Primary (Ages 3—6)
GSMS has one primary classroom (Redbud) where families can choose one of two enrollment options:
- Half-Day Option, 8:15 am–11:30 am each day
- Full-Day Option, 8:15 am–3:00 pm each day
Read about our plans to open a second primary classroom and establish a dual-language environment across our primary level for the 2023–2024 school year.
The primary classroom, or “Children’s House,” is a carefully prepared environment where children can experience the world through the senses. Students thrive as they exercise choice, develop independence, benefit from individualized learning, and begin to discover their own interests. The ultimate aim for children at this level is the inner creation of stamina and concentration that will serve them as they move into more complex academic growth in the years to come. Cognitive and social-emotional development also occurs as the children display curiosity, creativity, and concentration and also learn how to be respectful towards others, communicate their needs clearly and kindly, and balance their individual needs with the needs of the community.
At this level, students learn how to do meaningful work to care for themselves and their environment. Tasks like watering the plants, straightening the shelves, cleaning the table, buttoning a coat, and preparing snacks for the group are part of their daily routine. Such work meets a crucial developmental need for this age group as they strive to do things for themselves. Moreover, practical life activities help children control movement, use their body in service to their mind, develop concentration, learn the importance of logical order, sequence, and accuracy (crucial early math skills), and move toward increased independence.
Children at this age have an absorbent mind that constantly takes in information through the sensorial experiences of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting. They are fascinated with the sensorial world and readily engage with classroom materials that help them explore the world through color, texture, sound, pattern, and size. These materials encourage children to sort, grade, and classify, giving them a greater understanding of their environment. Moreover, the sensorial materials create a firm foundation from which abstract thinking will arise as a child grows.
Children at the primary level are beginning to develop their auditory, verbal, expressive, written, and visual skills in language arts. The multi-tiered nature of the program allows even the youngest students to engage in activities like pin-punching and tracing, which prepare them for gripping a pencil, utilizing the movable alphabet to sound out and “write” words before learning the mechanics of writing, practicing movements involved in writing, and acquiring readiness skills in reading through a variety of hands-on manipulatives. The environment is rich in accurate and complex vocabulary to further expand and refine students’ language skills. Learning is highly individualized with one-on-one instruction from the guide.
All mathematical work at the primary level utilizes manipulatives to support a child’s understanding of quantity, place value, and operation in a concrete way. Sequencing of numbers and one-to-one correspondence are mastered first, with place value, operations, skip counting, and memorization of facts to follow. Lessons are presented individually based on student selection, guide suggestion, and the concentration level of each child.
A primary goal of this part of the curriculum is to help children learn about the world and the particular place they occupy within a larger community. Students learn about culture and geography through utilizing maps, globes, atlases, pictures, and books. This work is supplemented by other stories, artwork, and information illuminating what life is currently like for different people in different parts of the world.
Both art and music are a part of the sensorial area of study for primary students. Music is present at different times of the day and children experience both listening to music and making music themselves. Art activities often begin with a theme introduced in a story and then a presentation using the materials that students will utilize. Following the presentation, students are invited to demonstrate their understanding of the task at art tables.
The goal of the science program is to pique the students’ interest. Topics for presentations include simple experiments in the classroom and in their school environment (using animals, gardening, etc.). Children at this age replicate simple experiments, utilize nomenclature cards, observe processes, and gain introductory knowledge of concepts they will explore in greater depth as they move into their elementary years.
Primary students develop an experiential love of nature and receive an introduction to growing plants, animal husbandry, common tool use, and nature immersion. Our outdoor classroom design includes a small animal yard, raised beds for food production, water capturing tanks with self-serve valves, and a lookout station with binoculars and nature charts for observing the natural life forms in our adjacent food forest. Children are welcomed, as their interest directs them, to engage in the work of maintaining their living environment.
While there is currently no formal instruction in Spanish, guides and assistants at the primary level may incorporate words and directions in Spanish in their interactions with students. Work is underway to further develop this area of the curriculum to better immerse students into Spanish language and Hispanic culture.
Lower Elementary (Grades 1—3)
GSMS has two lower elementary classrooms: Silver Maple and Dogwood.
In the Lower Elementary classrooms we expose children to an exploration of the universe and their place and purpose within it: what Dr. Maria Montessori called “cosmic education.” Children hear five Great Lessons that engage their imagination and intellect: 1) the creation of the universe; 2) the timeline of life; 3) the dawn of humankind; 4) the story of language; 5) the history of numbers. These stories provide a context for the vast knowledge children gain during their elementary years. Students at this level want to ask why questions and to explore the answers to those questions. The Lower Elementary curriculum provides each child time and space to dive deeply into learning.
Lower Elementary Curriculum
The learning environment at this level continues to be language-rich and self-directed with individualized instruction from the guide. Students receive systematic and sequential presentations in grammar and the phonetic elements of language. Spelling exercises and a regular writer’s workshop offers further support in the development of written language. Students hone their reading skills through work with a variety of books and materials. Children develop an appreciation for both the beauty and power of language.
Students utilize concrete materials to begin work on a concept and subsequently move to more abstract work in order to demonstrate a deep understanding of sequenced skills. Math at this level encompasses both process math (operations) and memory math (memorization of facts). Students also have an opportunity to explore fractional concepts and geometry before they progress to the next level of learning.
Students learn about the interdependency of everything, from the whole to its parts, as they study history, geography, and ancestry. Timelines, maps, research, and other hands-on projects assist this area of the curriculum.
Beginning with lower elementary, presentations and student work take place in the art room according to a three-year rotation of curriculum. Students learn about and incorporate the elements of art into their work and pursue work that relates to their cultural studies topics. In addition, students work with a fiber arts specialist in the classroom to learn and practice handicrafts like felting, spinning, weaving, and knitting.
All Lower Elementary students attend music as part of their weekly program. The program is broad and includes music (choral, rhythm, and xylophones), movement, stories, and games.
The Great Lessons provide a framework for scientific investigation as students study earth science, chemistry, astronomy, biology, and botany. Experiments and demonstrations assist student learning, as do many hands-on materials. Students learn scientific vocabulary and nomenclature and experience the interconnectedness of the natural world. Plants and animals in the classroom give students a chance to observe, describe, and care for other living things.
While there is currently no formal instruction in Spanish, guides and assistants at the lower elementary level incorporate words and directions in Spanish in their interactions with students. Moreover, Spanish may arise in the curriculum when particular books are read or cultures studied. Work is underway to further develop this area of the curriculum to better immerse students into Spanish language and Hispanic culture.
A hallmark of Montessori education is the freedom to move around in the classroom. Children are not stuck at a desk all day, but have many opportunities to stretch their legs and take part in an optional yoga activity in the hall. Students also enjoy a daily recess after lunch and a weekly “physical expression” time where they play different games, usually outdoors.
Lower elementary students continue developing a love of nature and focus especially on the study of biomes. Each week, while weather permits, students and staff travel to Prairie Winds Nature Farm where they are guided in a lesson by biologist and farmer Charlotte Wolfe. Prairie Winds is a diverse 80-acre small farm that demonstrates aquatic, grassland, and forest biomes and specializes in wetland restoration and conservation practices. The farm exposes students to small scale food production including livestock and equestrian husbandry.
Upper Elementary (Grades 4—6)
GSMS has two upper elementary classrooms: Cedar and River Birch.
Upper Elementary students continue exploring how the universe works, both individually and collaboratively with others. They want to understand the reality around them and to discover their place within it. Social development is prominent as each child establishes individual values within a larger community framework. Abstract thinking steadily develops, both enhancing a child’s learning and helping a child further develop a sense of self. The Great Lessons continue to shape the curriculum and provide a framework for interdisciplinary investigation. Classroom presentations and materials continue to spark imagination and challenge the intellect.
Upper Elementary Curriculum
As they progress into the Upper Elementary level, students become better readers and writers while also broadening their perspective. Reading skills are assessed through miscue analysis and story recall. Novel studies, often student-selected, are an integral component of reading instruction; students are part of two teacher-led literature circle groups per year, culminating in the completion of a follow-up project, and three additional independently completed book reports. A traditional spelling program is utilized and writing instruction follows the 6 +1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham while also incorporating materials from the Albanesi language toolbox.
Upper Elementary students are increasingly comfortable jumping from the use of concrete representations of mathematical concepts to more abstract activities. Working sequentially and at their own pace, students continue using manipulatives to increase their depth of understanding, but also engage in abstract tasks required for more sophisticated work. Presentations and lessons include concepts like area and volume, rational numbers, and the four mathematical operations, which students demonstrate and explain on paper.
The study of the five Great Lessons continues on a three-year cycle at the Upper Elementary level as students are able to place themselves within the context of human interaction from the beginning of human life to the present-day. One aim of the Great Lessons and their content – the creation of the universe, the timeline of life, the dawn of humankind, the story of language, and the history of numbers – is to inspire wonder in students and focus them on particular areas of study. Topics at this level include early humans, ancient civilizations, and modern history.
Upper Elementary students utilize the elements of art in their work in addition to the principles of design. Presentations in art incorporate topics from the cultural studies undertaken by students. Exploring art is one way that students at this level can experience abstraction.
Students in Upper Elementary have the option of attending music lessons. These lessons might include learning about instruments, listening and rhythm activities, and beginning choral music. Many students also participate in further music activities, such as private violin lessons. There are ample opportunities for musical performance and participation during morning prayer and other community gatherings.
Upper Elementary students follow a three-year cycle in the science curriculum. One year includes the study of single-celled organisms, prokaryotes, protoctista, bacteria, plants, and animals. A second year focuses largely on zoology. In the third year, students study human biology. Within each year of study students explore how the vital functions of living things ensure their survival. In all years of the cycle, students use microscopes to make observations and record data using the scientific method. Experiments support curriculum content and provide students more practice using the scientific method. Students also complete many projects that help them inquire more deeply into the scientific material.
The Upper Elementary Spanish curriculum is designed to introduce students more formally to aspects of the language, such as colors, days of the week, months of the year, animals, and other vocabulary the students might be learning during their regular work time. There are many signs throughout the classroom to help students learn the vocabulary in their environment.
Moreover, students predominantly hear only Spanish during the lessons, which offers a more immersive experience. The fun and lively nature of the Spanish lessons helps foster student interest and engagement.
As in other levels of Montessori education, upper elementary students are free to move around in the classroom. They have daily recess outside, weather permitting, and weekly opportunities for more formal physical expression, either through games like kickball or other group activities.
The land-based learning for Upper Elementary students is a hybrid experience both on and off campus. On campus, the upper elementary has a dedicated outdoor classroom that includes a small greenhouse and several small gardens, including raised beds, where fruits and vegetables are grown. A monthly field trip to a variety of local farms expands students' understanding of small farming, food production styles, and farming practices. Students explore zoology, microbiology, and botany as they care for animals, work with the soil, and study plants. Students also come to understand the lifecycle of food production, from seed to table.
Junior High (Grades 7—8)
GSMS has one junior high classroom (Elm).
Junior high students explore the wonder and interconnectedness of the whole universe with a special eye toward finding their place and purpose in contributing to a more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable society. Students practice independent self-management, engage in community meetings and discussions, develop compassionate and respectful relationships, and hone their analytical skills. Hands-on, experiential learning is central to the curriculum and students enjoy regular community engagement and service opportunities.
Junior High Curriculum
The language curriculum in the junior high aims to develop the adolescent’s love of language through practice with various forms of writing, grammatical apprenticeships, anthology projects, shared literature experiences, regular group discussions, and oral presentations. The students read and analyze a variety of novels throughout the year, intentionally chosen to highlight certain commonalities and cross-curricular themes. Weekly literature circles are a means of fostering discussion and sharing ideas. Writing skills are honed through daily work and long-term projects: personal reflections, summaries, analysis, creative pieces, and research papers. Regular discussions and oral presentations provide opportunities for students to strengthen their communication skills and encourage personal expression and participation within the larger community.
At the junior high level, students move away from utilizing concrete materials and rely completely on abstract mathematical thought. The math curriculum begins with a focus on the properties of algebra, simplifying and solving expressions and equations. The students then learn the relation between direct and indirect variations, the Cartesian coordinate system, writing equations for lines, and how to use graphing and other methods for solving systems of equations. Students strengthen their understanding of geometry as they work with formulas for perimeter, circumference, area, and volume. The students build on their understanding of the Pythagorean theory as they calculate the surface area of pyramids. Students receive presentations in other advanced areas of algebra, including probability and relative frequency and solving quadratic equations, before having the option of advancing to a full course on Geometry.
The Great Lessons first heard in the Lower Elementary classroom continue guiding junior high students in their exploration of the sciences. In junior high, however, their studies are more detailed. The two-year curriculum devotes one year of study to biology and another year to physical sciences. Students have many opportunities for practical application of their scientific understanding through their work outside on our urban farm and through the watershed stewardship enrichment program.
At the junior high level, cultural studies focus on common themes throughout human history and illuminate lesser-known stories and perspectives. Students read, research, and discuss a variety of topics, including colonialism, the founding of the United States, the Industrial Revolution, Westward Expansion, the Native American experience, the American Civil Rights Movement, Western & Southern Africa and Apartheid, immigration, economic systems, geography and exploration, and current events. The structure of our curriculum allows students to think critically and look for patterns throughout history and across cultures. The goal is for students to realize their own place in history and their capacity for creating change.
Students engage in many artistic endeavors during Creative Expression, a two-hour offering every other week. Each semester, students can choose to participate in music, art, yearbook, or culinary art. Art supplies are also readily available within the classroom environment, and the adolescents are encouraged to incorporate artistic expression into their explorations and final projects across the curriculum.
Students receive Spanish language instruction weekly. The goal is to consolidate and expand on existing knowledge of Spanish and to continue learning about and experiencing Hispanic culture. Students help lead a monthly morning prayer time in Spanish, which includes songs in Spanish and bilingual readings. Many students are well prepared to place into second-year or third-year Spanish when they enter high school.
Similar to the Upper Elementary level, students in junior high can choose music lessons where they explore instruments, rhythm, and choral music. Some students at this level continue to participate in private violin lessons. Junior high students have a primary role in leading our weekly morning prayer service, which includes opportunities for singing in the choir or leading a song from the front podium. Our adolescents also have the opportunity to participate in an after-school glee club, led by our choral director.
Junior high students are physically active much of the day, whether outside on the farm, along the banks of the St. Joseph River, or during daily recess. Students also enjoy opportunities for community service, which often involves physical work, and a weekly physical expression time on Friday afternoons when they play kickball or other games at local parks.
Junior high students focus their religious studies on a combination of prayer, community service, and classroom learning. Theology lessons occur on a weekly basis and students regularly provide volunteer service during the school day at local charities and other organizations. The opportunity to lead weekly Tuesday morning prayer is another means of spiritual exploration and formation.
Junior high students spend many hours on our two acres of urban farm landscape. They receive daily exposure and weekly lessons around regenerative farming practices and permaculture principles. They assist the daily running of the farm, which includes the work of planting, growing, harvesting, and animal husbandry. Students also learn about micro-economics as they run their own small-scale farm business. In addition to their work on the farm, students also learn about and care for our local watershed as part of their outdoor work and science curriculum. The integrated watershed studies include biology, ecology, language, and local history. The most important outcome of both the farm work and the local watershed program is to help students understand their role in cultivating and caring for the earth’s resources.