Grace and Courtesy transcends both the home and the classroom. It is the foundation of not only “please” and “thank you,” but also how to positively interact socially and handle situations in a polite and constructive manner. Grace and Courtesy is an important principle in the Montessori philosophy for both children and adults to follow. If you view a Toddler or Primary classroom at Charlotte Montessori, you will find both age groups practice grace and courtesy throughout the day and year. Common grace and courtesy lessons presented by a Montessorian include: how to observe a friend; how to politely interrupt; how to walk around a rug. While the developmental levels of the two age groups are different, we give and expect to receive the same graceful and courteous behavior, these are the expectations of respect of self, others, and environment.
Grace and courtesy begins as soon as a child rings the bell to announce his arrival. The lesson of how to greet is introduced when the teacher answers the door. She is bent down to his level, speaking in a soft voice, being vigilant with eye contact, and gives the proper welcome.
The prepared Montessori environment is directed in a manner in which the child has responsibility for care of his self and the actual environment. Therefore upon entering the classroom, the child places his belongs in the designated areas (respect of self) and will most likely move onto one of the three following things:
• Observing a Friend- If the child decides he wants to watch a friend do a work, the expectation is for the child to have his hands placed behind his back. This allows him to remember to keep his hands to himself and off of the work. The child also must watch quietly to allow the concentration to continue with the working child. If the child does not remember to follow these expectations (respect of friend), he is asked to walk away.
• Politely Interrupt- The child has already greeted one of his teachers, and may want to say, “Good Morning,” to a friend or another teacher. In order to interrupt respectfully, the expectation is that the child places a gentle hand on the shoulder of his friend or teacher. He then quietly waits until he is acknowledged (respect of friend). This allows for concentration to remain and/or completion of a work in progress.
• Walk around a rug- In order to observe a friend, greet a friend or teacher, or choose a work, the child must navigate himself around the room. This means he will encounter friends working on rugs. In a Montessori classroom, rugs are used to define a child’s work space. The child has a right to work without interruption or fear of work being disturbed. To successfully walk around a rug, the child must have his hands behind his back as a reminder to keep his hands to himself and off the work. He must also walk with quiet and gentle feet (respect of friend).
As we don’t expect the child to already know how to choose work independently, do self-serve snack, and roll a rug, we also recognize that the child needs guidance on how to respectfully interact with adults. This aspect of grace and courtesy is taught though the practice of role modeling. For example:
At lunch, Ms. Sarah observes Wesley struggling to open his cheese. He proceeds to shout across the room at Ms. KK, “Ms. KK! Open!” Ms. Sarah notes that there needs to be role modeling for how to ask an adult for help. The next day, she sits down besides Wesley at lunch and begins to struggle with opening her container, making sure to dramatize the process. When she observes that Wesley is watching her actions she quietly raises her hand and waits for Ms. KK to approach. Ms. KK approaches and says, “I see that you have your hand raised, Ms. Sarah. Can I help you?” Ms. Sarah responds, “Yes, thank you. Can you please open my container?”
In any given situation in the classroom where a teacher observes a need for a lesson on respectful interaction with an adult, the teacher will create a scenario with her co-teacher in order to show the children the expectations. The teacher should also be proactive to set up the child’s success by given reminders before a repeated behavior.
Just as we plan and work towards respectful behavior from the child, we in turn reciprocate respect. There are many ways in which we show respect to the child, for example:
• Discipline- The goal for each child is to maintain an inner discipline. This means that as the child encounters a situation, he will choose to make a good choice driven by the need to do what is correct and acceptable, as apposed to doing something correct based on what a parents or teacher wants. To respectfully discipline we observe the situation, remind him of the expectations of respecting self, friends, and environment. If the behavior does not fall into these areas, the child is removed from the situation and calmly spoken to by the teacher about the events. For example: Shaylen is observing Sophie working with the knobless cylinders. Shaylen takes the lid off the knobless cylinder’s box and places it under the mat cabinet. Sophie walks over to Shaylen and begins to hit her on the head. Ms. Lisa approaches the children, gets down on their level, and asks each child to face her. She first addresses Shaylen who took Sophie’s work, “Shaylen, I can see you took Sophie’s work. She was focused and you interrupted her work. When we watch a friend, we keep our hands behind our backs.” Ms. Lisa then addresses Sophie, “Sophie I saw that you were angry Shaylen took your work. But, we do not hit our friends. It hurts their bodies. You can tell Shaylen with your words that you do not want her to touch your work.” Ms. Lisa then helps Shaylen and Sophie communicate if needed. (Primary Children may need more help identifying emotions and discussing solutions.)
• Honor Choices- As involved adults we strive to help our children achieve goals successfully. It is important to remember that each child also has his own goals and choices. For example: Ms. Sarah has created a brand new math work that she has designed specifically for Kasey. When Kasey arrives she is ready to present a lesson on it. Instead, Kasey walks over to the practical life shelf and proceeds to work on pouring with a funnel. Ms. Sarah acknowledges Kasey’s choice to work on pouring and will instead present the new math work when Kasey is ready.
• Understanding Emotions- Children are learning to express and understand an array of emotions that are new. It is our job as caregivers to help them to positively convey these emotions in a caring and loving environment. The key is to let them know it is “ok” to feel different emotions like sadness and anger. For example: Ms. Lisa observes Addy working on the six chain. She sees that Addy is wiping away tears and looking over her counters. Ms. Lisa approaches Addy and says, “I can see that you are upset. Can I help you?” Addy explains to Ms. Lisa that she is looking for 115. Ms. Lisa gives Addy the emotion by telling her that she is frustrated because she can not find what she is looking for and that she would be happy to help her. After counting again with Ms. Lisa, Addy sees that she needs to find 114, instead of 115.
Addy finds the number and continues to count the chain independently.
Once grace and courtesy have been established in the classroom, the rest of the working environment falls into place. The children are able to work quietly, independently, and can receive the support needed from their friends and teachers based on the understanding of respect of self, others, and the environment.