It is very common for first time visitors in Montessori classrooms to describe their experience with words such as peaceful, well mannered, respectful, focused, beautiful, calm and cooperative. Many visitors/observers are astonished that this level of mutual respect, cooperation and cohesion can be reached within a community of such young children! There are many reasons a classroom arrives at this point of harmony: mixed age classrooms, purposeful work, concentration, attention to sensitive periods, the adherence to the child’s natural tendencies, freedom within limits, aesthetically-minded materials and prepared environments, to name a few. However, before the effects of any of the aforementioned elements can be brought to bear, it is first necessary to pay head to the foundational lessons of what Maria Montessori called “Grace and Courtesy”.
Maria Montessori used this phrase to reflect the way in which we should live and act in our community and the world at large. She writes ostensibly about guiding the children through Grace and Courtesy lessons and the importance of the adult model. Grace and Courtesy lessons, though invisible on the shelves of our classroom are an integral part of Montessori education and lay the foundation for the years to follow. Like all Montessori curriculum these lessons correspond with the child’s natural developmental path. Lessons in grace and courtesy provide both the child and the classroom with structure and quench the child’s innate desire to know where her place is within it.
Grace and Courtesy lessons are initially centered on building the classroom community. The teachers anticipate certain situations that will likely arise, then guide the children through skits/roleplaying, modeling and extensive practice, so that the child has the tools necessary to proceed and maneuver through their community with confidence. Examples of this for the young child would be showing how to cover a cough or how to offer someone a tissue. These lessons, given in small groups, take place before the onset of cold season. With continual practice the child is prepared once the cold season hits.
When delivered to the youngest child, the lessons introduce the very basics of refined movements such as, how to carry an object, how to walk carefully, how to sit in a group, how to open a door or how to hold a fork, how to hold a book, to name a few. Mastery of physical grace is necessary for the continued development of the child as a social being. This is when grace and courtesy lessons can become a little more involved. As the child develops further, lessons of Grace and Courtesy begin to focus on more advanced concepts such as justice and fairness, which are fundamental concerns of the elementary child, and a heightened awareness of their membership in their community. Lessons begin to focus on how to negotiate with peers and adults and the successful expression of complex feelings. These learned skills begin to reveal themselves once the child has entered the elementary environment where their efforts are directed towards a more collective and collaborative approach to choosing and addressing the challenges of the day.
It is interesting to see how little by little, these [children] become aware of forming a community which behaves as such…Once they have reached this level, the children no longer act thoughtlessly, but put the group first and try to succeed for its benefit. ~ Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, pg. 232
As we enter into our third month of school I am very encouraged by the new relationships that are forming within our school community. On that same token I am also incredibly inspired by the children as I come to know them more and more and I’m sure the teachers in classroom would agree. Each morning, we all greet one another with warm, welcome smiles ready to begin our day together. It feels good to work in an environment where harmony and cohesiveness are such fundamental values. I truly believe the children feel this way too! It is in our nature (no matter how old we are) to want to live cooperatively, communicate successfully and to contribute to our group and society in a meaningful way.
Maria Montessori believed that it is the duty of every person to work toward and be part of something greater than themselves. Something that not only serves individual interests, but those of all humanity. For children to come to understand this relationship on a deeper level they must be nurtured in the ways of grace, courtesy and service. It is our responsibility as guides and parents to cultivate and model this understanding from an early age. Maria Montessori once stated, “It is our duty to be beautiful.” While she is speaking to the overall appearance of the adult, emphasizing the importance of how we care for and present ourselves physically, she is also speaking to our overall composure. Because adults are the primary role model for the child, it is imperative that we too maneuver through our life with elegance, grace and courtesy.
by: Anna Marie Reno, Toddler Lead, Mead West
Sources: Michael Olaf, NAMTA