This isn’t a school for rote memorization. Students delve deep into subject matters on a quest for understanding, because how children learn is as important as what they learn. Emerson’s curriculum challenges and nurtures students intellectually, emotionally, physically, and artistically, preparing them to be successful in the next grade, and in life.

Mastery > Acceleration

Joyful learning is the result. And though Emerson helps students understand that school is about much more than scores and grades, high achievement has proven to go hand-in-hand with an Emerson education.

Curriculum Overviews
The overviews below provide a high-level look at what and how students learn.

Curriculum Maps With In-Depth Content
+ Emerson School Curriculum Maps
Curriculum maps allow you to delve deeper into Emerson’s curriculum, with detailed content for each subject, grade, and teacher. These maps identify the enduring understandings, essential questions, content, and skills that serve as the foundation for much of the teaching and learning that happens at Emerson School.

In coordination with Emerson’s mission, our teachers have crafted thoughtful, relevant, and innovative curriculum maps; however, as we innovate and adjust to the needs and interests of each year’s students, our curriculum is constantly evolving. To that end, these documents are “living” and ever-changing.

Pages labeled “Collaboration” show the shared elements that teachers have crafted together across grade levels or disciplines. Individual teachers may still have added units or variations on this structure under their own teacher pages.
+ Emerson School Curriculum Maps

Computers & Technology

At Emerson, students develop the skills and knowledge essential for participation in a global, technology-driven world. Our integrated curriculum teaches the selection and use of appropriate technology to assist in problem solving, collaboration, information processing, communication, and creative expression.

Technology is integrated into core classroom activities across multiple disciplines and devices. You will find kindergarteners learning to keyboard, 4th graders producing movie book reviews, and 8th graders writing computer programs that propel Lego robots.

Students are not just learning how to use technology, but the ethical and societal issues that go along with being a good citizen in today’s world.


  • Mobile and fixed video conferencing studios
  • Mobile podcasting studio
  • An iMac computer lab
  • A PC-based computer lab
  • Middle School bring your own device program (BYOD)
  • HD projectors in every classroom
  • Apple TV in nearly every classroom
  • Six multimedia workstations in the Library Media Center
  • K-5 programs include: Type to Learn4, I Works Pages, IMovie, iPhoto, Keynote, iWorks Numbers, email, chat, blogs, and an array of programs designed specifically for children.
  • 6-8 programs include: iLife, iWorks, Open Office, Neo Office, Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe InDesign, Foreign Language software, Lego NXT, Google Docs, Google Earth, Google Sketch, Moodle, Gmail
Language Arts

Emerson students learn to express ideas clearly, state opinions persuasively, and discover the creative possibilities of words through our integrated K-8 language arts curriculum. Communication skills are developed through writing, reading, speaking, listening, spelling, and vocabulary.

Working from the concrete to the abstract, students explore, describe, compare, and explain humans and their environments. Classroom activities include research, discussion, and projects. Creative expression is encouraged through storytelling, role-playing, drawing, singing, and performing. Numerous resources include our extensive library, field trips, textbooks, course packs, magazines, primary sources, the Internet, guest speakers, plays, and films.


Emerson’s library is a welcoming space for students, parents, and teachers to foster a love of reading, access information, and share ideas. All lower school students have dedicated library time as part of their specials classes, when students learn how to utilize a library to its fullest potential, develop an appreciation for literature, read to one-another, and even mentor younger students. Middle School students have less structured library time, commensurate with their growing level of self-responsibility.

There are more than 11,000 volumes in Emerson’s library, including non-fiction, novels, easy readers, graphic works, movies, and a wealth of print reference materials. Books on parenting, learning differences, gifted children, and education are also available in a special section for parents and teachers.

In addition to print books, the Library is where students can receive assistance and guidance on using the many online databases and information retrieval services. Five multimedia workstations are available for students to use for research and sharing.

Lower School Specials

Every student in grades K through 5 attends a variety of enrichment classes on a regular schedule throughout the week. We call them specials classes, and each is taught by a dedicated teacher with subject matter expertise and passion.

  • Computers: Once a week for most grades, but more frequently for kindergarten and first grade.
  • Library: Once a week for most grades, but more frequently for kindergarten and first grade.
  • Physical education: Three times a week.
  • Music: Twice a week
  • Science: Twice a week
  • World Languages: Twice a week

Emerson’s rigorous math curriculum teaches students to use mathematics to think, reason, and solve real-world problems. These skills build year-over year as students develop competence and confidence in mathematical reasoning.

Strands linking each grade level include instruction in patterns, relationships and functions, geometry and measurement, data analysis and statistics, number sense and numeration, numerical and algebraic operation, analytical thinking, probability, and discrete mathematics. Manipulatives and math tools, such as calculators, computers, compasses, protractors, pattern blocks, and geoboards, are used to develop concepts.


Middle school students experience a variety of learning, social, physical, and emotional changes as they go through adolescence. To support students through this important time, each middle school student is assigned to an advisor.

Students check in with their advisors and meet with them in groups on a regular basis throughout the school week. Together they discuss and engage in a variety of age-appropriate activities. Advisors often problem solve with students about school issues, social issues, study strategies, etc.

In addition to providing students with informal and personal guidance about all areas of school life, advisors advocate for students with other members of the faculty and administration and serve as a liaison between the school and parents. This informal guidance system does not preclude a student forming close attachments with other faculty, nor does it prohibit parents from dealing directly with the faculty or calling other school staff who might be helpful. It is a system designed to help support students and parents.

Advisor groups are also part of a larger “house,” which brings together student advisor groups from all three grade levels in the middle school. Houses take part in a variety of activities and fun competitions through the school year.


Middle school student schedules are discipline-driven with five core classes in the morning, including language arts, social studies, science, math and world language. Students also take trimester long courses in the theatre arts, physical education, visual arts, and health. After lunch and recess, students have elective courses and time with their advisor.

Middle school students may choose up to six electives each year. Electives like band, orchestra, drama, show choir, drawing, and journalism are extensions of core classes and appeal to those who wish to develop further proficiency. Other electives such as sewing, photography, academic games, outdoor education, and gardening, contribute to the well-rounded educational experience Emerson is known for.


Emerson’s music program is an opportunity for students to explore the vast array of vocal and instrumental music all around us. Every child will establish an understanding and appreciation of music, and students who develop a deeper love of music will find choruses, bands, and orchestras to dive into.

Music classes for K-3 students are fun and friendly settings to develop rhythm, voice, and enjoyment of music. By 4th grade there are ever-widening opportunities to learn and explore, to make a larger commitment and take a more personal approach. Going beyond Emerson’s classrooms and numerous performance opportunities, many students perform in the Ann Arbor community, participate in state competitions, attend alumni concerts, and even form their own bands.

Physical Education

Starting physical activity at a young age establishes healthy habits that last a lifetime. That is why every Emerson student participates in comprehensive physical education three days each week.

Emerson’s physical education curriculum impacts every student’s health and well-being. From the physical benefits like coordination, speed, vision, responsiveness, to the character benefits of self-esteem, leadership, play, teamwork, socialization, and responsibility, our physical education program is an important part of a whole-child education.

  • Team sports: soccer, basketball, floor hockey, lacrosse, softball
  • Individual sports: Rock climbing, track, disc golf, dance
  • Personal health: Circuit training, running, nutrition, first aid

Life science, earth science, and chemistry are the core components of Emerson’s nine-year spiraling curriculum. From the youngest grades, Emerson students learn to collect and interpret data, make predictions, and pose hypotheses.

Emerson’s science curriculum is designed to increase interest in science, develop skills through the use of the scientific method, and ensure a strong knowledge base. Classes are opportunities for students to learn by doing, to explore, and to discover new ways of looking at the world.

Service Learning

In addition to preparing students to be lifelong learners, Emerson teaches students to be good citizens of our community and our world. That’s why our whole-child curriculum includes service learning and character development.

Ongoing Service Learning Opportunities

  • Middle School Service Learning Projects: Middle school students take a year-long, collaborative approach to service learning. This initiative includes identifying areas of need in our community, setting realistic goals for making an impact in those areas, planning and executing a service learning project, and reflecting on the impact that was made as a result of the project. Students work with support from University of Michigan Community Action and Social Change students, as well as students enrolled in the University of Michigan Residential Community Scholars program.
  • Pancake Breakfast Fundraiser: Students coordinate and execute an annual pancake breakfast to raise funds for organizations of their choice, and to provide opportunities for students to socialize.
  • Community Heroes and Heroines: These regular presentations allow students to meet and learn from individuals who make a difference in the lives of others.
  • Senior Visits: Students in several grades travel to the residence of senior friends
  • InterGen Tech Class: Students share their tech knowledge with seniors who have an array of tech questions and challenges.
  • Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) School Supply Drive: Families donate school supplies to the WISD Education Project, which provides assistance to children who are homeless, in temporary housing, or in foster care.
  • Annual Emerson Red Cross Blood Drive: Coordinated by 5th graders, this blood drive saves dozens of lives each year.

Organizations and Causes Students Have Supported

  • Ann Arbor Active Against ALS
  • Arbor Hospice
  • Food Gatherers
  • Games for Good
  • Grace Center Orphanage in Sri Lanka
  • Humane Society of Huron Valley
  • International Day of Peace
  • Ozone House in Ann Arbor
  • Peace Neighborhood Center
  • Red Cross
  • Trick or Treat for UNICEF
  • U of M Cancer Center pediatric patients
  • WISD Education Project
Social Studies

Our social studies curriculum establishes the foundations of critical thinking, inquiry, and historical analysis. Beginning in the lower elementary grades, students investigate neighborhoods, families, and communities, while interpreting the many roles individuals play in those areas. As students progress into the upper elementary grades, more individualized units begin to emerge. Extended inquiries into immigration, Michigan history, regional studies, the American Revolution, and the Civil War are made. These units continue to build upon the critical thinking, researching, writing, and geographical skills introduced in earlier grades. In the middle school, students study ancient world civilizations, and American history, from pre-colonization to the present.  Units of focus include geography, world religions, industrialization, immigration, economics, structures of power, and civil rights movements throughout history.

Technology is used at every grade level to promote collaboration, effective and efficient research, and 21st-century skills. In the middle school, Emerson’s Bring Your Own Device program enhances social studies learning by providing access to many online tools and resources. Our faculty guide students through these resources and challenge them to “think like historians” while they analyze artifacts, documents, and oral testimonies from a variety of sources.

Team Sports

In addition to physical education being a core component of Emerson’s whole-child curriculum, students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of team sports. Students compete against other independent schools, or as part of recreational leagues coordinated through Emerson School. The focus on having fun and developing sportsmanship, self-esteem, and responsibility.

  • Co-ed cross country
  • Co-ed soccer
  • Co-ed track
  • Boys basketball
  • Girls basketball
  • Girls volleyball
Theatre Arts

All middle school students at Emerson participate in a Theatre Arts rotation. This class develops confidence, creativity, speaking skills, physical and vocal capabilities, and improvisational skills.

In addition to the rotation class, the Theatre Arts program offers two musical productions each year, including an outstanding musical and a play. More than one-third of middle school students choose to participate as actors, set designers and builders, and stagehands.

Visual Arts

At Emerson, art lines the hallways and fills the display cases. In the classrooms, art broadens the study of cultures, history, language, and science. Visual arts are explored in a sequenced K-8 program of wide-ranging media. The annual Art Shows are an all-school celebration and many students earn recognition from the Michigan Art Education Association.

World Languages

The world languages program increases students’ understanding of people throughout the world, introduces language in practical, useful contexts, and builds a foundation for further study. Students learn through the immersion method, though grammar is also presented in English to ensure comprehension. Language instruction, which includes listening, speaking, reading, and writing, is reinforced through in-class exercises and a variety of media.

  • Grades K-1: Spanish
  • Grades 2-3: French
  • Grades 3-5: Chinese
  • Middle School: French, Spanish, Chinese, Latin