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1110 College NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503



"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.

Montessori Discovery: A Parent's Perspective

Sarah Danielski


Last Saturday morning, rain poured down heavy and thick, with dire weekend predictions threatening area harvest festivals. But inside the Children’s House classroom, soft lamp-light glowed and the quiet buzz of adults talking ebbed and flowed.

This was the Montessori Discovery weekend. We were doing our work.

Parents sat on rugs, splayed out on the floor, or folded their long legs to fit into tiny chairs. Some worked alone, shaking tubes to compare and contrast sounds, or practiced pouring water from a glass pitcher to a bowl. Others worked in a small group to put together a puzzle map on the floor.

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I kneeled on a square rug, counting tiny beads.

“These are in sets of 10,” the guide explained to me. “This block makes up 100. So the children learn that 10 of the 10-bead-strings make 100.” She showed me how the chains of beads collapsed and expanded and explained how the kids would learn later to link the bead counts to the abstract idea of number symbols.

I nodded. Conceptually, I knew this is how 100 worked—10 sets of 10. But to hold the little beads in my hands, to fold and unfold them—10 lines of 10—awakened in me something soft and tender.

I swallowed hard. My face flushed. I was 41 years old. I’d sat at frosted-glass boardroom tables, explored my share of twisted cobbled lanes and snow-capped mountains, and mastered middle-of-the-night diaper changes. But never before had I held in my hands something as simple and elegant as a set of beads, 10 by 10, that equaled 100. I could immediately see how the concrete beads became the abstract numbers.

Who would I have become, I thought, if I’d learned this way?

I sat back on my knees. I smiled at the guide, pretending like I was still paying attention—she was still gently showing me how the beads work. But inside I mourned for the eager little girl of my childhood who would have loved to spend hours truly understanding these beads.

This is what I remember of my early education:

  • Classrooms filled with desks in long rows
  • Heavy textbooks— lots of them
  • My sick-to-the-stomach panic if I didn’t know “the right answer” and terror if I didn’t get an “A”

Montessori is none of this. This is why we chose Stepping Stones—I knew this intellectually.

But the Montessori Discovery made my intellectual understanding of these ideals something far more real. Now, every morning when I drop my girls off at school, hand them their lunch bags, and say, “Have a good day!”—they sometimes look back and wave and sometimes run on ahead—I think of how I sat on the rug that rainy Saturday morning, fighting back tears over a handful of beads. I know now in my body that today my girls will go to their classroom and do work that is strong and beautiful and true, the ultimate gift that nurtures a lifetime love of learning.

  Thanks to Mandy Geerts for sharing her thoughts with us. Mandy is the mother of two SSMS students.

Thanks to Mandy Geerts for sharing her thoughts with us. Mandy is the mother of two SSMS students.

A Rookie's Guide to the Auction for the Love of Learning

Leigh Ebrom

Stepping Stones Montessori’s Auction for the Love of Learning is one of the school’s most important fundraisers. The Auction’s proceeds go directly towards operating costs—such as teacher salaries, classroom materials, and staff training. But just as importantly, it’s a lot of fun! If you’re new to the school (or haven’t attended an SSMS Auction), here are some things you need to know.

The Auction for the Love of Learning is scheduled for November 4, 2017, from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Tickets are available online or at the school.

The Basics

Why Do We Have an Auction?

Believe it or not, tuition alone does not cover the cost of a Stepping Stones Montessori education. We raise additional funds for our budget through the Auction. We also have an annual fund campaign in the spring, and alumni families continue to remember us in their annual giving. But our school's budget depends on the money raised at the Auction. Rather than promote several wrapping paper sales, magazine drives, or fundraising races, we prefer to get together as a community at a single fundraiser.

Are Kids Invited?

The Auction is an adults-only event. Stepping Stones Montessori loves children. Our kids are fantastic. But every parent needs a night out. The Auction is a great excuse to get away, meet some equally cool parents, and support your children’s education.

When Should I Get There?

The Auction begins at 6:00 PM. While you do not have to show up at 6:00 sharp, it’s in your best interest to get there earlier rather than later. The evening begins with the silent auction—and tables will begin closing by 7:15 PM. Additionally, some of the sign-up events fill up quickly. If you show up really late, you’ll miss the opportunity to bid or sign up for these items.

The live auction will begin at approximately 8:00 PM. However, you do not have to stay for the entire event. Feel free to show up (and leave) whenever you want.

What is the Dress Code?

Do you think we're going to tell you what to wear? This is not a black tie event and you’ll see guests in everything from suits to jeans. We welcome everyone (even auction emcees dressed as hot dogs).


Where is the Auction Located?

The 2017 Auction for the Love of Learning is at Blandford Nature Center.

Do I Get an Assigned Seat?

We don’t have assigned seats in our classrooms-- why would we have them at the Auction? Feel free to mingle with other parents, staff members, and alumni.

Can I Get an Uber?

Absolutely. If you have a little too much fun, we encourage you to call a taxi or request an Uber. If necessary, we’ll bring your auction items to the school for pickup on Monday.

Can I Buy a Ticket at the Door?

Yes. If you decide at the last minute to attend, you may pay for tickets at the door. However, our Auction Committee prefers that you pre-order tickets so it can order enough food and drink.

Is Dinner Included?

There will be heavy hors d’oeuvres, but dinner is not offered.

You Mentioned Getting an Uber. Is There a Bar?

Absolutely. There will be a cash bar with beer and wine. Drinks are obtained by buying drink tickets. You can use a credit card to purchase drink tickets, but cash is preferred.

What’s Up for Bid?

Every year, there are amazing items at the Auction. Our staff, parents, and alumni donate really cool stuff and experiences. For many, the holiday season is fast approaching. There has to be someone on your list who would love homemade jam, a vacation in Leland, Michigan or monthly flower deliveries. 

You will also have the opportunity to bid on classroom art projects. These aren’t your standard macaroni-and-glitter pieces. They’re thoughtful (and sentimental) works that your kids helped make. In the past, classroom projects have included painted canvases, elaborate string art, and a student-built "free library."



Additionally, the Auction always has a series of sign-up events and items. At the Auction, you will see a series of sign-up boards with various activities and items listed. They typically include dinners, classroom photo books, and the always popular "Night with Friends"-- a December evening where your SSMS-enrolled elementary students get to hang out at school and have a pizza party. (Meanwhile, you can enjoy a dinner date, shop, or enjoy some peace and quiet.)



Finally, this year's Auction will include a wine pull. At check-in, you can buy a bottle of wine (or two) for $20 each. All wine pull bottles are all worth at least $15 and a few will be particularly special. You will receive your randomly chosen bottles at checkout. 

Check out the Auction Catalog for more information about this year's offerings.

Are the Sign-Up Events Just for "Veteran" Parents?

Every year, the school offers a series of sign-up events. For these events, you simply sign up and pay the stated price. Most of the events have limits on how many people can be included, so it's worth arriving early. There’s an Amazing Race–style road rally. You can enjoy a "Beer with Matt." It can be intimidating to sign up for a night out with strangers, but don't be shy! Our community is really friendly and fun. 


Can I Just Browse the Auction?

We don’t expect everyone to spend a lot of money at the Auction. Our catalog includes a wide range of price points: items range in cost from $15 to thousands of dollars. While this is a charity event, it is also a night of community building. Feel free to show up, have a drink, and browse.

I Can't Attend. Can I Still Participate in the Auction?

While we do not offer online bidding, consider donating. You and your loved ones can also buy 50/50 tickets! The tickets are a great way for your out-of-town friends and family to support Stepping Stones. Last year’s 50/50 winner received over $4,000—and you do not need to attend the Auction to participate in the raffle. If you're interested in buying 50/50 tickets, contact us.

How Do I Get Tickets?

Tickets to the Auction can be purchased at Stepping Stones or online. We're looking forward to seeing you there!