Stick City: A Story of Following the Child

The Start: True to Montessori, We Always Follow the Child.  At our previous campus on John Barton Payne Road, we were fortunate to have 7 acres of beautiful open space laden with a variety of  native  trees.  As the trees naturally dropped old limbs, the  children would eagerly collect them in large piles. Slowly, a city of tepees emerged in the field as the children used their creative energy to build their tepees. Each one was unique to the residents within. Over time, they began to incorporate other materials such as long grass for roofs and colorful items from home to decorate. We could see that the children really loved this imaginative free-play and were quite serious about it. One house might have their branches decorated in beautiful pink ribbons with a pulley system to gain access, while another might be all about defending their castle. It also became fertile ground for conflict resolution as children navigated all the verbal jousting that can take place on the playground. As Stick City became more organized, the children began to create small businesses. There were pet sitting tepees, beauty parlor tepees, supply store tepees (sticks and dried grass), and even a luxury tepee with rooms for rent. A monetary system  soon evolved. At first it was leaf money, which was quickly replaced by rock money as the rocks were not as readily available as the leaves. Stick city became a democracy where children made the rules, with supervision, of course! As the city, with all its rules and regulations unfolded, so too did the children’s emotional intelligence. These children were self-constructing, shaping their brains, feeding their imaginations, invigorating their souls – not to mention reaping the most quintessential benefit of play: the pure and simple pleasure of it.     The Move: From Stick City to Bamboo City. As the school grew, so did our need for a larger place to call home. We moved to our current campus in 2015. While the new location was beautiful, it lacked the trees and branches the children had become accustomed to having, so we came up with a solution: bamboo! A local family was willing to let us clear their overgrowth of bamboo and take it back to the school. Armed with hand saws, hacksaws, trucks and a large trailer, we set out  with a group of willing parents to harvest as much bamboo as we could fit in the trailer. When we returned to the school the children were overjoyed to see so much bamboo. We divided them up among the children and they immediately set to work building tepees.     The Cozy Cottages: Today  Over the subsequent years, the bamboo became brittle and the much loved tepees became structurally unsound. Thanks to a generous parent who donated a lot of fence boards and spent a weekend working on the houses, the structures became more permanent and had windows and other features added. They were mulched on the inside and flowers planted on the outside. They were given lovely coats of red, blue, and green paint thanks to Lower Elementary students and their parents. We have since received a donation of metal roofing and hope that we can install the roofing this year. As always, we depend on the kindness and support of our parent community to achieve this. We meet with the children at the beginning of each year to go over the already established rules and assign houses. They decorate their cottages and really take ownership of their “house”.  A democratic system has emerged including a monetary system and laws. What began as a simple Stick City has now been transformed and renamed Cozy Cottages. These Cozy Cottages have become a wonderful learning opportunity and delightful addition to the Mountainside experience.

Cozy Cottages 2021

Stick City 2012

Bamboo City 2018

Together from a Distance

“From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man”
-Julie Gold

In lieu of our traditional End of the Year picnic and soccer game, our Mountainside community came together in typical joyous fashion for a drive by parade. With the campus decorated with balloons and signs and with music blasting, the school came alive as families drove down the driveway toward dancing and waving masked Mountainside staff.  As their cars rolled slowly by, we all shared our hellos and goodbyes, our wishes for good health and a good summer, and our longing hopes to be together again. Fond memories of the day: smiling faces, distant waves, hollered hellos, hand painted signs, dancing staff, decorated vehicles, honking horns, a few tearful moments, and lots of love behind everyone’s eyes. Thank you to our wonderful Mountainside community – it truly was a special day.


We have been so touched by everyone’s support and enthusiasm to help us provide as much consistency and normalcy to the students’ education as possible during this time of distance and Learning from Home. We wanted to find a way to represent this unity and have all the students participate in creating something together.

We decided on an outdoor mural, located on the barn on campus, for all the children to paint. An outline of the mural was created by Ms. Rubin and painting supplies were provided. With the help of an online schedule, families have been coming by one at a time to paint a section of the mural.

We are very excited with the progress! It is our hope that the finished mural will stand as a permanent reminder of our community working together despite the need to be physically apart during this time.

Earth Day 2020

There are ways to bring back balance to our Earth.  The measurable and photographic evidence during this time of pandemic and global slowdown is undeniable.  As humans slow their pace, decreasing harmful emissions and having less negative impact on the world’s resources, we are seeing positive changes. These changes give promise to the power and ability of the Earth to blossom and heal in a remarkably short period of time. Already, strong reductions in emissions are being observed worldwide, waters are clearing, and satellite images from NASA are showing drastic decreases in air pollution.

Through as many actions possible, let’s choose to build on this reboot. Plant a tree. Plant a seed. Plant a thought. Let’s make every day Earth Day.


In This Together

During this time of COVID-19, our staff continues to work diligently on our ‘Learning from Home’ initiative. It has been truly heartwarming to receive so many positive comments and such supportive emails from our families over the past few weeks.  I know I speak for all the staff when I say a heartfelt, “Thank You!” It is wonderful to be part of such a supportive community. Here are just a few of the comments we have received. Please keep them coming, as they are a lifeline! 

“ZOOM time for the toddler class was so fun this morning, what a great way to start the day seeing friends – learning about the frogs – catching up on each child sharing something – singing – thank you for hosting, very much looking forward to tomorrow!”

“I know we will get through this TOGETHER! I am so grateful to have you as a part of our family, and don’t know what we would do without you. We appreciate and love everything you do <3 Big hugs!”

“I would also like to take a moment to thank you for how you have handled this crazy year. Thank you! It’s been crazy! You and the Mountainside staff have been great, and we are very thankful and impressed how well you’ve balanced keeping our kids educated and safe.”

“To say we miss MMS would be a huge understatement. I really want to bold that and change the color to add more emphasis, but I am restraining myself.’

“We so miss Mountainside and everyone there.” 

“I just want to say thank you for taking the time to compose this genuine, thoughtful message to all of us. We are so grateful for the time and energy that you – and the whole staff at Mountainside – are putting into crafting at-home learning resources, not to mention the personalized support you have offered.”

“We’ve been really thankful for Mountainside the past couple weeks.  Alice has been amazing at conducting lessons over Zoom and giving additional daily personalized work and feedback.”

“We really appreciate all that you, and the Mountainside staff, has been doing to maintain as much of a state of normalcy during this overly trying time. Miss Alice has been incredible!”

“We have been reflecting on how much more challenging this would be without the support of our dear school and community.  Mountainside has kept our girls feeling a great deal more secure amidst the uncertainty. And you all have made the task of picking up the work of the classroom at home much less daunting for us parents.”

“We are feeling extra grateful and appreciative these days.” 

Community Service

Our Adolescent students were busy last week volunteering at the Fauquier Food Bank and with Friends of Rectortown. At the Food Bank, they cleaned, organized, stocked shelves, and took out trash. They learned that the Food Bank provides for 1,000 families each month. With Friends of Rectortown, the students helped pack weekend food bags for 27 local elementary students in need. Our students are thankful to both of these organizations for their efforts.  They’re also thankful for the opportunities to learn about their local community and to become involved so that they may make a tangible difference through their service to others.


A Going Out: The National Gallery of Art

As part of their study of the artist, Claude Monet, a group of Upper Elementary students planned a Going Out to the National Gallery of Art to see some of his paintings.  They wanted to learn more about Monet’s life and 19th-century Impressionism. The students did all of the planning for their trip, including scheduling and obtaining driving, navigating the metro, and mapping out walking directions.


Paying It Forward

Our Adolescent Class would like to thank the community for their support of the class’ Thanksgiving turkey fundraising project. The project was a great success! Proceeds will benefit their Adolescent Program as well as another Montessori program the students have chosen to promote. The Adolescent students decided to “pay it forward” and donate a portion of their earnings to Ncinci One’s Montessori, a Montessori school in rural Xhosa, South Africa which has launched a literacy campaign for children through GlobalGiving. Giving to and supporting others, especially those less fortunate, is an important lesson for our students and we are sincerely grateful to the generous many who have helped our students as they learn to help others.


Season of Giving

This month, the Lower Elementary class collected over 300 items of food for their food drive. The students delivered the donations to the Fauquier Community Food Bank and watched as their boxes were weighed. They were amazed to see that they had collected 352 lbs of food! The students learned that their donations will help the Food Bank serve up to 60 families a day. They felt very proud of their accomplishment and they are grateful to their families and friends for their unwavering generosity!


Teaching and Learning through 4-H

The Mountainside 4-H Livestock Club hosted 15 Piedmont Farmers Clover Buds, led by Miss Laura Galante, and their families in a goat parasite education session and tour of Mountainside Farm on Sunday, October 20th. Stuffed animal goats were used to help demonstrate to the children different types of goat parasites. Children were surprised with candy inside the stuffed animal goats which made the activity especially fun. A major highlight of the afternoon was the tour of Mountainside’s Farm. Despite the rain, everyone had fun visiting the animals.

Thanks to Miss Laura for bringing her group.

Thanks to the parents for sending snacks, both Mountainside and Piedmont.

Thanks to Misses Edel and Theo for the use of the Adolescent House.

A big thank you to Miss Lenah from the extension office for teaching our group about goat parasitology so that we could then share that knowledge with the younger members.

-Written by Charlie, a student member of the Mountainside 4-H Livestock Club