We're Hiring!

Home / Parent Portal / Classroom Pages / Upper Elementary SW: Karin's Class

Karin's Upper Elementary Class

“It is necessary, then, to give the child the possibility of developing according to the laws of his nature, so that he can become strong, and, having become strong, can do even more than we dared hope for him.”

--Dr. Maria Montessori

Welcome!  With great excitement and anticipation of miraculous things to come, we embark on this new school year together.  We begin each year by sharing Montessori’s Great Stories, keeping in mind that the children’s own stories continue to unfold before us.  We are immensely privileged to nurture their growth, share in their development and celebrate each unique individual for who they are and who they are becoming.  Thank you for sharing your children with us for another year filled with adventure, discovery, and love.



Karin Church

Karin Church
, Upper Elementary Guide
Katelin Murphy, Classroom Support

Room Parents
Virginie Kanner
Matt Davis
Leah Davis

 Back to School Parent Letter

Classroom Highlights


This summer, as you are riding bicycles with your family along the TART Trail, make sure you stop at the DeYoung Natural Area to admire the hard work the 3rd, 4th and 5th years put into reestablishing the Edible Trails garden.  Last Friday, your young people worked extremely hard covering the trails with cardboard; filling, pushing and emptying wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of mulch; lining the trails with foraged logs; weeding and transplanting gooseberries and comfrey, etc., etc.  Not only was it inspiring to see the excited workers transform this beautiful area, it was encouraging to see the 3rd years fall right in step with the 4th and 5th years, giving us a glimpse of next year’s vibrant upper el communities.

With one more month to go, the summer-like weather is confirming that it’s time to wrap things up.  End of year studies are coming to a close, self-assessments are taking place, and final spelling and collaborative reading groups are meeting.  We’re looking forward to one more baking project from our Kenya group, mint chocolate chip cookies inspired by a silent reading book, and a RAK party (Random Acts of Kindness) to celebrate awarding all of our gems to our helpful community members.

End of the year also means a lot of exciting activities.  Soon, the 5th years will plan the camping trip and reach out to you for help shopping for food and borrowing supplies, such as tents and coolers.  The 4th years will plan Field Day and bring home a lot of excitement about their ideas.  The 6th years will write their graduation speeches and make portfolios in which to place their beautiful finished work of three years.

Be on the lookout for requests for help as this year comes to a close.  Thank you!



Observing people do what they love to do is utterly inspiring.  It encourages one to pursue one’s dreams and either follow or find one’s path.  Last week we had the privilege of experiencing this magic in three different ways.  

Even though it was only four hours last week, our robotics workshop was thorough, focused and exciting.  Our classroom was transformed into a robotics lab, and the children, guided by good humor, thought-provoking questions and clear, step-by-step instructions, learned how to program, manipulate and control their robots.  The Quarkmine team, Philip and John, enthusiastically supported your children throughout the process.  They obviously love what they do, and it appears that your children love to work with robots too, as evidenced by this clip from the “Circle of Doom”!

Our other two experiences involved trips to the gym with many other children from our school.  Being together again in this way is definitely something we all love to do.  On Wednesday, we were treated to a performance from the NMC Children’s Choir, featuring our own Monica Worthington.  Their lovely voices and lively songs filled our hearts with joy and bodies with song.  On Friday, we learned about curling from Olympic gold medalist John Landsteiner.  His pride in his achievements and generosity of time and patience with a multitude of questions made his visit rewarding for all.

Make sure to mark Thursday, May 12 at 10:00 on your calendars for the annual TCH Talent Show if you’re interested in joining us in observing more people do what they love to do!


Learning from direct, hands-on experience is always most effective, even if it can be somewhat gross at times.  I hope you all heard some version of the native freshwater mussel (Unionidae) dissection, as well as the myriad uses and important role of the cattail.  Yes, there were a few worried children when they heard we were dissecting “cat tails”.)  Similar squeamishness quickly disappeared while sifting through muck to find macroinvertebrates in Leo Creek.  A wide variety of larvae, including dragonfly, caddisfly, and midge, made getting dirty worth it.  You’ll be happy to know that Leo Creek showed chemical and biological signs of good health!

To bring our busy week to a close, our researchers of Canada presented their studies and prepared a traditional dish called poutine.  You all know how creative and persuasive Montessori learners are, so these Canadians added bacon to their recipe.  They were all well-fueled for track practice that afternoon.  We’ll look forward to learning about Brazil at the end of this week and enjoying a special dessert together!  Germany and Kenya are on deck.

The energy, laughter and enthusiasm that filled the room last week made returning from spring break a breeze.  This group of children really enjoy each other; they celebrate each other’s successes and support each other’s challenges.  Working together, they are in the process of creating a beautiful, yet practical, piece of art for the Bright Futures Celebration.  We can’t thank Virginie Kanner or Leah and Matt Davis enough for helping us create this lovely representation of our strong community.  See you there on the 22nd!


Greetings from New York!  After months of preparation and a lot of hard work, it’s been amazing to travel with our delegates and see them in action.  That action includes navigating a suitcase through an airport, locating sites and traveling there by subway, putting on a full three-piece suit, and participating in discussions about their topics with children from around the world.  We made sure to get a lot of exercise on the first two days, so the hours of committee sessions would be a welcome rest!

Back in Traverse City, preparations had been made in advance to make the most of this week.  Country groups are working on their studies and special events are happening each day for our good friend who stayed back with her younger peers.  This group of learners continues to be amazingly considerate, compassionate and kind.  (Plus, they are very persuasive when it comes to celebrations!)

The work happening in the classroom and on the playground during the childrens’ 4th and 5th years, such as their studies, group collaboration, community-building and recess conflict resolution, build the skills necessary to participate in this conference as a 6th year.  Just as in our classroom, MMUN meets the children where they are and pushes them just a little further to enhance their learning and foster their growth.  You’ll have to take out the measuring tape when we’re back because they’ll all seem a little taller upon their return.

Looking forward to seeing you all for Friday’s theater workshop performance on March 25 at 2:00!  Have a wonderful spring break!


Along with holidays, snow and ice days have interrupted our time together this winter.  Nevertheless, your children have made the most of their days at school.  We started last week with our amazing Secret Valentine Reveal.  Kind words, creative cards, and delicious treats kicked off the short week, building community and generating laughter.

The laughter and creativity continued as the children embraced the writing prompt that asked them to create a country and describe the rules of its language.  The sound of busy pencils filled the room for 20 minutes, followed by the buzz of sharing their clever ideas.  Alphabets, histories, and cultures were born in that short time.  We’ll use these writing opportunities to explore different types of writing, strengthen our editing skills, and exercise our creative muscles.  For some children this will be a favorite activity.  For others it may be somewhat painful.  Over time, however, we have noticed that this practice becomes easier and, eventually, a welcomed activity.

Finally, yes, finally, we have been able to bring laughter and creativity into our room by welcoming learners from Jamie’s class into our community.  The children have collaborated on surveys, creating colorful bar graphs, practiced finding common denominators, and performed reading interpretation.  The excitement of learning with a new work partner is palpable and inspires other children to take advantage of the same opportunity.

It was wonderful to see almost all of you for our Parent Visiting Days, and I look forward to welcoming the rest of you at your convenience.  Thank you for coming in and also for supporting your children in being well prepared for tomorrow’s Watershed Workshops in Suttons Bay.  Please see attached additional guidance from Inland Seas.


Many times you have heard us discuss Montessori’s core principle of Freedom and Responsibility, through which we foster the children’s ability to choose their optimal learning path and achieve their goals.  For some children, this practice is already internalized, and they navigate their days quite independently.   For others, more structure or scaffolding is required.  This can range from helping them reflect on their plans for the day in advance to helping them write out a schedule of “things to do.”  Timers, headphones, quiet work spaces also provide structure for those in need.  

This Freedom and Responsibility applies to the adults as well; it allows us to guide their learning as they pursue their interests.  In allowing them the freedom to follow their wonders, we can integrate all areas of learning and expose them to the concepts for which we are responsible.  We help them expand their research and broaden their follow up to achieve their and our goals.

As a Montessori guide, one of my favorite experiences is when the children take charge, exercising their freedom in a responsible way and leading others to do the same.  Recently, two fifth year learners proposed a Country Project for all of the fourth and fifth years.  They presented their idea to the group and now, in small groups, they will learn about four different countries: their history, geography, culture, and, most importantly, food!  These studies will complement the 6th years’ MMUN research about Iceland and Myanmar.  What better way to learn about the world, learn about each other and develop our skills, than through collaborating with each other in a peer-led project.  

Looking forward to welcoming you into the classroom February 23 or 24 to share some of these inspiring learning choices!  Please sign up or reach out for alternative dates/times.


Curiosity, creativity, connection . . . our group discussions at the beginning, middle and end of our days provide opportunities for these three important characteristics of our community to flourish.  Whether we’re discussing our wonders about the characters in our read-aloud book, sharing heartfelt birthday compliments, listening to a fellow learner’s original story, watching another learner’s 3D animation or marveling over an abundance of origami frogs, generously shared with all, our group discussions connect us to one another and spark interest in further investigations and activities.

Our small group lessons are also opportunities to connect with each other and to our incredible world.  Recently, our zoologists shared their research about endangered and extinct animals.  They reflected on the human impact on these species and also learned about the use of biotechnology to restore genetic diversity to endangered populations.  Their eyes sparkled as they learned about Elizabeth Ann, the cloned black-footed ferret, and Kurt, the cloned Przewalski’s horse.

Finally, curiosity and creativity deepens our understanding of how our earth is formed and continues to change.  Cold temperatures have allowed our Work of Water group to explore the strength of ice and imagine the effect of glaciers, cutting out the Great Lakes thousands of years ago.  Our Land group will envision the plates of the earth’s crust, using the cracked shell of a hardboiled egg.  How they will recreate the underwater volcano explosion near Tonga will be thrilling to see!

We have had some fun this past week playing a version of kick ball and also the beginnings of volleyball. The kickball game involves the entire kicking team running the bases each kick and the fielding team passes the ball to each of their teammates to make outs. Very little standing around waiting for a turn in this version. I hope that your student enjoys starting their day in the gym each morning. We know that physical education helps develop motor skills and coordination. It can also be an important way to relieve stress and anxiety while hopefully adding a bt of fun to their days. 


Happy New Year!  What a joy it has been to start this new year with your children, sharing, learning and laughing with each other.  

Last week we took time to reflect on habits we have that may hurt others or ourselves and those we have or want to cultivate that are helpful.  We shared both of our habits so that we can support each other in achieving our goals.  The hurtful habits, such as being hard on oneself if concepts take time to grasp, fighting with siblings, not reading, were written on pieces of paper and burned outside in a ceremonial snow bowl.  (Burning things outside is definitely a lot of fun!)  With our helpful habits, like taking care of siblings, reading, and eating more vegetables, we will each make a piece of artwork to display in our class.  If you ask your child what their hurtful and helpful habits are, you, too, can help them work on becoming who they want to be.

We have also started each day reading from The Power Book: What is it, Who has it, and Why?  We have many readers in our community, so it’s been even more meaningful to hear their voices read about who has control at home, out on the playground and in our country.  So far they have agreed that rules and governments are necessary for our world to function well.  (It seems that they understand why there are rules at home, too!)

We closed this week by diving into our new poetry book Poetry for a Better World.  Not only does this book introduce important vocabulary and concepts related to social justice, it also teaches us different forms of poetry, such as an abecedarian.  Together we started writing a poem to celebrate MLK Day.  Have you written an abecedarian poem before?


‘Tis the Season of Giving and, despite upper elementary’s song choice for the Sing-a-long this coming Friday of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” our classroom is giving letters of gratitude to a variety of people and organizations in our greater community to acknowledge the important roles they play in our world.  After a few brainstorming sessions, we have quite a list of people who make our or others’ lives better through their actions.

This letter writing project is linked to our learning about Japanese Circles of Caring.  This week we are focusing on the larger of the concentric circles, the Community.  Over Winter Break, the children will give to Family and, upon their return to school in the New Year, they will give to Self.  Ask them who they have written a letter to and why.

Circles have been a theme in our class as of late.  The children have been taking turns reading aloud a variety of Winter Solstice stories from around the world, recognizing the important changes that occur as the earth circles the sun.  We also gather in a circle multiple times a day: our morning meetings, read-aloud time, birthday celebrations, and Agenda.  Circles allow everyone to see each other and put everyone on equal footing.  What a beautiful way to end this year by gathering with our whole school community in a circle to sing in the New Year!  

Looking forward to seeing you there!  Your children will have everything they need with them to leave school, so please feel free to begin your Winter Break right after the last song is sung.  Best wishes for the New Year!

Todd, Brenda, the students from Karin’s class and I have been very busy during this last week before break, preparing and cooking meals in the spirit of celebration. Lots of prep work goes into every meal, but this week especially felt very prep heavy. Everyday the kids have had piles and piles of potatoes, brussel sprouts, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, apples and zucchini to peel and chop to get ready for the next day. We couldn’t have done it without them. 

Several of our meals this week are traditional menus that we have served in the past, including Wednesday’s amazing seasonal spread of pineapple glazed ham, roasted vegetables, homemade focaccia, apple slices and sweet potato pie, Thursday’s Jambalaya and Friday’s Winter Solstice soup. It’s wonderful to cook these menus that have been passed down through the years at The Children’s House, connecting me to the deep traditions that I’m learning bring so much comfort to the students and teachers at the school. 

One new tradition I would like to try to bring to the school is the idea of a shop-free January. I have a couple of friends who, every January, decide not to shop for food and instead work through their freezer, pantry, and larder to use up things that have been hanging around. Though I know I will still have to shop for certain perishables like milk, eggs, and fruit, as well as pizza (don’t worry!), I would like to design the menu in January so that we have to buy as little as possible, for as long as possible. We have a freezer full of wonderful food, and if I get a little creative I think I can make it at least through the first week back to school serving just what we have from our freezer and pantry. So, as you look through the menu in January keep in mind that we will be trying to use up as much as possible so that we can start the year fresh and waste-free. 


Collaboration is our key word this week.  The children are naturally drawn to working with and helping each other, so when they are asked to support each other, whether in practicing a new math concept, gathering facts for a study or learning how to knit, they willingly agree to do so.  (They’ve even helped me learn how to knit!)  Assisting another learner in this way not only allows the mentees to achieve their goals but builds the mentors’ confidence, all the while fostering camaraderie.  It is also heartwarming for us adults to observe the creation of new connections and to read in Work Journals how much those supported have enjoyed working with their helpers.

Our focus on collaboration corresponds well with our 6th years’ current MMUN endeavors.  They are working together to form a business, so please be on the lookout for their announcement and order form in this week’s Compass.  They are also writing their Position Papers to prepare to collaborate with other children from around the world at the MMUN conference in March.  Just like real-world UN delegates, they will work with others to brainstorm how to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues.

Collaboration is clearly something you parents are well-versed in based on the amazing daily gifts Katelin and I are receiving from you.  We are so fortunate to be part of such a supportive community.  No wonder your children are always willing to help!  Big hugs and warm thanks to all of you!

In afternoon art classes the students have been working on Value Studies.  We began by practicing four different shading techniques: blending, hatching, cross-hatching and stippling.  They practiced each technique on a small gradient scale, learning to go from light to dark in each discipline.  We then moved onto our Value Study project and the students were able to choose which technique they liked best in practice to use for their final project.  We are working on a study in layers and learning how to make the layers sink by using shading techniques.  It is a difficult project to put into words so I thought I would provide some visual examples.  Most are currently on their second and third layers and they are looking amazing!


With a little over two months of the school year under our belts, we have begun to experience one of the many benefits of a Montessori classroom: presentations.  The research and writing process provides opportunities for our learners to pursue their interests and, at the same time, strengthen their reading, note taking, writing, public speaking and artistic skills.  The presentations also give the audience practice in active listening and allow them to share their wonders and compliments with the presenters.  Already, we have learned about Cessna airplanes, rabbits, poisonous plants and bees.  

This sharing of the various research topics broadens our horizons and builds connections within our community.  We learn more about each other in addition to learning more about our world.  However, it’s not only research that is shared.  Recently, a small group, inspired by an article about Dia de Los Muertos, shared what they learned and made a delicious dessert for all of us in celebration of this holiday.  This scrumptious project may inspire additional explorations for this creative group of learners; their imaginations ran wild upon the suggestion of different ways to expand and share their research.

Thank you for joining me last week for conferences.  It feels wonderful to be part of a team supporting your young people.  Thank also, in advance, for visiting Horizon Books this Saturday, 11/13.  Many research topics come from the incredible books you provide to our community.


This past week we finished our first read aloud book: The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm.  For over a month we have followed the adventures of Bell and his friends as they navigate daily life and life-threatening situations as part of the American settlement on Mars.  Your compassionate children have sent many positive thoughts to the characters, such as wishes that the adults recover quickly from a strange sickness, that Earth Command send cats in the next shipment and, most of all, that the children see their new friends from the other settlements.  Although the book took place on Mars in 2091, we were all right there with them: laughing, crying (at least I was), and celebrating the importance of friendship.

Read-aloud provides our community with a shared experience from which we can draw lessons, reflect upon our own lives and consider different perspectives.  Moving on from science fiction, our next book, How i became a ghost by Tim Tingle, is historical fiction and follows a young Choctaw boy and his family as they travel the Trail of Tears.  In preparation for this story, we have taken out our floor map of the United States to mark the trail, learned about the many Indigenous peoples affected by the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and discussed the government’s reasons for this displacement.  It will be interesting to listen to the positive thoughts that arise from this story.

In addition to read- aloud, our silent reading time following recess is clearly another favorite time of day.  Your children disappear into these other worlds during this half hour of quiet, finding comfy places from which to let their imaginations soar.  When they finish a book, they record what they enjoyed about it in their Writing Handbook before they select another.  Parents of 4th and 5th years, mark your calendars for the Battle of the Books informational meeting described on the attached flier.  

Looking forward to seeing you soon for conferences!  There are a few spots left, so please sign up using the following link at your earliest convenience: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/30E0B48ADA729A1F58-karins3


Just as your children practiced tying their shoes, zipping their coats and walking to their classroom independently upon arriving at school, your children continue to practice important life skills on a daily basis.  Instead of the younger child’s “help me help myself,” the older child needs practice in a different way: “help me think for myself.”  Whether they’re deciding what work to choose, with whom to work, or how to approach their day, these important decisions need practice.  If their decisions do not meet their expectations for their days as learners, we help them reflect on their choices and decide how they may want to approach the next day.  

Recently, we have been having them correct their own math work and, based on those corrections, decide what they need to practice and what they’d like for a lesson.  They write these plans in their Work Journal so they can refer back to them when choosing work.  They practice deciding how to practice: a huge long multiplication problem on monster graph paper, flashcards for Spanish vocabulary, a story for spelling words.  Also, they practice thinking about how they would like to share their learning, whether their follow up will include an illustration or their research visual support will be three-dimensional.

With the hope of not overstepping our boundaries, we ask that you practice giving them the freedom to practice thinking for themselves at home too.  They might be thinking, “What do I want for lunch and when should I make it?  What do I need for my after school activities and have I packed it in my bag?  I’d like to visit my friend.  How can I get there, and what will we do?”  Just as your three year olds were capable of amazing things; so are your 9-12 year olds.  Sometimes we just need to practice providing the time and getting out of the way.


We have an important, unifying routine we follow at the end of each week.  Led by the Nook person and a friend (ask your child what a Nook person is!), we first discuss any items on our classroom Agenda, such as use of the compost vs. landfill or proper rolling of lunch mats.  The children propose solutions, agree on one and move on to the next item.  At this time we also acknowledge those Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs): the person who rerolled all the lunch mats, the person who helped clean up a spill.  Finally, we share apologies, compliments and thank you’s.  Although this is a relatively quiet group, this week an increasing number of them participated, smoothing over hurt feelings, acknowledging how someone’s kind words helped them through a difficult moment, and recognizing the care with which many are pursuing their work.  This sharing of feelings and patching of friendships are a wonderful way to start the weekend.

Another wonderful way to start a weekend is by filling a Friday with purposeful and playful experiments.  Two scientists recreated cola using zests, juices and spices, which refreshment complemented our September Birthday blueberry muffins quite nicely.  Our afternoon closed with homemade lava lamps and sticky, gooey green slime.  The requirement that the scientific write up be completed and edited before the fun begins has not deterred this crew one bit.  The momentum created by these first experiments is fueling many others!

Speaking of writing, this motivated group of learners embraced our 10 minute Free Write with enthusiasm.  Although there were a few groans from the ones who sometimes feel like writing is physically painful, it was those same writers who said, “Ten minutes are up already?”  We will use this writing to observe growth in writing skills over time, strengthen fine motor skills and improve stamina.  Ask your child what they’ve been writing about during this time.  The topics are as varied and interesting as the children themselves!

Della Terra
Where on earth is carbon found? What is a carbon cycle? How does our work in the gardens play a role in the carbon cycle? These are some big ideas that we are talking about in Della Terra with the upper elementary students. I enjoy being able to make connections between our time in the garden classroom and lessons that they have in their classroom. We remember the timeline of life and when the plants came out of the water and figured out how to live on land. We are grateful that the plants started the cycle of taking the carbon out of the air and moving it into the ground to improve the soil. We remember the leaf chart where we can imagine the big work that goes on in the leaf to help the leaf create food for the plant. We have also enjoyed this lovely fall weather and the chance to get into our garden and explore.  


Although we are only completing our first full week together, this group of learners has already celebrated two birthdays with original poems and sincere compliments, drafted a heartfelt, inspirational class agreement, created and implemented a thorough daily job list, chosen a wide variety of study topics, and registered for the Montessori Model United Nations, representing Myanmar and Iceland.  Whew!  It’s been a whirlwind, and we’re just getting started!

Oh, did I mention they created the universe?  As is tradition, we told the first Great Story together last Friday.  Mentor groups were given different roles to play, demonstrations to present, and impressionistic charts to display.  Ask your child how they helped kick off our school year.  Did they patiently wait for molasses to demonstrate different weights of liquids, enthusiastically read about the distance from the earth to the sun, or erupt a volcano?  (Mentos and cola have been requested for next year’s lava!)

This week we told The Coming of Life, the second Great Story.  Starting in the oceans and evolving and adapting over time until humans arrive.  Beginning in water fits in quite nicely since we’ll be either sailing on Grand Traverse Bay or roaming its waters with an ROV this Friday.  There are sure to be some good stories to tell from these adventures!

It was good to see all of you who were able to make it to Back to School Night.  Looking forward to seeing all of you this coming Sunday from 3:00-4:30 at Silver Lake Park for our class picnic!  Kickball, anyone?