Grace and Courtesy: what does this look like in the Montessori method? When should I introduce it? How can I effectively teach it? How do I respond to rudeness and clumsiness? Keep reading for the full scoop on Grace and Courtesy lessons, and to get your free list of the essential lessons!
Ever been mooned by a three-year-old? “Courteous” is not exactly the word that comes to mind to describe the darling little offender.
As Benji takes the most colossal fall, bringing the pink tower down with him and landing in a mess of shattered glass, you might question the appropriateness of the term “grace” in reference to Pre-K kids.
But grace and courtesy are as attainable as reading and writing. Even among that charming 3-6 year-old population.
It’s possible, and it’s worthwhile, too.
What Is Grace and Courtesy All About?
Grace refers to the efficiency of our own movements. Courtesy refers to the way we treat others.
Efficiency of movements…so that means numbering each specific movement in each activity according to a precise pattern, right?
While we do weirdly analyze the movements that make up a Practical Life lesson, including the Grace and Courtesy lessons, this is kind of like the training wheels of graceful moving. We need a little extra support as we learn to move intentionally and gracefully, and to teach that to others.
After some practice, it becomes second nature.
(Also, kids learn through imitation, and the fewer and clearer our movements, the easier it will be for the kids to imitate them. Hence the precision of Practical Life.)
At the heart of grace and courtesy is this: grace reflects our own dignity, and courtesy reflects the dignity of others. The result of graceful movements and courtesy for others is peace between the mind and body, and between the individual and the community.
Why Teach Grace and Courtesy?
Maria Montessori believed in giving the best to our children. Why not give them, even the littlest, the means to act with dignity?
Plus, from age to two until four and a half, children are in a sensitive period for movement. At this age they are fascinated by the movements of others, and they are all about imitation.
This is PRIME TIME to show them exactly what to do with their little bodies in different situations. They think its fun!
How Do I Teach Grace and Courtesy Lessons?
Many Grace and Courtesy lessons are given individually, although some lessons are appropriate to give to small groups of 2-4 children.
Here’s the gist.
Tell the child, or group of children, you are going to show them something.
Model the appropriate behavior, using clear motions, while emphasizing points of interest. For example, close the door slowly, without making a single noise.
Don’t use words, unless they are part of the appropriate behavior, e.g. “excuse me,” or to explain when this behavior is appropriate, e.g. “If you need to walk where someone is standing, this is what to do.”
You can include the child or other children in the lesson, for example, invite one child to stand in your way while you model saying, “excuse me,” etc. You can then invite the child to try the appropriate behavior, and if you have a group of children, you can invite them to role play.
When Should I Teach Grace and Courtesy Lessons?
Remember the prime time is when the child is in the sensitive period for movement, so ages 2 – 4.5. Generally, that’s a fantastic time to teach Grace and Courtesy. (Although it’s never to late!) But specifically, should you round everyone up on day one of school and bust out those Grace and Courtesy lessons?
The BEST time to teach Grace and Courtesy is when the occasion arises. Teach a child how to blow her nose discreetly when she has a runny nose. Teach two children how to sort out a disagreement when they have a disagreement (but ideally before the fists start flying.)
Yes, many occasions arise on day one of school. How to greet someone. How to push in your chair when you get up from the table.
If possible, this is how I recommend going about these lessons:
Invite your brand new students, one, maybe two, at a time, to visit the classroom before school starts. Invite them on a day when the other children are at home. During this quiet visit, show the child a few Grace and Courtesy lessons that will help him out on the first day of school, such as:
- How to hang up your jacket
- How to walk in the classroom
- How to sit down at and get up from a table quietly
- How to use the bathroom
Don’t overwhelm the child, but do give him enough to get him started. Hopefully, on the first day of school, he will learn many other Grace and Courtesy lessons from the other students. And you can continue to teach him lessons as the need arises.
How Should I Respond To Clumsiness and Rudeness?
Rule number 1: don’t say, “Be careful!!!” When Penny careens around the table, narrowly missing the corner, porcelain bowls and beans sliding all over her tray, a reminder to be careful might be the last distracting straw that causes her to hit the floor.
So, what to do instead?
- A little later, without letting on that you witnessed her near-disaster with the porcelain bowls, give Penny a brief, interesting lesson on how to walk between two tables. Model beautiful, slow walking, maybe pausing to make sure you are leaving an adequate berth around each table.
- Ask yourself: have I been rushing around the classroom? Do I careen between tables myself? Do your best to model graceful movements in the classroom.
- Make sure your students are ready for the lessons you’ve been giving them. Don’t overwhelm them with more than they can handle. It takes practice with Practical Life for a child to gain the control and coordination necessary for lessons in other areas.
- Don’t force the child to say things. Some children are extremely shy, and will warm up more quickly to saying “excuse me” and “good morning” if they are shown how and then given the time to do so themselves when ready. Forcing them can cause the shyness to grow instead.
- Respond to rudeness with a positive reminder of the appropriate behavior, and a consequence if necessary. For example, if a child bowls over a classmate on his way to his cubby, invite him back and review the way to say, “excuse me.” If he deliberately ignores this advice, you can, for example, have him stay seated until the cubby area is clear.
- Be patient. I broke several eggs while placing the carton in the fridge the other day, and I interrupt people frequently. I’m still practicing Grace and Courtesy myself!
Classy Kids Coming Right Up
Remember, at the heart of Montessori Grace and Courtesy is dignity. Each individual human has inherent dignity, and Grace and Courtesy is a way to reflect and honor that.
Kids can learn Grace and Courtesy, and they’ll even have fun doing so, especially if we reach them during the sensitive period for movement.
The best way to teach Grace and Courtesy is to model it ourselves. But be patient! With yourself and your bumpkins. 🙂
Now I want to hear from you:
What’s something you can do today to foster Grace and Courtesy in your students?
Leave a comment below and share your stories and insights. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
~ Jean Marie
P.S. Don’t forget to download your free list of Grace and Courtesy Lessons!