Grace & Courtesy
Maria Montessori’s main focus was Cosmic Education. Through Cosmic Education the child finds their place in the universe. The child can understand the contributions of those before him and feel the sense of generosity to all humanity as well as plants and animals. It is through Cosmic Education that the child learns how the universe was prepared for him and what place s/he has in it. Through Cosmic education the child can see the connections in the world and integrate their knowledge into becoming a respecting caring citizen of planet Earth. This is where Grace & Courtesy comes in.
You may have heard of this before but wonder what it means and why it is of great importance. Grace and Courtesy is part of the curriculum area Practical Life (Activities of Everyday Living) and is a very important aspect of the Montessori philosophy. Grace and Courtesy is all about helping the children understand and develop polite social norms both in the classroom and at home. Between the ages of two and a half to six years old, children are in their Sensitive Period for learning Grace and Courtesy, which means that during this period the child is more open to observe and absorb what is being shown to him. So how do we go about cultivating Grace and Courtesy to the children?
In the Montessori philosophy we will see that children of a very young age are capable of doing and understanding more things that are ‘traditionally’ expected from them. According to Vygotsky this is called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is defined by Vygotsky as “The distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (L. Vygotsky, Mind and society: The development of higher psychological processes, p. 86). Therefore, similarly to everything taught through hands-on experience and activities of everyday living as well as correct guidance, children of a very young age are capable of mastering such behaviours as well as understand the social norms of their society.
Therefore, in the classroom, our children are guided in how to behave appropriately and therefore develop their grace and courtesy skills. The children develop an understanding that the classroom is an environment that is respected, looked after and it is dedicated to learning and concentration. Through the practice of our everyday activities, the children see the classroom as their own and work together in order to take care of it. This is what Maria Montessori called Cohesion in the social unit.
Just like any skill that a child is to develop, Grace and Courtesy starts with intentional role modelling. Children are great observers of the world so every adult in any environment should be mindful about their actions in front of the children. Special care should be given when interacting with the children as well as other adults in the environment as this is a good time to role model to the children how we would like them to act in those situations.
Grace and Courtesy begin with simple things, such as greeting one another, saying please and thank you, politely interrupting a person, introducing friends and so on. An example of greeting one another in the classroom starts when arriving at school. Practitioners will greet the children by getting down to their level to make eye contact, smiling and saying good morning. Over time, the children will start mirroring this and do the same to both teachers and children in the environment.
Parents sometimes approach us and state that their children are shouting or that they are too loud. Many times, we have to ask the parents to self-reflect. What is it that we are modelling to our children? It is so much easier for us to shout across the house to someone that is upstairs or outside instead of going up to them and finding them. This is therefore behaviour that our children are observing and may start to mirror.
In a Montessori classroom we encourage the children to use low voices instead of shouting across the classroom. We, the adults, therefore make sure to attend to every child individually by going to them when we need to say something. Practitioners also observe how the children interact with one another and if needed encourage them to go and find the person they would like to speak to instead of shouting at them. Aside from role modelling, Montessori practitioners also give lessons to teach grace and courtesy. Just like any other activity we would like our children to do, we should guide them on preferred behaviours.
‘’What the child achieves between three and six does not depend on doctrine but on a divine directive which guides his spirit to construction’’
(Maria Montessori, The Absorbent mind, 1964, p.243)
Similar to the classroom, these behaviours can also be taught and encouraged at home. Here are some example of grace and courtesy that can be further role modelled or taught at home.
Greeting one another – Make sure you show your child how you would like them to greet someone. Similar to the example mentioned above, you can start by greeting your child. Get down to their level and make eye contact before greeting them. Later you can continue role modelling this with other people you meet throughout the day. Make sure you are clear and consistent.
Welcoming a visitor – In the classroom, the children are always encouraged to greet any visitor, adult or child. Once again in a home environment show your child how you would like them to greet visitors that come to your house. Start by role modelling and then encourage them to do the same.
Getting someone’s attention without interrupting – This is a question that is often brought up. A good way to handle this is to stop the children at that moment and explain that you are busy doing something, acknowledge that they would like your attention and ensure them that as soon as you are finished you shall go to them. It is important that you go to them once you are finished. This will encourage the children to wait as they know you will attend to them. You may also suggest that they can place their hand on your shoulder and wait if you are busy and they need your attention. In order to show that you acknowledge their presence you could place your hand on their hand until you are ready to attend to them. In this way the child is acknowledged and is ready to wait for you.
In the classroom we use something called ‘attention pegs’. Each child has their own cloth peg clearly marked with their name. When they would like to interact with an adult or a child that is busy at that moment, they can peg their peg on the person’s clothing and wait. In that way the person they would like to interact with is aware that they are waiting. Once again, this can only be established with correct guidance and role modelling.
Walking carefully indoors – Role model how you would like your child to walk in the house. When things seem to get a bit too busy with running try and find the reason why this may be happening. Offer plenty of opportunities for running outside and use kind reminders when needed. In the classroom we play games such as ‘walking as quiet as a mouse’. We use positive language, such as: ‘Can you please show me your walking feet‘ instead of ‘stop running’ or ‘we don’t run’.
Speaking in a polite way and helping others – Say please and thank you and apologise when needed. Remember to say thank you to your child or other people in the environment for the small things they do each day. Teach the children appreciation and empathy. Children enjoy helping out and will follow when they are asked to help. When your child does something special or sweet take a moment to thank them and acknowledge what they have done. You could say something like: ‘You worked really hard today, thank you for your help’. Once again use positive language. When it is your turn to interrupt someone make sure you say ‘excuse me’.
Avoiding shouting and loud noises – Use soft and low voices when speaking to people in the home environment. Even at times when you may be frustrated or angry try not to shout but instead maintain a calm and steady voice when speaking. This is showing the child how to deal with their emotions in a positive manner.
Coughing, sneezing and blowing noses – Teach your child how to cover their mouth when coughing and sneezing. Show them how to do this by using their elbow to cover their mouth. This ensures that any droplets are not transferred to other surfaces or on others via their hands. Show them how to use a tissue to blow their nose independently. Focus on how to blow out and then encourage hand washing. A good way to do that could be to encourage the child to ‘blow like a dragon’.
Respecting others work - In a Montessori classroom a child that is working in concentration is never interrupted. Montessori practitioners respect the child’s autonomy, but are also aware of the importance of role modelling. When an adult shows respect to a child’s work, the children then in turn learns the importance of doing the same. This is something that can be further encouraged and modelled at home. When the children are working and are in full concentration avoid interrupting them. This will teach them to also respect others when working. When it is time to transition from one activity to the other give warnings and kind reminders a few minutes before.
Avoiding conflicts and teaching empathy – When a conflict arises in the classroom, we often remind the children to ‘use their words’ when trying to communicate. At such young ages it can be very hard for a child to articulate exactly how they are feeling, leading to frustration. This is when some children use their hands instead of their words. Now is a good time to help your child through their emotions by showing them empathy and acknowledging their feelings. ‘I can see that you are very upset because...; I know you wanted to play with that toy now but…; I understand you wanted to watch another episode, how about if we….; You are feeling very angry at the moment and that’s fine but maybe we can do...’ are some examples of how we can respond to these situations. Encourage your child to keep their hands to themselves in all occasions and talk through the conflicts that arise.
Maintaining order in the environment/Tidying away – In the classroom the children develop the sense of respecting each other’s work spaces as well as the environment as a whole. All activities, as well as work mats, are placed back in their place once finished with. Similarly, at home you can encourage your child to place everything back in order when they have finished playing with it. Get involved in this process and show your child how and where you would like them to tidy away. Encourage their independence and confidence by allowing them to clean up after themselves. In the classroom, after snack time the children are encouraged to clean their table and prepare it for the next child.
At home, when the child has finished eating, show how you would like them to do the same. Start by showing the child where to put any leftover food (at school we use our compost), their plates and cutlery. Set up a small station that will give them access to a cloth and spray bottle enabling them to clean the table. Similar things you can provide your child with are a dustpan and brush and a child sized mop. Once again, show your child step by step how you would like these to be used and kept.
In summary, Grace and Courtesy is vital to the growth of the child’s self-discipline, respect, concentration, independence and total normalisation. It’s something that has to develop from inside the child, in a natural and thoughtful way and appears in every environment the child is in. According to Maria Montessori,
“A child who becomes a master of his acts through repeated exercises of grace and courtesy, and who has been encouraged by the pleasant and interesting activities in which he has been engaged, is a child filled with health and joy and remarkable for his calmness and discipline”
(Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the child, 2016, p.92).
Grace and Courtesy provides children with social skills they will carry with them for life!
Natasha is a Montessori Pedagogue in our Emerald classroom at Little Gems in Nicosia. If you would like to learn more about Grace & Courtesy, please contact Natasha on: 22 351319 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.