Learning how to wait or how to interrupt, saying please or thank you, watching a peer work, and walking around a rug are all grace and courtesy skills, which are key practical life principles found in a Montessori classroom. In her book Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, E.M. Standing says, “the first thing to realize about these exercises of practical life is that their aim is not a practical one. Emphasis should be laid not on the word ‘practical’ but one the word life. Their aim… is to assist development” (p.213). Like other practical life lessons, lessons in grace and courtesy hold the same four developmental aims: order, concentration, coordination, and independence. What is meant by each of these aims and why are they important in regards to grace and courtesy?
Order can be found both internally and externally. Externally it is found through a well-prepared environment. Internally, through the way a child functions in the classroom. The child has a need to understand and absorb social structures in order to be more at ease in his environment. Grace and courtesy lessons give the child the vocabulary, actions, and steps required for him to build his awareness and responsiveness to others around him. By practicing grace and courtesy, the child is beginning to understand their social systems, which is developed to keep everyday interactions successful. The child is learning how to be caring, patient, and even how to effectively deal with their emotions.
Concentration is a necessary behavior before any learning can take place. Classroom procedures and materials help promote concentration. Through lessons of grace and courtesy, the child’s interest in friendship with his peers begins to expand. It also engages the child’s effort to learn more about power in personal relationships and the child’s desire to have a positive relationship with the adult.
Physical coordination is a necessary behavior for children because they are learning through their body and senses. Again, the materials provide opportunities to further develop these skills. Children are also learning how to control their bodies in such a way to be able to carry their work from a shelf to a workspace. Being aware of their surroundings and developing self-control can help promote healthy peer interactions for the child, for example, walking around a rug or watching a peer work.
Independence is a goal of learning and comes from a child’s innate desire to understand and affect his environment. Independence helps to foster a positive sense of self. Another goal of independence is nurturing positive relationships. By modeling grace and courtesy in the classroom, the adult is providing the child with the language and movements that help foster such relationships. The child, of his own desiring, will begin wanting to greet others as they enter the classroom or say please and thank you all while building independence.
In The Discovery of the Child, Maria Montessori says “a child who has become 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, it is a child filled with health and joy and remarkable for his calmness and discipline” (p.92). Ultimately, the child will incorporate these graces and courtesies into his everyday life.