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As you learn more about your child’s Montessori education, you will hear the phrase grace and courtesy commonly used.  You may be wondering what that means in a Montessori classroom, and why we go out of our way to identify it as something special.

Simply put, grace and courtesy is all about helping children to understand polite social norms. 

As a Montessori school, we understand that even very young children are capable of much more than is traditionally expected of them.  For example, you might picture a preschool classroom in which children are running around or shouting loudly if they are excited.  After all, children of 3 or 4 years of age can’t be expected to have mastered such behaviors yet, right? 

If you were to observe children of the same age in a Montessori classroom, this would not be the case.  Just as with any other skill, Montessori children are taught how to behave appropriately.  This is not to say that they are never allowed to run around and be loud; outdoor playtime is a perfectly suitable environment for those behaviors.  They have simply learned that the classroom is an environment dedicated to learning and concentration.

Modeling

Grace and courtesy starts with intentional modeling. Teachers and staff are very careful about how they behave in front of the children.  When interacting with one another, or when interacting with a child, they are always thinking about showing the children what they hope to see mirrored. 

For example, when a teacher sees a child as they arrive at school in the morning, the teacher will crouch down to be at the child’s level, look the child in the eye, and say, “Good morning (child’s name),” with a pleasant smile. 

If the teacher expects the children not to shout across the classroom, she will not do so herself.  When managing a classroom full of children this can be challenging at times, but we understand that the children are always watching us and learning from our behaviors.

Lessons

Aside from modeling, Montessori guides give lessons to explicitly teach grace and courtesy.  They will show the child step by step how a certain behavior or activity is done.  Here are just a few of these types of lessons a child might receive:

  • How to greet one another
  • How to welcome a visitor
  • How to get a teacher’s attention without interrupting
  • How to participate in a group discussion without interrupting
  • How to listen in a conversation
  • How to walk carefully around the classroom
  • How to follow directions
  • How to resolve a social conflict
  • How to unobtrusively observe another’s work
  • How to hold a door for someone
  • How to use polite words such as please, thank you, excuse me, etc.

Older children

As children get older, they may have mastered many of the basics of polite behavior, but they still have plenty more to learn.  There are two main differences as children move into the elementary years:

  1. Most (but certainly not all) of the grace and courtesy needs are related to friendships and social interactions.
  2. They have developed a sense of humor and tend to respond well when teachers show what not to do in a silly manner.

For example, a teacher may notice children entering the classroom for lunch in a manner that is less than ideal.  One day during a class meeting, the teacher will address the issue by wondering aloud how we might enter the class for lunch.  The teacher may then act out a variety of scenarios, asking the children if the teacher is going about the task in the right way, including:

  • Running breathlessly through the door to grab the desired seat.
  • Weaving in and out of other children to get where she/he wants more quickly.

This is sure to bring on the laughter, because the children likely already know these are not the correct behaviors.  Before the conclusion of the lesson, the children will contribute their ideas and tips for the teacher to try, who will then model the ideal behaviors. 

Throughout the course of the school year, a teacher at any level may notice certain behaviors that the children seem not to have learned yet. These are considered teachable opportunities and they will take the time to give the children lessons.  We find that children are eager to copy our behaviors and follow our lead, we need only to give them the opportunity.

Curious to learn more?  Want to see grace and courtesy in action? Consider a visit to observe our classrooms!