The “Grace & Courtesy” portion of a Montessori education is possibly my favorite component. With older children, it turns into “intentional character education” and “finishing” school, but with the younger crowd (3-6) the focus is on learning acceptable social behavior in an enjoyable manner.
Children do a lot of things that are irritating to adults. Slamming doors, picking noses, forgetting to say “thank you” without being reminded, moving through a room like a pinball, reaching across the dinner table to get something and knocking over cups of milk in the process… This is normal behavior and the irritation caused is unintended. It can also be largely prevented if children are taught grace and courtesy through demonstration in a relaxed, enjoyable manner.
In the 3-6 Montessori classrooms, the “grace and courtesy” lessons are among the first ones given as part of the practical life component. Common lessons, which are comprehensively explained in an album, might include:
- walking around the classroom (without stepping on or bumping into things they’re not supposed to)
- carrying a chair (without bumping into things… you get the idea)
- closing a door quietly
- walking with a sharp pencil in hand
- answering the phone
- covering your mouth while coughing
- passing scissors safely to someone else
- making eye contact while talking
- inviting another child to play a game…
and so on. Basically anything that your children do that irritates you can be addressed as a grace & courtesy lesson inside the classroom. It’s essential that these irritants are addressed at a time of day when the children are in a receptive mode and at a moment in time when YOU are not irritated by the issue at hand. Right after your child slams a door is not the time to give a lesson on closing doors quietly, because your emotions will get in the way.
Today I want to suggest a timely grace & courtesy lesson on receiving gifts.
Gather with the child(ren) in your classroom or on the floor of a peaceful room. With any older child, you could begin with demonstrating ways to beautifully wrap gifts (there are ideas for boys and gift-wrapping in the Dangerous Book for Boys.) Perhaps talk casually about the joy that comes with giving gifts and (if you are Christian) talk about the greatest gift God gave us, His son Jesus, which is why we celebrate Christmas day with gifts.
With the youngest children, the 3 & 4-year-olds, keep the words to a minimum. Show the children an empty box or gift bag, add to it a small treat (like a Hershey kiss), wrap or close it up. Ask one child to give you the gift. Receive it graciously, even to exaggeration. Open the gift, smile big and offer a sincere, polite “thank-you” to the child. Remove the small gift and insert another.
Now the child has an image in her mind of how to properly receive a gift and say “thank you.” Now, she can be invited to practice this gift-receiving and saying “thank you.” With the older children, perhaps add another presentation on getting a gift you don’t want. Instead of a treat, use a piece of coal or something like an almond if your children know that you don’t like almonds. See if you can demonstrate to the children a way to graciously receive and thank someone for a gift you don’t really want.
See if this practicing pays off during time with relatives over the holidays!