What is ‘Grace and Courtesy?’
The Montessori classroom is a meticulously prepared environment designed specifically to meet the needs of the child both physically and emotionally. One aspect of the prepared environment includes the lessons of Grace and Courtesy. “Montessori education includes explicit instruction on social behavior in a part of the curriculum called Grace and Courtesy, which are on par with lessons in math, music, and language” (Lillard, 2007, p. 198). These may include lessons on how to say please and thank you, politely interrupting someone, making verbal greetings, or introducing friends and acquaintances. Through the lessons of Grace and Courtesy, a child is able to develop and refine social skills while building self-esteem and independence. Montessori stressed the relationship of these exercises to the general happiness and well being of the child. “A child who becomes a 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, is a child filled with health and joy and remarkable for his calmness and discipline” (Montessori, 2007, p. 93). Lillard (2007) further explains the importance of educating the whole child, “the goal of Montessori education in fact, is explicitly stated to be the education of the whole child, not only the intellect” (p. 198-199).
In our classroom, the children are provided numerous opportunities to practice Grace and Courtesy lessons. Most lessons are presented to a large group of children. “Unlike the other lessons, the lessons of Grace and Courtesy are often shown to the entire class at once, perhaps because gracious social behavior is so clearly a community endeavor” (Lillard, 2007, p. 199). For example, the children practice greeting each other and teachers with a handshake each morning. Also, we set up various scenarios to practice saying, “Excuse me,” and “Thank you.” Lillard, (2007) mentions, “acting out in front of the class specific behaviors and how to respond provides children with practice in good behaviors, as well as opportunities to observe those behaviors in others” (p. 199). The children in our class are also shown how to properly open and close doors, push in chairs, walk around mats, and stand/walk in a line, how to wait a turn, and how and to get someone’s attention.
A favorite Grace and Courtesy lesson in our classroom is serving food. The children very much enjoy preparing small snacks to offer to friends throughout the Montessori work period. This type of exercise allows not only for children to practice practical life skills such as preparing food, but also gives opportunities for them to refine important social skills. Inviting friends or visitors with an offer of, “Would you like some cucumbers?” provides meaningful social interaction. Likewise, children receiving the offer are given opportunities to practice saying, “Yes please,” or “No, thank you…” Another activity the children very much enjoy is the Silence Game. This engaging activity is typically completed as a group and cultivates a sense of calm and stillness within the child. Students in our classroom also appreciate the Individual Silence Game, which is available to be completed as any other Montessori lesson during our work periods.
Through the Practical Life and Grace and Courtesy activities in the Montessori classroom, a child not only learns concentration, coordination, independence and order, but also how to interact with others and gain an understanding and appreciation of the environment. Children begin to build themselves from within while learning to treat themselves and others with respect and dignity. These understandings ultimately prepare the children for entry into society and a lifetime of self-respect and self-worthiness. These types of activities ultimately provide the foundation for success in all areas of life.
More examples of Grace and Courtesy lessons presented in our classroom:
How to Shake Someone’s Hand
Saying ‘Excuse Me’
Introducing a Friend
Opening/Closing a Door*
Holding a Door Open
Waiting a Turn
Saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’
Listening Politely to Others
Making Eye Contact
Using a Quiet Voice
Pushing in Chairs
Walking in the Classroom
Standing in a Line
The Silence Game
Parents are encouraged to understand and help foster these types of activities outside of the classroom setting. The key to success in Grace and Courtesy activities is the child’s ability to practice these skills. Parents can build their child’s success by allowing opportunities to refine skills in an unhurried and relaxed manner. Role- playing with parents or siblings can be a fun and engaging way to have your child practice and improve manners. There are many resources available to help facilitate Montessori’s notion of Grace and Courtesy at home and beyond. Here are a few places for further reading and inspiration:
Montessori, M. (2007). The discovery of the child. Amsterdam: The Netherlands: Montessori-Pierson Company.
Lillard, A.S. (2007). Montessori: The science behind the genius. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.