The Magic of Grace and Courtesy
When first given a tour of Montessori Island, many parents remark how civilized our classrooms are. We’ve had a few admit that they cannot see their child ever fitting in and being so graceful and courteous with others. However, our children are so capable of displaying such “adult-like” behaviors. You may wonder, “How do they learn to wait in line so patiently? How do they kindly sit and watch another child working on a lesson? How do they know to step around a child at work, as opposed to running through their workspace?” The truth is, they learn each of these skills by example thanks to the lessons in Grace and Courtesy.
During the beginning of the school year, we stress the importance of a beautiful and organized space that is easily accessible to the children. However, we also highlight the ways in which children need to respect this space, themselves, and their peers. When children are introduced, or reintroduced, to their classroom Grace and Courtesy Lessons are some of the most important lessons to begin with.
Children of the toddler and preschool ages are especially sensitive to social interactions. Grace and Courtesy Lessons not only help children to respect this sensitive period, but also offer children the tools they seek to be both independent and successful in the classroom. As younger children are introduced to new classrooms, the older children are able to set an example of what grace and courtesy looks like.
So how do we present Grace and Courtesy? Everyone has their own way but the most common is through demonstration and modeling. Not only do the children learn well through witnessing the interactions and participating, but they also find this fascinating and entertaining!
Here are some ways in which we incorporate grace and courtesy into our curriculum:
· Working rugs: Working rugs are small rugs that help to define a child’s work space. They place their lesson on their rug in order to create a boundary. Walking around a rug is one of the first lessons a child learns at the toddler and preschool age. The teacher will unroll a small rug on the floor in the middle of the circle of children, and invite them to watch. With elaborate care she will place her foot just beside the rug with every step she takes. Each time she comes to a corner, she will accentuate going all the way around and not cutting the corner by stepping over it. She will then announce, “Now you know how to walk around a rug,” and invite several children, one at a time, to have a turn. During lesson time, if a child steps on another child’s working rug, they only need to be reminded of when they first learned how to walk around the rug. As simple as this sounds, without this one skill, children who didn’t know any better would blunder into and across each other’s spaces.
· How to watch someone’s work: By clasping his hands on his lap, or placing them behind his back, while emphasizing a closed mouth, the teacher shows the child that he is paying attention to what the child is doing. He is respectful of the child’s space and their lesson. The child then learns how to watch another child’s work without interrupting them. We refer to this as observation hands and mouth.
With the introduction of just these two skills alone, the teacher has eliminated a large percentage of the frictional elements that plague the average preschool. In this same way we teach each of the social skills that allow a group of children to function independently but also respectfully: how to excuse yourself when stepping in front of another; how to serve the carrots that you have just peeled and sliced; how to blow your nose; how to walk in a line; how to wait rather than interrupt. The list goes on and on.
Children are more than happy to move gracefully. They simply need to be taught how to do this. Through Grace and Courtesy Lessons our children become compassionate and respectful members of their community.