Free Play by Amelia Fontein, Lower Elementary Assistant

Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath it’s shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between waking and sleeping” ~ Maria Montessori

If you travel to Hilltop Montessori School around noon on a weekday, you might be surprised to hear chatter and laughter coming from the forest adjacent to the parking lot. Walk the short dirt path into the woods, and you’ll encounter children darting among the trees, building forts from bark and fallen branches, collecting fistfuls of acorns and pinecones, and creating a magical world of their own making. This environment offers lessons that are just as valuable as those taught inside our classrooms. Just as our morning classroom work cycle gives students the freedom to choose the “work” that they are developmentally ready for, our Elementary recess and after school time lets children choose any activities from fantasy play in the woods to developing their skateboarding skills.

In the increasingly structured and technological world in which we live, it is of utmost importance to provide children with unstructured play time in the natural world. At Hilltop, Elementary Recess and After Care are both designed to offer this time for children to engage in imaginative, free play within a safe, supervised environment – often in “Haytown”. The name “Haytown” has been around for years! Originally children collected cut grass from the freshly mowed fields and used that as their currency.

For our elementary students, social-emotional learning is a component of free play that we support during Recess and After Care. Children are constantly driven to resolve conflict with peers, collaborate on long-term projects, negotiate around shared resources, and make decisions to reach their own goals. We repeatedly see children devising compromises to divvy up bricks, logs, acorns, etc., working in a group for weeks at a time on elaborate forest dwellings, and learning to navigate the socially tricky ins and outs of running a Haytown business. Outside of Haytown, we often observe groups of students working together to develop rules and guidelines for games like Four Square, Capture the Flag, and Monkey Bar Tag.

Another enormous benefit of unstructured play is physical fitness and dexterity. Practicing pull ups on the monkey bars, lugging logs through Haytown to build a fort, learning how to ride a unicycle, balancing on a fallen log in the woods; these activities allow children to build their strength and coordination through play.

Finally, playing in the natural world allows children to expand their sense of wonder, creativity, and imagination. The economy within Haytown is living testament. Children open restaurants, antique shops, insurance agencies, newspaper publishers, general stores, arcades, and drive throughs. Customers looking to buy goods or services can use quartz stones, known as “crystals”, to make their purchases. Children are continuously dreaming up original business schemes, finding new uses for old materials, and using their imaginations to create a true culture and community within Haytown. This is a genuine joy to observe.

So, next time you pick up your child take a moment to observe some of the amazing structures that have been built and the learning that’s occurring during that unstructured time. As Maria Montessori reminds us: “Play is the work of the child.”

Guiding the Child at Work

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

September 14, Parent – Meeting The Year Ahead and Supporting Home to School Life

Lower School 5 – 6 pm, Toddler, Supporting Independence, Homelife and Boundaries,  Lower El, How We Support Social Development & Extending Class Routines to Home & Children’s House, How Parents Can Support What We Do

Upper School 6 -7 pm Upper El, Family to School Communication, How We Support Executive Function Skills and Middle School, Media and Technology

This is an evening meeting for all parents to learn about the upcoming year, curriculum topics, expectations of students and building student-parent-teacher relationships. We strongly believe that parents play a critical role in their children’s education. We hope to help parents have a greater understanding of their child’s work and development, ways to be involved in your child’s education and creating consistent expectations and experiences!

Family Picnic this Friday night 5 -7 pm

This Friday from 5 until 7 p.m., we’ll be celebrating the start of school at our Annual Back to School Picnic Pot Luck at Green Mountain Camp in Dummerston.

The weather looks good for Friday. Bring a favorite lawn game! We will have use of the Camp’s pool with a life guard on duty and our very own Jay Cook will be entertaining us with his musical trio. The Board will be providing grillable items and we ask that you bring something to share.

Toddler and Children’s House families: Desserts
Lower and Upper El families: Sides and Salads
Middle School families: Drinks (non-alcoholic that is…

Middle School Performance “Unclaimed” Monday 5/8 & Tuesday 5/9 at 7PM

The Middle School is busy writing and rehearsing its annual performance. The newly titled show, “Unclaimed”, is a dramatic miracle that has taken shape. The creation of this show is like a bit of alchemy. The musings of individuals, small groups of collaborators, and full class brain storming stirs the pot and eventually turns to gold.  Ultimately, the performance is the vehicle we use to process our experiences in Alabama and the year’s work in exploring the evolution of the American identity. Always fascinating, powerful, tuneful, funny, and moving! The Middle School performances are Monday, May 8 at 7:00pm (with a festive reception afterwards!) and Tuesday, May 9 at 7:00pm in the Arts Barn Theater. There will also be a school show on Tuesday morning at 10:00am. We hope to see you there!

Middle School Alabama Odyssey 2017 Day 7

Day 7 – Tuesday

Pack and leave Healing Waters and Selma

Day in Montgomery

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

Southern Poverty Law Center

Lunch – Filet and Vine

Equal Justice Initiative

Alabama Statehouse/Confederate Memorial/Speeches

Fried Tomato Buffet

Sleep – Hargis

Today we went to a place like no other. Dexter Avenue [Baptist Church] was a place that had lots of spirit and I could feel the energy that Dr. King left there.   -Henry

The Southern Poverty Law Center opened my eyes to all the hate in the USA. Touching Emmitt Till’s name was like touching him and telling him I was going to make his death mean something. It was then, touching his name and tracing the letters, that this whole trip, every moment and every person, became true, real, honest, moments in time.   -Eliot

Thinking about what the Equal Justice Initiative guys said about using your passion to help others — I’ve actually thought about that a lot before, how whatever I decide I’d like to do, I should use it to help those who are hurt by this society.    -Leah

Our time with Evan and Luke (at the EJI) was a discussion between people who clearly had so much respect for each other. We talked together no at each other. The stories of death row and child imprisonment that continue today was the first time on this trip where I truly and deeply felt inspired to find my passion and work with it to create positive change just like these men had.    -Lucy F.

[The EJI] had this exhibit that almost brought tears to my eyes. It showed the soil from where different lynchings took place. I imagined holding the grains of people’s identity in my hands as they slowly passed through my fingers… I gave my speech today and felt like I put my whole heart into it. I closed my eyes and imagined James Baldwin’s eyes twinkling as he smiles.”    -Lily C.

I was happy to be able to preform my speech by the dirt of the lynchings. It was so powerful to stand in front of part of what Ida B. Wells devoted her life to… I hope to keep Ida B. Wells’ spirit close. I would love to strive to be like her. She was so strong and courageous.  -Nomi

EJI really made me think about two things. First about children having their lives stripped from them and then how can I use my passions to relate to fighting for civil rights. I couldn’t ever imagine being taken away from my life and sent to prison for something I did as a teenager.   -Lily B.

I loved how they (Evan and Luke from EJI) spoke about using your passions to help the cause. I spent some of this time planning out my entire future and how I can contribute to inmates in need of medical attention… Such an amazing last day in the glorious state of Alabama!     -Marley

I will never physically be in Alabama again but my mind will. Today was our last full day in Alabama. Alabama taught me so many things and changed my perspective on the world outside of VT.   -Owen

The reason I loved this trip was just because we got to live what we had been studying for so long.   -Sam