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1110 College NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503



Thank you for a great year!

Elizabeth Topliffe

It is natural and good that at the end of a school year, we reflect on it. What went well? What did we achieve? How are we doing against our strategic plan? How is the balance sheet?

I’m glad to have the opportunity to share some of that with you now. But, before I do, I want to reflect first on how we make progress around here. I could tell each child here one hundred times per year that we respect them. I could tell them one hundred times that we seek peace. I could tell them one hundred times how capable they are and how much faith we have in them. Even if I spoke those words one hundred times into each child’s ear, it would not make them feel respected, or peaceful, or confident.

Nope. It wouldn’t be enough to do that.

Instead, it is the accumulation of thousands of small things that add up to feelings of confidence, respect, and peace. It is the hundreds of times someone smiles with them when they achieve that next step. It is the way that adults speak to them—with eye contact, quietly, respectfully, with intense interest and with deep engagement. It is the way guides and friends work next to them when things get tough. It is the openness of others to their ideas and help that empowers them. It is the tone of voice when anything is spoken, the care in the gaze of a guide, and the willingness to be flexible in response to that student. It is the meticulous care to create and maintain a physical environment that is responsive to the student.

Those things are the most difficult to measure and they are the most difficult to offer with consistency, with certainty, one hundred percent of the time. But those things, more than what we say, are needed in order for a child to become a student and then a learner.

The same is true of our school. I will share with you the attached snapshot state of our school, and our progress on our strategic goals, because WOW! we’ve made progress!

Even if we had accomplished nothing else, we could take great pride and satisfaction in the growth of our program into Middle School. And, even better, it is a farm-based Middle School, with two amazing guides already on board, and 100% of our graduating 6th years in attendance, plus some new families!!!

The truth is that we’ve accomplished that and much more.

It is, however, impossible in one note to tell you about all of the small things that have added up to these results. I cannot name all of the people who have made these accomplishments possible because each person is influenced by and has become better because of countless more.

All of you have participated in this growth, just by being a member of this community. Through your tone of voice, your willingness to help when things seem overwhelming, and your flexibility in response to an idea or a change, you have let us know that you’re with us.

Thank you for that generous gift and for sharing your children with us. It is a privilege.

I wish you the best summer, and I look forward to seeing you at our Annual Meeting on September 19, where will review our Fiscal Year in depth!

My best,



Donation Charity Infographic (1).png

Working Together

Elizabeth Topliffe

I get by with a little help from my friends
— The Beatles

by Elizabeth Topliffe, Head of School

A few weeks ago, I wept at work. That’s not my usual style, so let me fill you in.

The elementary students were auditioning for our spring opera, Sing Me Home. Every student gets a part, and the auditions are used to help cast roles. It is a pretty vulnerable experience. The students had all been practicing together We are All One Family, one of the main songs for the opera. This practice had been happening for weeks. Now, though, each student sang the song solo in front of the entire elementary student body. I can’t imagine singing in a front of my peers, especially in a solo manner.

One of our first year friends stood in front of the group. The music came around, but she did not sing. The music came around again, and still she did not sing. The kids started calling out encouragement, but it was clearly one of those overwhelming moments, and she was not going to sing.

Then, one of the upper elementary students stood up. He walked over to our friend and said, “Can I sing with you?” Together, standing shoulder to shoulder, they sang the song. It was the ultimate example of what happens when one person joins another. What was overwhelming in one moment became manageable with some help.  After singing together, our younger friend sang it on her own, with courage and bravado, and with the knowledge that a friend was with her.

This was a powerful testament to the power of help and partnership. Those things that we cannot do alone, we can do together. This, more than any performance is the power of opera. And, I was weeping with just how powerful that moment was.

Right now, our school is in a similar moment. We need your help to do something that we cannot do on our own. In the next couple days, you will be receiving a letter from another parent asking you to join them in supporting our Spring Appeal for the Lifelong Learning Fund.

This appeal is our school’s largest fundraiser, and it helps cover the gap between tuition and the cost of operating the school. The funds raised directly support opera, teachers’ professional development, and financial aid. For a small school like Stepping Stones, every dollar matters. Most of the gifts we receive are smaller gifts, and those add up to create great opportunities like the one I mentioned above. Like I said, we cannot do this without you.

In fact, our most important goal with regard to this years’ Spring Appeal is to have a majority of our families participate. Even better, we have a $37,000 matching fund for donors through the end of May! That means that every gift—whether it is $5 or $5,000 will be matched dollar for dollar and will be doubled.

I hope you’ll join me in making this a great Spring Appeal! Keep an eye out during carline and on our Facebook for progress metrics! Thanks for standing with us and for jumping in with our school. We appreciate all the many ways you’re our partner in our endeavors.

I hope to see you at 6 PM this Friday, May 11, for our opera. I can assure you that every student in the performance has the support of their friends and fellow-students!

"Do you speak English?"- "No, I speak Montessori."

Sarah Danielski

By Jule Boecker, Parent

I consider myself a language person. I admit, I have a thing for rhymes and anagrams and cryptic crosswords and limericks. Throughout my life, I have tried (with questionable success) to learn more than a handful of languages, from Ancient Greek to Modern Hebrew. As a native German speaker living in the U.S., I am happy to switch between two languages as part of my every day life. So my recent discovery came as no surprise to me: a new language. It is the language of Montessori.

My children, Julius and Catharina, have been fortunate to be growing their roots and spreading their branches in the Montessori universe that Stepping Stones Montessori School provides. Julius,4, has been in the White Pine classroom for the last two years; Catharina, 2, in the Tulip Tree classroom for more than one year. It has been an unbelievably enriching, wonderful experience that I am sure will influence their hearts and minds for years to come.

Through my children and their teachers I have been lucky to catch glimpses of a tool so powerful that I feel the urge to write about it: the Montessori language. It is unique. It comes with its own vocabulary and expressions and grammar which you need to study like any other language. However, it gives you something that more than any other language serves as a useful tool; a universal tool for mindful, respectful, and meaningful communication with your child.

On the level of individual words, think terms like: materials and prepared environment. Friends and guides. The bead chain and the binominal cube. Sensitive periods and practical life. Cosmic education and absorbent mind. Lesson. False Fatigue. Observe, play, and work, work, work. Google “Montessori vocabulary” and you will find your way to key words that make you a pro.

However, you might want to pay even more attention to the sentence level. In various situations, I have heard the teachers use phrases that all have one message in common: respect for and confidence in the child. Not only do the guides use these phrases for their conversations with students, but they also model how students can use these expressions to communicate well themselves.

A few commonly heard questions might spark curiosity such as: “How could we find this out?” Some other questions let the child participate in a search for answers: “What do YOU think?” Some questions can also lead to the next step: “Let’s discover it. Let’s find it out.” Notice how the adult is equalizing the exchange, turning “I” into “we”.

Other sentences can help students protect their space. “Can you please not touch my work?” “Can you please observe?” “This is my space.” “This is my work.” My two-year-old can say that last one and does not need to push or yell, because she is sending a clear message that my other children can understand. Well, most of the time.

Some expressions include techniques for resolving conflicts. For example, when a student brings a problem to the teacher, she answers: “Can you please send your friend a message?” More than anything this empowers the student to keep his body calm but his request firm. Other sentences give friendly reminders about expectations and procedures: “Do you remember what we do when …” This helps children to take responsibility for their actions and move past the conflict.

Also reflected in that language is the importance of respecting other people’s boundaries. Teachers ask: “Can I give you a hug?” – giving children a choice. Students are taught to say: “Please keep your hands on your own body” if they prefer not to be touched, or just a friendly “no thank you” to an offered hug. By giving our children these words to use as tools, we communicate to them that it’s okay to set their own limits when it comes to physical contact. We begin to give them control over their own bodies with just a few phrases.

Oh, and the voice that this language is spoken with! It is calm, yet firm. I believe that kindness expressed with that tone of voice is a very important part of the language of Montessori.

An infant room teacher told me that what she says most to the babies is “Yes, that is a ball.”I am sure this sounds different at the upper elementary level, but it fulfills the same purpose of reassuring and engaging the child. Each level seems to have its own phrases, while the message of respect, confidence, and esteem is universal throughout all ages in Montessori classrooms.

Which phrases have you found helpful? Please share in the comments! And let’s use this universal language – in any language we speak.