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1110 College NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503



Filtering by Tag: elementary

Opera 2016!

Elizabeth Topliffe

The Miracle Tree—An Ecological Opera by William Bokout

Performed by Stepping Stones Montessori Students

April 29, 2016 at 6 PM

St. Cecilia Music Center, Royce Auditorium

Alumni Reception Immediately Following in the President’s Room

Stepping Stones’ guides are constantly looking for challenging and thrilling opportunities for our students to stretch themselves, while remaining in touch with what a child is capable of doing. That is why I’m thrilled to share that our students (Kindergarten through Upper Elementary) will all have a stage role in the 2016 Opera--The Miracle Tree by William Bokout.

Spring operas and musicals have an honored place in Stepping Stones Montessori School’s history. In the early years of the school, students performed on-stage at Civic Theater. They produced playbills, posters and memorized lines and songs.

A student-made poster advertising a spring musical from the 1980s

A student-made poster advertising a spring musical from the 1980s

Boy, did they memorize them! When touring the school or telling me about experiences they had at Stepping Stones, alumni most often reminisce about musicals and operas. I even had an experience in a bar where an unknown patron noticed my Stepping Stones shirt and demonstrated some of her dancing cow moves from her childhood musical!

Sarah Danielski, an alumna, parent of current students and staff member also refers often to her musicals. “I remember the rush of getting dressed as a grasshopper with tights and antennae. It was just exciting to be on a real stage with my peers, having to learn lines. It was all exciting.”

Why is an event like this so important? A theater production is an incredible undertaking, and provides our students with opportunities to lead and think creatively. Students will be directly involved in set construction and costume design as well as staging and the theatrical components of the production. In order to pull it off, elementary students will focus only on opera during the week of April 25-29.

Ryan DePersia, an alum, currently working as an architect in Chicago remembers, “Although I’m no longer involved in theatrical endeavors, I really love that I had the opportunity when I was at Stepping Stones to be a part of several plays. I really enjoyed my acting roles in the productions as well as my role as a part of something bigger. The lessons of teamwork and collaboration that these events provided were invaluable.”

Teamwork, creativity, collaboration and receiving constructive feedback are all important aspects to this transformative experience. “It’s an incredible adventure and they will come out of it a different person. No doubt about it,” notes Jav Caniff, upper elementary guide.

Students aren’t the only ones to benefit from these experiences! One of the most compelling aspects of the opera are the opportunities for parents. “These events are truly community events. Parents help sew costumes, build sets, chaperone students and offer transportation. They are part of the transformative experience of creating something for our whole community,” says Jan Reed, lower elementary guide.

"They accomplish something that they probably would never otherwise try in all of their lives, and it exposes students to a form of art that they might not otherwise experience," says Wilma Kiefer, former Upper Elementary guide.

"It is a great community event. It helps children understand that it is a process and it takes everyone to make the product beautiful. It is work. It is effort, and in the end, it is magical," notes Erica Shier.

This year’s event will take place on the stage at St. Cecilia Music Center’s Royce Auditorium, a beautiful and historic stage in Grand Rapids.

Royce Auditorium

Royce Auditorium

We are hoping to fund this event through underwriting. If you, a family member or friend wish to help enrich the experience of Stepping Stones Montessori students with the gift of opera, please consider making a donation to support us.


Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends and supporters of all kinds are invited to join us at the opera! We hope to see you there!

Skills for Real Life

Elizabeth Topliffe

by Elizabeth Topliffe, Head of School

Recently, the upper elementary students served their Fancy Dinner to 10 guests, all of whom purchased a seat at our November Auction for the Love of Learning. The students prepared all of the food, used formal place settings and served the guests.

Leading up to the event, Jav and Marcus (the upper elementary adults) assured parents that while it was a great deal of work, the Fancy Dinner offered lessons for real life. All of those references to "real life" left me wondering what was so real or so different about these lessons than those offered every day at Stepping Stones Montessori.

As the week unfolded, I can confidently say that the preparations leading up to the evening were chaotic and electric (with a tinge of panic).  The students learned a lot about project management, collaboration, and themselves.

As adults, it can be easy to forget all of the steps involved with putting on a Fancy Dinner. I’ll take this opportunity to remind you of some of the steps involved.

  • Research menu ideas & present them
  • Research recipes
  • Apply multipliers to recipes in order to plan for 10 guests
  • Calculate grocery quantities
  • Shop for groceries
  • Prepare food
  • Write rubrics for each task and assign them
  • Set a formal table
  • Prepare a map for where guests will sit and what they ordered
  • Learn how to serve at a formal table

I look at that list, and I see some pretty solid academic skills being applied—math, writing, mapping, and research. Even better, our students got these academic lessons in a high stakes environment. They had guests counting on them for accurate math, writing, mapping and research.

Some students failed in their efforts. Baking bread was one of those lessons. Students ended up finding another avenue for bread on the table. They also learned that a single stove and oven meant that they had to adjust on the fly.

As a guest, I can confidently say that despite the failures, the adjustments and the craziness leading up to the evening, it was lovely. I was prepared to be impressed, and the students exceeded even those high expectations.

I wondered how the students felt about it. None of them mentioned the math, writing, mapping and research. Instead, this is what they said:

“I learned that I couldn’t pay attention only to my work and my assignment. I needed to help other people because if only my work got done, it wasn’t going to work. We all had to get our work done together.”

“The biggest thing I learned was not to rush. If you do, you get overwhelmed and freaked out. It’s hard to get anything done when you’re like that.”

“I learned communication is key. If you don’t have it, you’re sunk.”

“I learned that a cook’s job is a lot harder than it seems. We don’t think about where our food comes from enough.”

And, lest you think it was all work and no play… “I learned not to mess with lasagna!”

These lessons are so much more relevant to success in the world than math, writing, mapping and research.

Throughout it all, Jav and Marcus (the adults in the community) focused on acting as guides, coaches and models. If they had focused instead on telling the students what to do, I wonder if they would have had the same answers. Would students have learned how to navigate some of the problems presented in the evening?

Research indicates that Montessori educated students have strong academic skills. They also have better executive function, are better able to adapt and have a stronger sense of community. Check out this synopsis of some of that research here. Based on our students’ responses to what they are learning, I’m not surprised.

What a lovely reminder of the richness found in our elementary community.





Montessori Elementary: Why We Stayed at Stepping Stones

Leigh Ebrom

By Jason Lee, Parent

When we enrolled our son in Stepping Stones’ Toddler Room, we planned to transition him to a public school at first grade. However, at Stepping Stones we have established friendships with children and other parents, bonded with the community, and seen the wonders that the staff and teachers bring to life in our child. After our first years, we changed our minds and decided we would stay with SSMS.

We still wanted to do our due diligence:

·       We met with the teachers to discuss our child and his unique needs.

·       We talked to parents that have stayed at Stepping Stones for elementary and those that went on to the public system.

·       We visited all the classrooms and schools to get a first-hand look.

Our assumptions were of course wrong. It wasn’t an easy decision. We went for a visit to our local school and found a dedicated staff, committed volunteers, and impressive work that the kids had produced. Because of this, our decision to stay at Stepping Stones Montessori was more about philosophy and staffing.

For us, it came down to a few critical points in favor of Stepping Stones Montessori:

·       Individualized teaching

·       Independent learning

·       Continuity of curriculum and

·       Community.

Many students excel in the traditional model, which is used in public schools. The traditional model teaches to the center of the bell curve along a set curriculum that is largely driven by standardized testing. Children who fall outside the middle of the curve - those falling behind in certain areas or those who have the advanced capacity - get lost in the shuffle. At Stepping Stones, each child is allowed to find her own path to learning and has the opportunity to dive deep when a spark is lit. This is possible because Stepping Stones’ teachers have the capacity within the Montessori model and with the staffing ratio to give individualized attention and enable the child to create his own curriculum.

There is also something truly special about the way that the Montessori curriculum builds as the child moves through the levels – something I’m only beginning to understand myself. The foundations of math, reading, and practical life built in the Young Toddler and Toddler years, are reinforced in the Children’s House and are given a chance to come to full fruition in the elementary. In the elementary classroom, lessons use many of the same materials that are found in the Children's House, but they are put to a more complex use. What may have been a sorting activity in Children's House, now results in completed math pages in our Friday folders.  True understanding develops and lifelong habits are being established.

At the same time, this process is happening within a community of children on a similar journey, but at different age levels. A Montessori elementary classroom contains first, second and third grade students. Those children who were leaders in Children’s House are eased into more challenging and difficult work through the mentorship of the second and  third year elementary students. In the end, we believe this environment, which nurtures a true Love of Learning, is the best place for our child and we hope for yours as well.  if you are interested in Montessori education, contact Stepping Stones for more information and a tour of our school.