Updated: Feb 3, 2022
If you are just beginning to learn about Montessori education, you’ve probably heard the phrase grace and courtesy. You may be wondering 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, and they must do their part.
Grace and courtesy starts with intentional modeling. Teachers and other adults 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.
If the teacher expects the children not to shout across the classroom, she or he will not do so themself. 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 teachers 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 elementary 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 teachers teach 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 he or 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 to their destination 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 teacher at any level may notice certain behaviors that the children seem not to have learned yet. Teachers 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.