Personalized learning is a student-centered methodology where curriculum, goals, instruction, and assessment are tailored to the individual learner.

CDS’s brand of personalized learning, facilitated by our expert faculty and very student-to-teacher ratios, encourage real-life skill building, self-knowledge, and student agency. Our teachers get to know our students as people — their strengths and weaknesses, their interests, and what motivates them to succeed — and are therefore able to better facilitate broad and deep learning. In addition, our methodologies are based on rigorous research and tried-and-true experience. As a result, CDS creates engaged students who have truly learned how to learn.

We believe and invest in ongoing professional development for our faculty and staff so we can continue to deliver and refine the robust premier preparation that is our hallmark.

| Our Methodologies


Our early childhood program (Toddlers through First Grade) is rooted in the Montessori philosophy of education, developed more than 100 years ago by Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952). The Italian physician, educator, and innovator rigorously and systematically studied the ways children naturally learn — from infancy into adulthood. Based on this deep understanding of human development, her holistic approach values the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of a child.

At the core of the method is Dr. Montessori’s finding that children are naturally eager to learn and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. The Montessori classroom includes multiage groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work — using specially designed Montessori materials — that inspire and excite children to learn. Classroom areas include practical life, sensorial, math, science, language, and cultural studies.

A Montessori experience encourages a sense of order, concentration, coordination, and independence — which Dr. Montessori found are paramount to nurturing not only young children but essential to creating lifelong, inspired learners. It is this foundation that inspires our vision and the whole of our program.

For added insight into the Montessori approach, read “Five Things that Montessori Teachers Do Differently.” The article describes how Montessori teachers uniquely focus on the child; guide the child; carefully and continually observe the child; and refrain from interfering with a child’s development. As certified, experienced Montessorians, CDS’s early childhood faculty exemplify these themes.

At CDS, Montessori meets the real world in six core areas: Mathematics, Language, Cultural Studies, Science, Practical Life, and Sensorial.

Language Arts

The language arts foundation is introduced through each classroom subject. CDS teachers prepare an environment that engages the attention of children with books, stories, and a wealth of materials to encourage writing, reading, true comprehension and communication. The language arts program provides opportunities for the development of all aspects of communication: thinking, listening, speaking, reading, and writing.


CDS’s mathematics program develops analytic skills at a young age by using concrete materials to introduce math processes, including math operations, geometry, and algebra. This introduction leads to a solid understanding of more abstract concepts when children reach the higher grades levels and move into the Singapore Math curriculum. In the Montessori years, students work with carefully designed and sequenced materials that build visual and muscular memory, a process which allows children to internalize functions and concepts by forming lasting mental pictures of them. With this concrete foundation firmly in place, students are able to progress with confidence to more abstract mathematical thinking. At every level, children are introduced to lessons or one-on-one and small-group activities allowing progress at an individualized pace.

Cultural Studies

The cultural studies curriculum covers two subject areas: Social Studies and Science.

Social Studies

The social studies curriculum in the Montessori years focuses on the study of continents, countries, and cultures of the world. Through this exploration, students are introduced to important geographical concepts, and develop a respect for diversity among people, responsibility for self and the environment, and cooperation with others. A primary goal of the curriculum is to help students integrate skills and knowledge into a framework for participating as active, responsible citizens in a broader world, whether in their play group, their school, their community, or beyond.


Science subject matter is interwoven with cultural studies within the Montessori curriculum. Students explore biological science through various outdoor activities, including studying plant structure, growth and life cycle, observing weather patterns, and investigating animal life in and around the School grounds. Experiments that help students establish an understanding of science concepts are conducted within the classroom. Through experiential learning, students study gravity, density, magnetism and other phenomenon which serve as the foundation of many complex theories.

Practical Life

Throughout the Toddler and Preschool years, practical life activities are the foundation of the Montessori curriculum. They provide a fundamental link between the child and his/her environment by building skills and fine motor control that aid in developing independence. Practical life activities are authentic tasks that engage the mind and the hand in meaningful work, within an environment that is specifically and carefully prepared for this purpose. The activities provide an opportunity for students to learn to complete their work with independence and in a way that respects their environment and community. This develops life skills, self-confidence, and independence in the young child. The adults in our environment encourage and support even the youngest children to do what they can do for themselves, within a safe and prepared environment.


The Montessori sensorial curriculum is designed to stimulate, develop, and refine all of the growing child’s senses. Specially developed materials focus on a particular sense, aspect, or dimension. For example, color tablets, sound cylinders, rods, cubes, or rectangular prisms help the child to process, categorize, and eventually understand the many impressions that come from the environment. Educating the senses allows the child to perceive the richness of life while contributing to the development of cognitive skills such as thinking, judging, classifying, associating, and comparing.

Specialist Classes

To provide a rich and well-rounded educational experience, CDS students also attend specialist classes, including Art, Library, Music, Physical Education, STEM MakerSpace and Spanish. The variety of specialist classes increases as children move from toddler, through preschool and into K-1 and beyond.

Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching methodology that enables students to gain, grow, and retain knowledge. Through PBL, students hone fundamental (e.g. reading comprehension) and executive skills (e.g. collaboration) by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to complex questions, problems, or challenges. Students in Grades Two – Six then have an opportunity to present the unique “product” of their inquiry process to an authentic and meaningful audience. They also have ample opportunity to reflect on their project and focus on ways they can improve during the next project, bringing the project based learning process full-circle.

PBL hails from a long tradition of proven pedagogy which asserts that students learn best — and more effectively retain that knowledge — by experiencing and solving real-world problems. Research proves that PBL helps students mature not only as learners but as citizens of the world. Studies show that students who engage in PBL …

  • become lifelong and more self-directed learners
  • become critical thinkers
  • engage in a growth mindset as they refine their work and learn leadership skills
  • become more prepared for life beyond school as they take part in adult-like thinking and behaviors, like collaboration
  • add value to the world and community
  • become more confident and more effective communicators
  • enjoy school

Singapore Math

Singapore Math is a program modeled on the way math is taught in the country of Singapore, where students have repeatedly ranked at or near the top of international math exams for decades. The program includes detailed instruction, questions, problem solving, and visual and hands-on aids like blocks, cards, and bar charts.

As personalization is at the hub of our mission at CDS, Singapore Math is an ideal methodology. We employ the primary level of Singapore Math beginning in Second Grade, which values “mental math” application over isolated skill development, adding depth to our students’ core knowledge and conceptual understanding of math.

Students are able to progress through math lessons at their own pace, according to their skills, abilities, and pace of learning. Our students do not move on to new lessons until they have thoroughly learned a topic. Conversely, as students grasp problems more quickly, they are able to move ahead at their own pace. No matter what their level of progress, ultimately all of our students develop their own solid foundation of math.

Experiential Education and Mini Term

CDS’s Mini-Term is a unique, one-of-a-kind opportunity for students (and teachers!) in Kindergarten through Sixth Grade to engage in passion-driven learning and instruction. Offered each spring over two days, the mixed-age courses are conceptualized, designed, prepared, and taught by CDS teachers and guest experts. Courses take place both on and off campus and are specifically structured to encourage meaningful connections between what the students are learning and how it is relevant to the world in which they live.

Here are some recent Mini-Term course offerings:

  • East Meets West
  • Rock Climbing
  • Cooking with Chemistry
  • Photographing St. Louis
  • Yoga, Movement, and Meditation
  • Gone Fishing
  • 3D Printing and Design
  • Zoo Adventures: Behind the Scenes
  • Tree Climbing
  • Art, Glass, and Dale Chihuly
  • Breakout St. Louis

Standards Based Grading

Children learn differently and make progress at different rates. At CDS, we accommodate and encourage this in the form of a truly personalized education, and we believe the evaluation tool we use should match this level of individuality and personalization.

Standards Based Grading (SBG) enables us to track and report progress using a highly personalized method that reflects student mastery of concepts and skills and focuses on the quality of work completed. Academic progression based on mastery and quality ensures that foundational work is in place for future success and enables progress at a pace that makes sense and inspires confidence and competence.

SBG provides teachers, students, and parents with an accurate 360-degree understanding of each child. This method allows for a breadth and depth of understanding not possible when using a traditional A through F grading scale. SBG is referred to as “assessment for learning” as opposed to the assessment of learning that is reflected when using an A-F scale. SBG offers meaningful, timely, and actionable feedback.

Research on SBG shows that the method accomplishes the following:

  • motivates students and teachers alike to strive for excellence
  • helps students better understand the importance of quality
  • promotes a growth mindset that intelligence is not carved in stone but rather can be developed
  • increases students’ self-sufficiency
  • prepares students for evaluation in the “real world” outside of school

At CDS, our commitment to personalization extends to our communication methods as well. Our faculty, for instance, use Seesaw to share real-time, interactive updates with parents in the form of both photos and videos of their children in action at school. Seesaw is a student-driven digital portfolio tool that you can access as an app easily and free of charge. Our older students are learning how to use Seesaw to help set goals, manage their project-based research, and build their own learning portfolios. Our parents enjoy and appreciate receiving in-the-moment glimpses of our premier prep in action.

| 21st Century Skills

Sometimes called “social and emotional skills,” “noncognitive traits and habits,” even “grit,” 21st century skills are the nonacademic but essential life skills not directly measured by standardized test scores or any traditional measure of achievement. At CDS, they include the following:

  • critical thinking
  • innovation
  • collaboration
  • communication
  • leadership
  • organization
  • time management
  • goal setting
  • self-advocacy
  • creativity

These are the skills that researchers consistently find are the “difference that makes a difference” in college and career readiness — and life in general. They are the essential qualities that separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in the 21st century from those who are not. CDS’s vision, in tandem with the amazing faculty who enact it every day, produce these highly-sought after, successful young people.