Poetry Recitations – Why Do We Do That?

We get asked quite often why the children are made to do poetry recitations every Monday morning. I suppose from the outside, it might seem conventional and rote. So here is a story about one of the recitations we heard this morning that may help to explain a bit about why we do it and how it provides a basis for enquiry. One of our students in Upper Elementary recited The Man with the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens. It’s a challenging poem. At first, she didn’t understand the content or the context. We spoke as a group for over an hour about contemporaries of Stevens, such as William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, and looked at examples of poets and visual artists who were literally trying to reframe the structure of experience through art. I explained that the inspiration for the poem may have come from Pablo Picasso’s Old Man With Guitar which was exhibited near Wallace’s home in Connecticut in 1934 (two years before the poem was written) and immediately, the children began to talk excitedly about how they could see the poem in the words as I read it through again. The student to whom the poem was assigned is writing her critical reflection now and a small group have asked to do some studies of Picasso at the AGO later this week. So it seems a lot more can come from recitations than simply memorizing if you dig below the surface and that is in fact, the experience we are trying to provide for our students of all ages.

The Man with the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens (Verses One and Two)


The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are 
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."


I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.

I sing a hero's head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,

Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.

If to serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,

Say it is the serenade 
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.
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Screen Printing in Maker Studio

The kids were screenprinting in Maker Studio on Wednesday. They learned the technique for creating a negative image, cutting it out of vinyl cling fling then adhering it to the screen to be inked. This child created an image of the River Thames with Tower Bridge at the end and a moon overhead. The image on the towel below is a young girl’s dream dog. This week, they tried transferring their images onto tea towels and next week they will make smaller images to put on cards. They should be ready just in time for the holidays!

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Music at Orchard

The Orchard’s music program is rich and diverse. Beginning with the bells in casa, the children are introduced to the idea of musical form early on. The bells are actually two sets of eight bells, tuned perfectly to an octave ascending from middle C. The first set is a control set, arranged in sequence on the shelf so the child may strike each tone of the octave. Next they are shown a second set of bells that are out of sequence and have to be graded by ear. Jennifer supports this work in the casa with a music conference twice a week that focuses on vocal exercises and solfege movements. It’s a beautiful way to end the day.

The elementary music program, under the direction of Nick Arseneau, is a dynamic mix of theory, voice training, instrumentation and composition. Lower elementary students study ukulele and Uppers are learning band instruments. Each Thursday, at the end of the afternoon lessons, there is a half hour choir with both groups together. Right now, they are preparing a version of Ahead by a Century by the Tragically Hip for a CBC contest as well as selections for the Winter Concert on December 13th. Everyone in the school will take part in this event so be sure to mark it on the calendar.

Nick also teaches private lessons in after school in guitar and ukulele.

We are pleased to share the gym with Little Music. Lenni Jabour and Julie Fader teach the Suzuki early childhood method to the youngest members of our school community four days a week. This is a parent and caregiver class and registration for the winter session will begin soon. More information can be found on their website at: http://littlemusic.ca



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A Distinguished Visitor

This morning, a red-tailed hawk perched outside the library window. The elementary children were so delighted. We stood outside and watched for some time before it flew off across the green space at the back of the school. A few of the children in Upper Elementary are amateur enthusiasts so they immediately set to work detailing what they know about the characteristics and habits of red tailed hawks. We’ve been studying taxonomy so they were charged with decoding the classification of the hawk. This put their knowledge of the species into context. Here is the result of the discussion we had:


Kingdom Animalia ….When asked to define it, they stared back in silence. Finally one spoke up to say “um not monera, plantae, fungi, archaeobacteria or what’s the other one, ah, two”?

Phylum Chordata…”That’s easy, it means it has a backbone”

Class Aves….”Birds!” several shouted at once without raising their hands.

Order Accipitriformes….”That means hawk in Latin” said one grade six student, checking her Latin dictionary to confirm. It does mean hawk in Latin it turns out but the classification also includes other diurnal birds of prey.

Family Accipitridae… This presented an opportunity for investigation so we hypothesized that it related either to wing shape or beak. It was the later (hooked beak) and also their morphology based on diet.

Genus Buteo…Finally, they were stumped so we looked it up. They learned birds of this genus are robust raptors with large wings and a particular stroke to their flight pattern.

Species B. jamaicensis ....Here is where we will go now in our investigations. We will diagram the bird we saw in watercolour from the reference photos we took and look at the characteristics and habitats of the red tailed hawk and their significance in mythology. 

Really, they amazed me today…both the hawk and the children.

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The Coming of the Universe

Today we did the First Great Lesson (The Coming of the Universe) which traces the evolution of the universe from the vast expanse of nothing to the settling of the earth with the conditions for life. This year, one of our grade six students co-narrated. The thirty-one science experiences set out in the classroom (and in the case of the relative distance between the planets across the neighbourhood) are a sensorial experience of some of the physical laws that govern matter in the universe.




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Good Old Fashioned Crazy Ideas

As parents and educators of Montessori children, we have identified a gap in the options for kids coming out of Upper Elementary programs. For grades 7 and 8, there seem to be two options: traditional private schools or transfer into the public system. We are helping the children prepare for their SSATs so they may keep their options open. We began to wonder, however, if there was a third option: one that continues to nurture their huge curiosity of the world and speaks to their burgeoning sense of social justice. Could we place Maria Montessori’s idea of the Erdkinder farm in the modern, urban context of downtown Toronto? Beginning in September, 2019, Orchard will offer a 7/8 program that will draw influence from apprenticeship guilds, traditional Montessori erdkinders and directed study abroad.

Montessori believed that children of this age were not quite ready to work within an adult world system that traditional schools promoted. Instead, she advocated for a more Socratic methodology where children were engaged in an active dialogue about the material they study, filled with immersive experiences and one in which the results were measured by gratification and natural outcome rather than answers on a test paper. Now, more than ever before, our world is rushing toward predetermined outcomes, with little time left for deep contemplation. We’d like to provide a protected space for exploration during this formative period in a child’s life.

Elementary parents are invited to join Holly and Melody to hear about it from 5-6pm on Wednesday, October 17th.

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Upper Elementary Weekly Schedule


This is the weekly schedule for the fall semester with due dates highlighted in yellow. Please check your individual agendas for assignments.

Elementary Schedule Fall 2018All

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Happy International Peace Day

The following is a pastiche of ideas from an essay Upper Elementary students were asked to write on the topic Why Is Peace So Difficult To Achieve?

Peace is difficult to achieve because we animals have been fighting since the beginning of time, for over 200 million years since the dinosaurs and the cave people after them. People always want more than they need. They want money and power so much that they end up killing each other and they forget about peace. This can be the biggest war to the smallest fight in a schoolyard. Maybe if we lived closer to nature or took longer journeys on foot, peace would spread more easily, like ink on a page. We need more than a world peace day. It takes a communal effort to exist in a state of peace but only one person to disrupt that. Each person should then try to think about being peaceful every day.

Maria Montessori said “In the mind of the child, we may find the key to progress” and they’ve certainly said it better than I could. Special thanks to Jennifer for leading our yoga meditation and to the casa children for ringing the chimes.

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International Day of Peace

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Welcome back!

Welcome back!

We hope you had a wonderful, adventure-filled summer and are looking forward to hearing all the stories from our returning students next Tuesday. We also wish to extend a very warm welcome to families joining us this year. We understand that starting your child in school is mostly exciting but also a little bit scary and we’re here to support your transition.

There is an Upper Elementary parent meeting on Thursday, September 6th from 5-5.30. Holly will review with you initiatives, both planned and proposed, for this program during the year. Model United Nations commitments are due September 9th so if you cannot attend Thursday’s meeting, please contact Holly.

We are pleased to welcome two new staff members this year. Aine is the new assistant in elementary. She has an undergrad degree in Education and a Masters in Music Therapy. Aine recently immigrated from Ireland and some of the children have already asked if she can teach them Gaelic. Jennifer will be joining us as Melody’s assistant in Casa East. Jennifer has her AMI primary diploma and a BA in Music Education. We are looking forward to her musical influence in the casas. She is also a certified yoga teacher and will be offering an after school course to be announced soon.

We hope you can join us for Meet the Teacher Night on Thursday, September 13th from 6-7pm. Please note this is a parent-only event. All staff will be present so you have a chance to meet the people your children spend their day with. Melody, Holly and a panel of parent veterans will try to answer any questions you may have about Orchard or the Montessori experience.

Please note there are no after school programs running on Tuesday. For those joining us from Ossington Old Orchard Public School on Wednesday, please send in your class assignments so Maude and Frank will know where to pick up your children.

The classrooms are all prepped and waiting. Have a peaceful long weekend. We look forward to seeing everyone on Tuesday!

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