from Miss Lisa, Head of School

"Grace and courtesies empower the child by letting them know that they can take ownership of their children’s house, their actions, and deal with the injustices that they see without the interference of an adult.”

Within a Montessori community (classroom), we teach the children social etiquette lessons called “grace and courtesies”. Through these lessons, the children learn how to interact with others in an assertive yet civilized way. As parents, how often do we hear children say, “he pushed me,” or “she called me stupid” and we cringe each time because we don’t know how to make the situation better. The reason children tell us about the injustices that are done to them is because they do not know how to address these situations in a manner that is straightforward and effective.

Grace and courtesy lessons often start by role modeling a situation to a child or group of children. For example, I might see that a lot of children are running, and to help our community as a whole learn accountability, I would teach the grace and courtesy lesson that would create the result I was hoping to achieve.  Before sitting as a collective group with all of the children, I would discuss with an older child how we would model the situation; they might run and I would go up to them and put my hand on their shoulder and carefully phrase, “please walk in our children’s house, go back and show me your best walk.” After the child walks, we would switch roles and then I would run and they would phrase their expectation back to me. You can also teach the appropriate response to the correction such as the runner saying, “I will go back and walk,” and then turning around and walking the path that they previously ran. You would then allow all of the children, one at a time, to run, and you would tell them the phrase, and vice versa, you run and they would repeat the phrase.

Grace and courtesies are helpful on so many accounts. You are empowering the children by letting them know that they can take ownership of their children’s house, their actions, and deal with the injustices that they see without the interference of an adult. Imagine how this will stay with them for life! You are also teaching politeness and civilized assertiveness. The adult is asking the community as a whole to be accountable for each one’s actions; the work is not dependent on the adult alone! 

In my first year of being a Montessori directress I made the mistake of not giving enough grace and courtesy lessons, and how hard I made my life! As I became more familiar with how to ‘teach’ grace and courtesy, you could see the beautiful dynamic between the members of the community grow. I also found that those same lessons carried easily into my own personal life and my interactions with others, and not just children.  

Grace and courtesy can be environmental and pertain to the individual. An environmental grace and courtesy for example would be how to carry a chair (pointing the legs downwards), which you could demonstrate in a group and then give the children a chance to carry the chair. A personal grace and courtesy would involve a child addressing another child who pushed them, “please do not push me; I do not like it; don’t do it again,” followed by the child walking away from the perpetrator. 

Grace and courtesies should be implemented and followed in the home environment but remember, if you start expecting your child to use them, you must also use them! The best way for a child to learn is by watching and listening to you.  There is a song that states that little eyes and little ears are always taking in everything you do. The older I become, the more I am aware of the depth of truth in this statement. 

Here is a list of grace and courtesies to get you started in working with your child. Whenever there is a need in the community or at home, you can always create a new grace and courtesy lesson. As well, you can add additional challenges by, for example, not only pushing in your chair  after leaving the table, but doing so very quietly. The secret is to be intrigued by what you are doing as the adult.  Ask the child to listen to how quietly you push in your chair and then challenge them to see how quietly they can push in their own chair.

Grace and Courtesies with the Environment:
Grace and Courtesies should not be confined to the indoor environment - especially as the weather improves and everyone is begging to be outside! Think of things that you would like your child to be able to help do around your house and create your own lessons.  Given patience, gentle reminders, and time to practice, your child will surprise you with their abilities.

1) Pushing in a chair. Added challenge: pushing it in quietly.
2) How to carry scissors with the sharp end down.
3) Carrying things, one item at a time.
4) Carrying a pencil with the lead tip pointing downward.
5) Setting the table/clearing the table.
6) Walking inside the home and running in the designated areas (possibly the basement, outside,etc.).
7) Taking out one play item at a time and putting it back in the designated spot before getting the next item out.
8) Putting the clothes from the washer into the dryer.
9) Folding towels/facecloths.
10) Pulling weeds in the garden, picking up sticks, or maybe washing the car.
11) Watering flowers/indoor plants.
12) Polishing leaves in the indoor environment (just ask, we’ll share how!)
13) Dusting baseboards.
14) Washing fruits and vegetables for the family.

Grace and Courtesies with Themselves:

These are ways children can begin to gain control over themselves, gain independence, and be comfortable and proud of their accomplishments.  

1)Dressing themselves. Added challenge: picking out their own clothes.
2)Brushing their own hair and teeth.
3)Putting on their own coat, shoes, etc. If the child needs help, do only what is necessary and allow the child to carry out the rest.
 4)Putting their own clothes in the hamper (not on the floor).
 5)“I see something in your hair (on your shirt, on your face, etc.). Please, may I take it off/out?” If the recipient of the question says “no” the  response of the person asking has to be, “I respect your no.” You may think that this interaction is near impossible, but I see three year-olds using this language frequently and understanding the message.         6)“Please don’t speak to me like that.”
 7)“Please calm your body.”
 8)“Please go back and walk.”
 9)“Please may I have ____?”
 10)“Thank you”, “you’re welcome,” “please,” whenever possible!
 11)“I don’t like the way you are speaking to me/treating me, etc. If you don’t stop, I will not be able to play/work with you.”
12)If a child uses the threat, “You are not invited to my birthday”, the appropriate response would be, “That’s unfortunate,” and then walking away. Remember, the threatening child only wants a rise out of your child. Teach your child that a cool and calm response is the best tactic to use in this scenario.
 13)If a child uses the threat, “I’m older than you!”, the appropriate response would be, “That doesn’t bother me,” and then walking away.
14)If a child is not using your child’s toys with care, the appropriate response would be, “Please treat my toys with care; they are precious to me”, and then have your child demonstrate to the other child how to care for them.

As adults, we can probably use a little reminding about choosing our words just as carefully as we expect from the children.  These thoughts carry over to our interactions with one another, in school, out of school, and wherever we are and whoever we are with.  Our words should never be used to make others fell less important.

Delivery of the message is as important as the words said. Reinforce to your child that calm is the best delivery to use, which also means that we as adults have to use calm delivery in what we say and do. Quietly counting to ten before you respond saves you from saying something you might regret, and sometimes you have to let someone vent before you can respond, and there are the times, as stated above, sometimes saying "that’s unfortunate" and walking away to collect your thoughts may be the best response.  At the heart of every grace and courtesy lesson is mutual respect.

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