If you are a Montessori parent or just beginning to learn about Montessori education, you’ve probably heard the phrase grace and courtesy. 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?
In a Montessori classroom, this is not 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, and they must do their part.
Grace and courtesy starts with intentional modeling. Guides, as well as other adults in our school, 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 guide sees a child as they arrive at school in the morning, the guide will crouch down to be at the child’s level, look the child in the eye, shake their hand and say, “Good morning- child’s name ” with a pleasant smile.
If the guide 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.
Adults in a Montessori school are always very careful not to interrupt a child’s work. They have a deep respect for the child’s autonomy, but they are also aware of the power of their modeling. When adults refuse to interrupt a child’s work, the children learn the importance of doing the same.
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
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 primary years:
- Most (but certainly not all) of the grace and courtesy needs are related to friendships and social interactions
- They have developed a sense of humor and tend to respond well when guides teach what not to do in a silly manner
For example, a guide may notice children entering the classroom for lunch in a manner that is less than ideal. One day during a class meeting, she or he will address the issue by wondering aloud how we might enter the class for lunch. She may then act out a variety of scenarios, asking the children if she is going about the task in the right way, including:
- Running breathlessly through the door to grab the desired seat
- Flinging a lunch bag across the room to the desired table
- Weaving in and out of other children to get where she 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. Ideally this exercise would be done just before lunch, giving the children a chance to practice right away.
Throughout the course of the school year, a guide at any level may notice certain behaviors that the children seem not to have learned yet. Guides consider these teachable opportunities and 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.
Grace and courtesy also flows into the way staff interact with each other and the way parents and staff interact. Grace and courtesy is a way of being in a Montessori school, contributing to the overall living of our values and our commitment to education for life and education for peace.
Listen to this wonderful talk by Dr Timothy Purnell, CEO of the American Montessori Society for deeper insights in how Grace and Courtesy is woven into the very fabric of a Montessori education
Curious to learn more? Want to see grace and courtesy in action? Call us today to schedule a tour.