant it didn't have a twin, it didn't make a pair or have a match across from it. A very simple material. Round wooden red counters. Wooden numerals from 1-10. A knowledgeable teacher using precise language that emphasized the language and the corresponding concept.

An incredible concept internalized. I know because the next day I held up one finger and asked Emma "odd or even". "Odd" she responded. When I held up two fingers, "even".


By Tonia

I have overheard parents reflecting in astonished tones at the "personality changes" they have observed in their children with the onset of spring. For some it's been delightful - the grumps have turned into active, busy, sunshin-y family members. For other there's the wail of "what happened to my active, busy, sunshin-y child?"

Perhaps it's just the season, perhaps it's the school year cycle, but it is certainly what seems to happen around spring break. We see it at school as well. There's a restlessness, an anticipation, a mood that can be accompanied by distraction, noisy outbursts (good ones and bad ones), moments of lethargy and moments of high energy and incredible focus.

Most upper el and middle school students can articulate what's working and what isn't which can make it easier to come up with solutions - whether it's earlier dinner or setting up a new schedule or even re-arranging a bedroom. For younger students it's more of a challenge - and endless questions to try and find out what's going on can frustrate both parents and children.

There are no perfect answers - mostly it's being able to relax, step back and say, yes, this too shall pass. Another stage is sure to come. The question is how soon!

A Responsible Community

By Tonia

There is so much going on – raffles and playground building, tag sale prep and helping with carpools, organizing wood chips and coaching Girls on the Run. Much of what happens goes unnoticed, seems just what one does, but in fact, it’s all these little pieces that make for a strong school.

RAFFLES: Summer Getaway tickets are selling like wildfire! Thanks to all those who have taken them to work, walked around the neighborhood, let their Red Sox or Yankee fans know…and if you haven’t sold yours, please use any of these methods to do so. Remember that every family has the responsibility to sell 10 Summer Getaway tickets!

The Tiny House continues to intrigue a wide variety of people from California (!) to the New York Island. Of course it’s hard to imagine a Tiny House being pulled across to CA or settling anywhere on the New York Island. I’ve been surprised at friends of mine who have bought one on-line so send out the link and encourage your friends and relatives to take a peek.  We’re counting on you to sell at least 2 Tiny House raffle tickets.

PLAYGROUND RENOVATION: Thank you Ellie and Andrew Pennell for taking on the sandbox moving project and to all the volunteers coming this weekend to build a new sandbox so that next weekend the swing set can be installed. Group photo please so we can identify all the participants!

TAG SALE: In talking about clearing out the barn in anticipation of the June 10 demolition (yahooooo), up came the idea of having an easy to manage tag sale. Poof, within a day there were 10 families who signed on, food organized and a bouncy house to keep bouncy guys organized.

CARPOOLS: To all of you who organize and drive carpools – a huge thank you. It cuts down on the carbon footprint and eases traffic in the circle.  It does take a village to organize one, keep to a schedule and to take a turn and drive a group of noisy passengers.

WOOD CHIPS AND GARDENING: Soon there will be pots of color and a big pile of wood chips to beautify the grounds.  If this is something you like to do please contact the green thumb lady – Lynn Stewart.

COACHING GIRLS ON THE RUN; An extraordinary coaching group of Amelia, Sarah, Lynn Brush and Deb Loevy-Reyes run 16 Hilltop girls ragged. Or is it the other way around? In any case there’s a lot of laughter, panting and red faces by the end of each session. Reminder that pick up is 4:30.

Thanks to all of you for the role modeling of “responsible independence” and helping the Hilltop community hum through the rest of the year.


By Tonia

I happened in on a spring lesson in the Birch Room this morning. It was all about the planting sequence from seed to a delicious plate of beans.

Olders and youngers settled into circle and answered questions about what would be needed for the work that Cheryl was presenting: scissors, pencil, glue, paper. Ideas popped out as to what one could do with the sheet of paper that showed the sequence. Besides a straightforward glue and paste there was the concept of a matching game or making an accordion book. This resulted in a big discussion about the word "accordion". "That's what Jay has". Puzzled looks on the youngers. How could the paper on the tray become an accordion like Jay's? Olders do their best to explain.

Then the discussion began about the sequence of growth - from seed to plant to edible bean.

There was lots of discussion about the bean itself. The shape, the size, how the root emerges underground, how the shoot pokes up through the soil, how long it takes to grow, what plants need in order to grow, how the roots stabilize the plant and make it sturdy.

The vocabulary in such a lesson is unbelievably rich: seed, tap root, rootlets, stabilize, sturdy, pod, stalk, harvest. But it wasn't taught as vocabulary, it was inherent in the discussion. The words "stabilize" and "sturdy" were translated in a simpler form: The little roots help keep the plant from falling over.

A simple lesson to start the day that took place in less than 15 minutes. Science. Vocabulary. Respect on circle. Youngers listening to olders. And even that magical moment when one student likened the tap root to the Connecticut River and the rootlets to the streams that flow into the river!

Watching learning happen. What a satisfying way to start my day.

The World's a Stage 


This Isn't Peter Pan 


Looking forward to Theater Space!

Wednesday morning. Honing in on Thursday's performances of "Night at the Museum" the Upper El class is assembled and Dan and Tom begin pulling together the various skits that exhibit what has been learned throughout the school year. Skits have been written by the students, edited and refined by Tom, Dan or other students. Songs have been written by the students, edited, refined and practiced with other students and Jay. Tom directs onstage; Jay oversees the music; Dan is in the art room finishing up props.


Yes, The world's a stage: the topics range from Native Americans to the three branches of government, to the human body.  Nine skits that represent a physical expression of topics covered over the year.  Eight songs that the band has practiced throughout the year, the words of which have been rewritten to reflect the skit topics.


This isn't Peter Pan. There is no "I Won't Grow Up" where the audience knows the tune and the words, where parents and teachers help rehearse the lines. The script - well, it's not available through any source except for the students themselves and the lines have to come from and be internalized by the students. It's a script that requires creativity and responsibility from each student. It's a script that demands the courage to explain one's learning in one's own words in front of an audience.  It's a script that demands both independence of thought and the ability to create a cohesive skit with classmates.


When everyone is crammed into the Upper El tomorrow afternoon or evening there is no question that we will be looking forward to the new theater space in the Barn. Next year's performances - and there will be many to enjoy - will happen in the new theater and will be fitting for the kind of creative, student-driven performances Hilltop produces.

Blogs, Articles and other Readings


Like so many of you, there's never a shortage of emails that are advertising some fabulous product, webinar or workshop. Many of the ones I receive at Hilltop can be deleted just by reading the subject line. However, every once in a while something comes in that's intriguing. Here are a couple of articles/blogs that should spark an interesting conversation with family and friends.


Making Good on our Claims About the Power of Failure Teaching to Fail

by Edward Burger

Although this article is directed towards higher ed, the subject is relevant: learn from failure. Everyone talks about it; here is a professor who goes one step further and actually teaches failure, believing that only by trying and failing does one begin to take risks and think beyond the obvious.



An Iconoclastic Challenge: Discourage Originality! Uncreative Writing: Redefining Language and Authorship in the Digital Age

by Maria Popova

I found this particularly interesting. Imagine writing something that is one plagiarized sentence after another! Maria Popova re-examines Kenneth Goldsmith's book Uncreative Writing. It could be quite a challenge to write something where Mark Twain's or Maya Angelou's sentences or phrases are used in a different way.


The Dearth of a Salesman

To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

by Daniel Pink

Yes, this is about teaching as a sales job. As one reviewer wryly admits, "While no teacher wants to be a salesman explicitly, we still have to convince our students that what we "sell" them is worth the effort, whether the "buying" is required or not."


So Much Happening

Teachers, students, admin staff, parents. Everyone has the regular stuff they do: give lessons, morning drop-off, answer phone calls, family chores, school chores. What is astonishing is how much happens outside of our regular chores - and how a week with all these "specials" couldn't happen without significant commitment from everyone in the community. Here is a brief summary of how the community made this past week work. Thank you to all!
*A Montessori trainer from Kerstin's certification program observes Kerstin and gave her feedback.
*Hilltop parents/students makes and serves supper at the overflow shelter.
*The Children's House has a field trip to Lilac Ridge Farm.
*The Upper El has a field trip to the Pequot museum.
*Cheryl, Mariam and Sarah spend Friday soaking in new Montessori ideas at another school.
*A Montessori teacher from a public Montessori school in Springfield, MA visits Hilltop and soaks in new ideas.
* Lauren, Melissa and Cheryl host a mini-class to welcome prospective Children's House applicants and introduce them to a Montessori classroom.
*The Faculty/Staff meet to get an overview of the 2013-14 budget .
*Ellie attends a professional development workshop.
*The Design team (Tonia, Sarah A-J, Frank, Leland, Jenny Smith) meet to discuss Barn demolition project timing.
*The Middle School holds an Alabama details meeting.
*Girls on the Run takes place two afternoons after school.
*Lauren tours prospective parents.

The Upper El Team!

Last month it was astonishing to me sitting in Laos receiving a flood of resumes for the elementary teaching positions. Not only were the candidates well qualified, many were Montessori certified. For Upper Elementary especially, this represents a big change from 10 years ago when Upper Elementary classrooms were in their infancy. Believe it or not this is close to the last time Hilltop hired an Upper El teacher. 

A very professional hiring team of Tamara, Dan and Tom zeroed in pretty quickly on Jennifer Hed, who, we are delighted to report, has agreed to join the Elementary team by teaching in the Upper El with Tom.

Jennifer is Montessori certified for both Upper and Lower Elementary and has years of teaching experience in Upper Elementary Montessori classrooms in Maryland before moving to Vermont. Jennifer is the parent of graduate Natasha ('98), as well as a younger daughter and son, Naomi and Noah. As a Hilltop parent and certified Montessori teacher she helped train Hilltop's Upper Elementary teachers in the use of the Montessori math materials in 2003-04 and served on the Board. So she certainly comes to Hilltop with a real understanding of the school.

Not only is Jennifer Montessori certified, she has an MEd and an MA, is fluent in Spanish and has spent the past eight years teaching music in schools in New Hampshire and Vermont. In other words, this is one talented teacher joining an already talented Elementary team!

So if you hear some highly jubilant voices from the elementary hallway, you'll know why! We're deep in the interview process for Lower Elementary. Stay tuned!

A Different View of "Happiness"

Perhaps one of the most jarring questions that arose on the trip to Laos and Myanmar was how one views what we, as Westerners, would describe as poverty or at best subsistence living. On this trip I received emails from Hilltop regarding lock-downs, snow days, fundraising and hiring updates; meanwhile I would be walking through a dusty village in southern Laos watching children playing with one marble, guiding their buffalos down to the Mekhong, or sitting and reciting in school. Limited electricity, shoes an extravagance, rickety houses, unrelenting heat. And of course there are issues with childhood diarrhea, landmines, limited educational opportunities, and probably abuse.

On the other hand, from what I observed children also experience a freedom to move about their village, to swim, ride bikes, and wander that is hard to come by in this country. There is seemingly a lack of worry: there were often two kids scrunched on a motorbike with no helmets or children asleep on a table while their mother waited tables.

It is quite a contrast to life here. Below are some photos from my adventure!

  school classroom

Change:  Opportunity...Loss...

Before the December break Jessica Thomas told me that after 27 years (hard to believe) she has decided it's time to move on. I remember hiring Jessica - she started as an assistant in our first year of after-care program at Centre Congregational Church, then moved up as an assistant in the lower elementary program when it moved to High Street, took 6-9 training, became head teacher, moved again to Austine, and finally to this wonderful location on the hill. As she said, she knew she'd been here a long time when she began to teach the children of her former students!

The wheels started spinning. I kept thinking about the Elementary space. I thought about how mature the Elementary program had become, and how ready it seemed for the next big step. I knew, too, that this step had been contemplated before, but the time hadn't seemed right.  And I knew that this step would mean a change that ran counter to what Hilltop cares most about - people.

In my heart, I knew I had to do what I believed was right for the school, and so I approached Dan and Tom and put forth the idea that had circulated several times before: what if Dan became Head of the Elementary program? He has the full Montessori Elementary training for ages 6-12; he could help develop a fully integrated, fluid Elementary program, and he has a B.A. in Art from Yale. The art room could be a classroom and art studio. He could teach art through the cultural curriculum. He could teach geometry. He has worked with CORE and could make sure that the literacy pieces flow smoothly. He could teach both a Lower El reading group and some Upper El seminars. Together the Elementary team could decide what support was needed and fully develop the very rich Montessori curriculum.

But there was reluctance for the same reason that I had - it meant the loss of a person.

The loss is Helen. It is a significant loss. Helen has worked in both Hilltop's Middle School and Elementary program as an art teacher. She knows the school and has created lessons that have matched the curriculum under incredible time, money and space constraints. She is a Hilltop parent. She is an artist.

When I spoke to Helen she could immediately see the benefit to the program. Trying to manage teaching art in short periods with large groups as a "special", adapting as best she could her understanding of the Montessori curriculum under these circumstances was frustrating. She was grace and courtesy personified as I outlined the idea.

After several meetings, time to think through the suggestion, check it out with Tamara, and accept the reality of losing Helen, the advantages to the program burst forth. The Elementary team has met several times to imagine how it could work and will be crafting the vision with Tamara, whose Montessori Elementary experience will be critical as the program evolves. Dan will be the Elementary Head. He will teach, lead, observe and plan. He will be the eyes and ears - and spokesperson for the Elementary program.

I am deeply grateful to Helen and to the Elementary team for understanding and accepting how much this change will mean to the school, and to Tamara and the board for supporting the vision. It's an extraordinary opportunity to grow. The Elementary program will become, at last, all that it can be.

We strongly encourage all Elementary parents to attend Moving Up Night on February 5th to learn more about this big change. Tamara Mount will be at school to discuss the shift and answer questions.

Who Taught Wyatt to write?

"Wyatt didn’t seem to do anything “academic” during his first year of Montessori, but he sure was active! He washed tables, sewed on cardboard, traced and made drawings of geometric shapes, looked at picture cards, built a pink tower, stroked boards with sandpaper, and lifted little cylinders by their tiny knobs."

Below is an excerpt from an article (edited here for brevity) I read while sitting in the airport waiting to fly to England to visit my grandson. For the full article read: by Pilar Brewley

Peter and Margaret had heard that children in Montessori schools were precocious learners.  Their neighbor’s five-year old daughter, Jenny, began to read and write while she attended the local Montessori school.  They didn’t know much about the method, but when the time came to enroll their three-year-old son Wyatt in a pre-school, they decided to give Montessori a chance.

Wyatt didn’t seem to do anything “academic” during his first year of Montessori, but he sure was active!  He washed tables, sewed on cardboard, traced and made drawings of geometric shapes, looked at picture cards, built a pink tower, stroked boards with sandpaper, and lifted little cylinders by their tiny knobs.

But, they thought, what does that have to do with writing? After all, not once during that first year had Wyatt’s teacher directed him to a workbook, a #2 pencil, or lined paper!

The boy’s parents were nervous; many of the non-Montessori parents spent several hours each week with their children engaged in workbook activities, showing them how to connect dots and color large letters. Peter and Margaret wondered if they should do the same.

Wyatt’s teacher, however, asked them to refrain from offering academic work at home. She encouraged them to involve Wyatt in hands-on activities at home; share fun experiences in nature; and help him build his vocabulary through conversations, poems, and stories about the real world.

One day, when Wyatt was about four-and-a-half years old, the family was having dinner at a restaurant. With a pencil he was using for coloring, Wyatt carefully wrote his name in cursive on the paper placemat. Oblivious to his parents’ surprised expressions, he went on to write in cursive the things he saw around him: fork, dish, napkin, and plant. From then on, he wanted to write words all day long!

His parents were thrilled, but full of questions for his teacher. How was it possible for Wyatt to develop this difficult skill if he never used workbooks or connected dots to learn the shapes of letters?  How was he able to hold the pencil so confidently and with so much control, when youngsters normally press the pencil so hard onto the paper that they tear it?  And above all, how could he enjoy the activity so much when most children have to be forced to practice their writing skills?

The answers to all their questions can be found in the seemingly unrelated work Wyatt did during his first year in the classroom. His arm and wrist gained strength as he scrubbed tables and squeezed sponges. By holding little knobs with three fingers he learned how to grip a pencil. He gained fluidity of wrist movement by tracing shapes. He expanded his vocabulary by learning the names associated with beautiful pictures of trees, birds, fruits, and insects.

When Wyatt understood the concept of writing – that letters representing sounds are put together to form words – his hand was ready and willing to help him express his thoughts on paper!

This entire process – what is called the indirect preparation for writing – was thoroughly enjoyable for Wyatt because all of the activities he was engaged in fed his psychological needs. In other words, the work he did in the Montessori classroom responded to the internal drives all young children have to learn through movement, to explore their language, and to experience the world through their senses. When a child’s education is designed with these sensitivities in mind, learning is easy and pleasurable.

This indirect approach to education is a thread that is woven throughout the Montessori curriculum, from the early years of Children’s House through the advanced work of Upper Elementary and beyond. The feeling of satisfaction and self-fulfillment it gives the children is priceless.

So, who taught Wyatt to write? The truth is he taught himself when he was ready.

How Montessori Fosters the Messy Art of Learning

Maybe I was attracted to Montessori because it allowed learning to start with curiosity. Not only allowed it, but actually encouraged it. Curiosity encouraged leads to problem-solving. It can happen quickly. Mostly, though, it’s a process that takes time and often doesn’t follow a prescribed path.  

A personal example: I’m curious about how a budget line is set. I ask Allan a question. I look at the spreadsheet and try and figure out the why’s and how’s. I go to a couple of websites – which of course lead me to other websites and more possible ideas. I talk to Lauren and then to Amelia to try and get some clarity. I make some assumptions, but in an hour I still have questions.  I form ideas about a different approach. One simple question leads me to collaborate with three people, and explore multiple resources. Is my time wasted? Or does real learning take time?

A few moments later I observe the same process in the Lower El. “Where is the map for El Salvador?” a student asks.  "Why," I ask, "El Salvador?"
Well, his friend knew all about a soccer team in El Salvador so he wanted to find out where it was and what its flag looked like. That led to questions about how to find out about its soccer team.

Our situations are very similar. Our learning process started with curiosity, and led to problem-solving through collaboration, research, and stick-to-it persistence. By examining a single line item on a budget, we might  discover a different -- but better -- approach to how it’s funded. By asking a question about where El Salvador is on a map, that student might write a report, create a map, or have something special to share at ASG.  Curiosity can be messy. It’s unpredictable and hard to test within our education system, but it allows deep and meaningful learning. I love it.

Responsible Independence

Next week's parent conferences started me thinking: How do conferences illuminate Hilltop's mission statement? What is it that happens in every classroom that guides students to attain responsible independence and how is that reflected in discussions that teachers have with parents?

The Children's House students go to their cubbies at 11:30 and I listen while the teachers patiently encourage children to zip their jackets or check whether their shoes are on the correct feet. I watch a Lower El teacher finish up a lesson and assign follow-up work with the expectation that this will be accomplished. When she checks in later, the eyebrow is raised, and the student knows exactly why. If one expects independence then one must be responsible. The student gets the work finished by recess.

A visit to the Upper El or Middle School classroom reveals a broad range of activities. Some are at computers; some in lessons; some chatting in the hallway, some at snack. Several are working on projects together. Teachers and students have a shared understanding of the expectation of responsible independence. Everything that is happening make up lessons about managing one's own learning. The stage is set for conferences.

Starting in Upper El, students know that they will be expected to share their portfolio of work and participate in parent conferences. They know they have to explain the process of taking notes and to respond to questions a parent might pose. In Middle School they know full well that they will be leading the conference. They know they will have to talk about managing their time. They know that they are responsible for what they have or have not accomplished.

Responsible independence is, however, much more than lessons and completed essays and buttons and jackets. It's equally important to understand that one's individual actions impact the larger classroom community. Whether it's pushing in line at the Primary level or unkind words and exclusion in the Elementary program or Middle School, the underlying message is that respecting others is a responsibility that each student has for the well-being of the classroom community.

Implicit or explicit, what you will hear next week at conferences is that Hilltop's teachers are focused on the school's mission: for students to attain responsible independence.

What's the Point of School?

This is the title of a book by Guy Claxton, one of the UK's foremost thinkers on creativity, learning and the brain. He examines why schools are actually built to fail and what has to be done to "rediscover the heart of education." I was struck by what he sees as the "magnificent eight qualities" of a good learner and how the qualities match up with what we try and do at Hilltop - sometimes to raised eyebrows and a bit of what-does-this-have-to-do-with-success?

A powerful learner is curious, has courage, likes to explore and investigate. Powerful learning requires experimentation and imagination. But these wonderful attributes must be harnessed: The "how come?" must be analyzed and looked at methodically. In other words, a powerful learner must also be a disciplined learner.

Powerful learners are also sociable and reflective. They can collaborate and give and receive feedback; they can ask how we got there and 'what are our assumptions?'

These eight qualities are not easily tested. They are often messy. Teachers have to constantly balance between allowing imagination and experimentation and demanding analysis and reflection.

The famed "volcano" work is a great example. In the Children's House the modeling clay volcano is magical; the vinegar/baking soda "explosion" creates a sense of wonder and fosters the imagination. In the lower el the "why" pops up. How does this work? What makes this happen? Given the Montessori curriculum there is also the geography piece, the science of the why's and how's of volcanoes, the myths and stories around volcanoes.

Fostering powerful learners. That is the point of Hilltop Montessori School.


“Respect all the reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.”

—Dr. Maria Montessori