Children Learning from Peers – Another Hallmark of a Montessori Education

Maria Montessori knew children learn by “imitation models.” She created multi-aged classrooms that facilitate peer tutoring and collaboration. In mixed age classrooms, younger children learn from older children by asking them questions while watching them work. Older children who are teaching younger children repeat and consolidate their knowledge and skills and learn and hone their social skills.

At Fraser Woods Montessori School, we take this one step further. Our Middle School students perform community service by going into the classrooms of our younger students and they work one-on-one with their younger peers.  The pandemic has prevented this from happening this year. But that did not stop our 8th year Leadership class from finding a way.  The 8th years, under the guidance of their advisor Mrs. Lamb, are working with our Primary teachers and our Upper Elementary teacher to bring back our Reading Buddies program and community service virtually.

Reading Buddies is an opportunity that pairs middle school students with kindergarten students for shared or paired reading time.

Reading Buddies allows our young Kindergarten readers to see and hear what being fluent looks and sounds like as they have a peer model demonstrating reading skills. These developing readers can also gain a positive role model with some careful pairing. Our older students mature and develop social and emotional skills like patience and empathy as they work with their younger buddies.

Our Middle School students who will work with our Upper Elementary students on their classwork are creating a beautiful bridge to welcome our fifth year students to our Middle School.

When older students are given the opportunity to be better, to work for something larger than themselves, and to mentor younger peers, they can thrive.

We have seen these relationships extend beyond just one school year and carry over beyond reading books. Powerful moments of connection happen, and as a result, social and emotional lessons are inevitable. What wonderful outcomes; just from just sharing a book.

Please check out the What’s Happening segment of this communication! Our 8th year Leadership class is up to more good!


Staff Update:

Today I am writing this bittersweet message to inform you that Danielle Ulacco will be leaving FWM at the end of the school year. She and her family will be moving out of state because her husband’s career is taking their family to New Hampshire. We, at Fraser Woods, are very happy for this opportunity for the Smith family, but we are also very sorry to say good-bye.

FWM will be forever grateful to Danielle for the love, joy, laughter, and learning she has poured into all the children whose lives and learning she touched over the years. FWM is also indebted to Danielle for the creation of our MakerSpace and its curriculum. The key to success in Maker Education is that it be integrated into your school’s culture and curriculum. Danielle made this a success for our school.

We appreciate all of Danielle’s many contributions to the FWM community and we are working together to keep her connected to FWM by working remotely as our part-time Marketing person. We are also working together with Danielle to find a candidate to be our MakerSpace teacher and IT person.

Please join me in wishing Danielle and her family well as they begin this new chapter in their lives!

Immersion Programs and Experiential Learning at the Middle School Level

Immersion Week in a Montessori School is an excellent example of the experiential, real world learning that our students participate in.

It combines challenging academic discussion surrounding playwriting, play production, and performance. In addition, this year the students are filming the production themselves. Unfortunately, we are unable to host the performance live due to the restrictions we are following to mitigate the risk of spread of COVID-19.

Under the guidance of our incredible team of Middle School teachers and Mrs. Reid, our Art teacher, the students experience a week long (sometimes longer) immersion in the process. Working with Mrs. Lamb, the students write the play. They create the plot, create the characters, write the acts and the scenes, and tell their story. Under the guidance of Mrs. Sutherland, the students decide how they want it to look, visualize the set, decide on the stage layout and block each and every scene, and prepare for rehearsal each day. Mr. Brown leads the students who make up our light and sound technicians and our stage crew. Mr. Brown, an artist in his own right, also assists Mrs. Reid in set design.

A Montessori Immersion program satisfies the adolescent’s sensitivity to issues of justice, their need for a sense of belonging and self-worth, and their desire for creativity, self-expression and productivity. The academics and the management of immersion week gives the students opportunities for group collaboration and individual success which meld together to nurture a community of thriving young adolescents.

Welcome Back and Welcome Spring!

As we return to school after a two week break, students and staff are happy to be together again. Spring is a time for renewal and growth. We can feel it in the air. We seem to have that extra get-up-and-go and motivation to get physically active, take action, and create change. Spring is a great time for all of us, children and adults alike, to envision endless possibilities, and to use our creative gifts to reach new levels of achievement, wellness, happiness and success. 

We have been in frequent communication with our local DPH about all of the updated guidelines coming out of the CDC. Unfortunately, health metrics in our area are rising and our wellness team is concerned they will continue to rise as community behavior begins to change with more public school students returning to the classroom, youth sports starting up, and increasing pandemic fatigue; and all of these behaviors increase the risk of coming into contact with COVID-19. 

We are reminded that it is important to remain vigilant in our mitigation efforts and plan a measured return to normal. We know that our entire FWM community has made sacrifices to help mitigate the risk of COVID-19, and we so appreciate everyone’s commitment! We know that brighter days are ahead. In the meantime, we will continue to “stay the course” as we approach the end of the school year.

You will receive a separate email from Christina Benoit RN, BSN with our updated FWM Travel Policy.

As we plan for the end of the school year and as we look ahead to next year, we have some updates to share:

FWM Summer Camp

Fraser Woods will not be offering summer camp. We are taking time this summer to focus on what needs to be done for a smooth reopening of the school year in September.

Before and After School Care

As of right now, we hope to offer Before and After School Care but given the current climate we cannot commit to it today.  We must consider carefully all the factors that will impact the program (continued cohorting and physical distancing, total number of children, the number of children from various cohorts, spaces planned for after school care, staff to work in the after school program, etc.). We will continue to monitor CDC, state and local guidelines and will update you regularly.

Staff Updates:

At the start of our Spring Break, FWM bid farewell to Alison Kistner, our Director of Advancement.  We appreciate all of Alison’s many contributions to the FWM community.  Please join me in wishing her well as she begins her new endeavors. Thank you, Alison, for all that you have done for FWM!

Just a reminder- No School Friday, April 2.

Wishing all of you a blessed weekend!

Thoughts and Reflections

The last 12 months have been truly challenging and unprecedented.  

I know how much time and effort, discipline and love you have all put into making sure that our community remains together and safe so that our students continue to learn and grow. As a community, FWM, you all deserve tremendous praise and gratitude.

As we plan for the next school year, I am committed to making our school a safe and kind place for all members of the community;  a place where everyone feels seen and heard. I am committed to nurturing and challenging students in developmentally appropriate ways creating an environment where children and adolescents can make mistakes and learn from them. I am committed to supporting students to find their voice and forge their path.

Education, child and adolescent development, the emphasis on collaboration, choice, curiosity, discovery, and relevant learning is paramount in a Montessori education at Fraser Woods. Also of profound importance is the attention paid to character and social/emotional development.  

I look forward to continuing to work toward helping the school move forward to realize its mission.

Wishing you all a peaceful and relaxing spring break. 


Goodbye February – Welcome March

“We cannot create observers by saying ‘observe,’ but by giving them the power and the means for this observation and these means are procured through education of the senses.” ~Maria Montessori

As March begins, it seems that a new month has never been as welcome as these cold and snowy winter days are behind us now. We are all looking forward to the first crocus bulbs – “The Ice Breakers of Spring” peeping through the earth and a break to the warmer temperatures!

Children love the outdoors and should be encouraged to explore all nature has to offer them.  Flowers, bugs, gardening, butterflies, and more!  In our Montessori classrooms, activities for springtime encourage your child to explore, to probe, to discover, to learn, to create, and to respect.

Some of the lessons, activities, and works your child experiences in the classroom can be carried over to home as well.


Spring is a wonderful time to talk about rainbows. Spend time searching for rainbows after rainstorms, and consider getting a prism like the one in your child’s classroom to let your child explore rainbows even on sunny days. Enjoy recognizing the order of the colors.

Daily weather report

Each day during morning meeting, one of our students observes what they see outside and they give the class a daily weather report.  You might supply your child with some drawing paper in a booklet and encourage them to draw or paint the weather each day and see how it changes over time.

Study butterflies

Children are clearly fascinated by butterflies and spring is a great time to study them. You can simply read a book or two with your child.  In some of our classes, your child will observe the transformation from caterpillar to a butterfly with a live butterfly kit which will be set up in the classroom.

Create a nature table

One of the favorite works in the classroom is the nature table. At home, you can designate a space such as a small table or even a tray or basket, and allow your child to collect interesting things they find in nature. Include a magnifying glass!

There are so many children’s books about Spring.  Here is a link to a list of 25 Montessori Friendly Books for Spring!  

Springtime and Spring Break are Right Around the Corner!

Dear Fraser Woods Families,

As we approach Spring Break, I am humbled and grateful to our community.

Each one of you has played an integral role in keeping our community healthy. We all have done a tremendous amount to protect each other over the past six months and for that I am especially grateful. 

We have kept the health of our children, our teachers, and families at the forefront of what we do each and every day. This has allowed us to be in school full-time and in-person since our (very early) first day of school on August 26th! 

Because we have not had to initiate a full two week closure for quarantine, we will not use the first week of our March Break as a make-up week as was noted in our Reopening Campus Plan. The community will have the full two weeks off for Spring Break. If days need to be made up, we will look first to the week of June 7-11. 

As we all plan for time away from school during Spring break- March 15th  through the 26th, please be mindful to follow the CDC and State guidelines. Christina Benoit, our school nurse, will send an email outlining everything you need to know- the state-mandated travel advisory, quarantine procedures, guidance from our local DPH, and our Fraser Woods policy which states that we don’t accept the State of Connecticut exemptions for travel self-quarantine. 

The first day of Spring falls right in the middle of our Spring Break on  March 20, 2021. This quote by Maria Montessori seems very fitting as Springtime approaches:

There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest. Something emanates from those trees which speaks to the soul, something no book, no museum is capable of giving. ~ Maria Montessori,  From Childhood to Adolescence. 


Peace Education in Montessori

FWM will again be featured in the NEWTOWMOMS.COM Blog-Around Town. Newtown Moms is a local website with a social media presence on Instagram and Facebook. We were featured in an interview on Nov. 8th – Learn About the Fraser Woods Difference. This time, Newtown Moms wanted the greater community to hear from some of our teachers as well as from me. Our Primary teachers, Mrs. Doyle and Mrs. Lopes and our Humanities teacher, Mrs. Lamb were also interviewed (virtually of course) for a February post focused on Peace.  

I thought I would share the interview with you. Also, please click here and listen to some of our students share what Peace means to them. 

Here is the interview:

I loved reading about the concept of the “Invisible Curriculum” and how Peace, Grace, & Courtesy all tie together. Can you describe the framework and share a few examples from your classrooms? How are the lessons adjusted by age?

Gina Tryforos shares what this looks like at Fraser Woods Montessori School

Cultivating Peace in the Classroom

“If we are to teach real peace in this world… we shall have to begin with the children.”

—Mahatma Gandhi

It is well known that Montessori education has been referred to as “peace education”. Even Gandhi praised Montessori’s approach to world peace.

How do we cultivate Peace in a Montessori classroom?

If you visit a Montessori classroom in action, you will see children who are joyful, relaxed, engaged, and happy as they move freely about the room, choose an activity or lesson, and work on it for as long as they like. The teacher (often referred to as a directress/director or guide) is there to facilitate student engagement with the lessons and activities. This is what Montessorians call “purposeful work” (as opposed to “busy work”).

The process of engaging in “purposeful work” evokes a sense of calm in children. Grace and Courtesy presentations contribute to the harmony in the room. The Grace and Courtesy framework allows us to teach in a proactive, rather than reactive, way.

From an activity where the teacher models how to walk around someone’s work set up on the floor, to modeling how to ask for help from a teacher/friend, or how to agree to disagree, these teachable moments in grace and courtesy are presented sometimes with words and sometimes without words and give children tools to navigate their environment and social landscape. 

Other lessons are more social and provide a classroom management technique that is child-driven instead of teacher-driven. The central theme in all of our lessons is to empower the children to be responsible, self-aware, and independent. These activities are about respecting children’s needs and considering the whole classroom community as a collective unit.

Grace and Courtesy lessons are our framework for modeling peace. In Montessori, we view the classroom as a microcosm of the larger world. Because these “rehearsed” social scenarios are a part of our everyday, we believe we are giving children some of the best tools for life.

Ginni Sackett (an AMI trainer, Montessori Institute Northwest) has said that Grace and Courtesy is part of Montessori’s “invisible curriculum.” Other “invisible” activities which can be considered part of this curriculum are spoken language, silence, and walking on the line. Children learn how/when to say “excuse me”, what to say if someone says “you’re not my friend”, how to tell someone you want to be alone, how to walk about the classroom while hardly making a sound.  

This “invisible curriculum” and Grace and Courtesy presentations invite the children and teachers to work together to create a culture of responsibility, tolerance, and harmony– a strong foundation for Peace.

How “Peace” is defined in your classroom and why it is a key component of a Montessori education?

Our Primary (Preschool and Kindergarten) teachers Michelle Doyle and Amanda Lopes, share what this looks like at Fraser Woods:

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

Peace education is a major tenet of Montessori education.  Now, more than ever, we are witnessing relationships fracturing because so many are unable to take part in positive conflict resolution.  Teaching children this skill, while ensuring that all parties feel heard and validated, is a gift not only for the children but for society as a whole.  

When conflict arises in the classroom, we bring the children to our peace table.  This peace table is an integral part of the classroom and can be used for two children to resolve a conflict or for a child to simply go for some quiet, peaceful time.  If two children are struggling to resolve a conflict, each child will take turns holding the peace rose and sharing their feelings.  The peace rose is then passed to the other child so they in turn can share their feelings.  The most important part of this experience is for the teacher to step aside.  We are there to facilitate but not to determine the outcome because this is something both children need to truly take ownership of.  Typically, a child will come to a teacher saying “he said or she did”.  When that child is face to face with the other child and has to speak to them directly it almost always changes the nature of the conversation and outcome. 

How Peace, Grace, & Courtesy all tie together. Can you describe the framework and share a few examples from your classrooms? How are the lessons adjusted by age?

Primary teachers Michelle Doyle and Amanda  Lopes share what this looks like at Fraser Woods:

Grace and Courtesy are built into every part of the day in a Montessori environment and go hand in hand with our peace education curriculum.   Children are taught from the moment they enter the classroom about respecting others, their own self, and the environment. We speak often about the importance of each member of our community and how we are responsible for our classroom environment being a peaceful place where children feel loved and safe. Only then are children available to learn.

I read Basic Human Rights are a huge driver in the Montessori commitment to “Peace” in education, as well as inclusion and diversity. Can you share a little bit about how you incorporate this into the classroom at Fraser Woods? What role do current events play into how this is discussed?

Our Middle School Humanities teacher, Michelle Lamb shares:

From a young age, Fraser Woods knows the importance of children having a profound understanding of each other and focusing on equity. This includes personal identifiers such as race, gender, religion, who you love, etc. In a Montessori classroom at Fraser Woods, students celebrate each others’ lives and successes in these areas as well as their struggles. Open, frequent communication in safe spaces and shared, collective experiences are what make Montessori students advocates for peace and justice. Classes use the world events around them, in real-time, as educational opportunities to further the goal of producing inclusive and informed global citizens. 

Interim Head of School Gina Tryforos shares that it can be summed up simply: Maria Montessori believed not only in education for peace but education as peace.

Reflecting on Parent Teacher Conferences

Parent Teacher Conferences are a time of year that I always looked forward to as a teacher.

I love hearing the stories and feedback that come as a result of parent teacher conferences. Occasionally, I get questions about how to measure progress in a Montessori environment. Is there “traditional assessment”?

I love this question, because in a Montessori environment from Primary through Upper Elementary, teachers are continually assessing where each student is on their own individual path of learning. We are concerned about where each child is at a specific point in time and how they are progressing, at their own pace, in their own way to meet the educational benchmarks we have set out for them. Concrete numbers often fail to provide the best perspective on the quality of a child’s true learning.

Dr. Maria Montessori created a teaching methodology supported by instructive materials to help children build confidence and resilience to prepare them for their entire educational journey, not just the quiz or worksheet that is in front of them at a moment in time. I hope all of you enjoyed your conference time with your child’s teacher.

Please know my virtual door is always open, I can’t wait to hear all that you learned about your child’s experience so far this year.