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Grace & Courtesy for Elementary Children

"The question of aid to the weak, to the aged, to the sick, for example, now arises [for elementary-age children]. If, up to the present, it was important not to bump someone in passing, it is now considered more important not to offend that person. "
—Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence

Pouring TeaWe can make a positive impact on the world by introducing children to the practices of Grace and Courtesy, which sadly seem to be too often forgotten in today's society. If you're feeling discouraged about the current state of civility, be on the lookout for courteous actions that may be taking place around you, such as someone holding the door open for another. Even small acts of kindness can inspire children, and all of us to remember our shared humanity.

Maria Montessori wrote brilliantly about giving lessons to children in Grace and Courtesy, including care for self, others, and the environment. Children in the Primary Montessori classroom have the opportunity to practice waiting their turn, serving food, accepting or declining what's offered, not disturbing others, and more. We can help elementary-age children take the exercises of Grace and Courtesy to a new level, reflecting their interest in social morals and justice.

Role Playing

Elementary-age students enjoy practicing manners by role playing both the correct and (for fun) incorrect way to do things, including how to:

  • introduce a friend to your family
  • change the subject politely
  • discreetly remove unwanted food from your mouth
  • decline to answer questions that feel intrusive
  • respond to a friend who has been ill or lost a pet
  • decline a hug or other touch you don't feel comfortable receiving

Going Out

When elementary children prepare for "going out" into the community, they practice the polite way to:

  • make phone calls to arrange visits
  • ask for directions
  • give up their seat on the bus for the elderly or disabled
  • ride an escalator (staying to the right so people can pass)
  • applaud at a concert at the appropriate time

Walking the Road of Peace

In her book, Honoring the Light of the Child, Sonnie McFarland offers innovative ideas, many based on Native American wisdom, to help foster kindness and courtesy. She has successfully used these activities in her primary classroom, but many are just as appropriate for six-to-nine year-olds.

One exercise encourages children to make peaceful choices as they "walk the road of peace." The teacher invites a group of children to talk about experiences they have found challenging. A student might say, "I get angry when something isn't fair, or when I feel left out." Discuss what to do when faced with these challenges. Brainstorm compassionate and thoughtful responses with them.

A parent of a child in Sonnie's classroom reported, "My son frequently talks about using his Positive Mind rather than his Negative Mind. If something mean slips out of his mouth... he will catch himself and say, 'Never mind that—that was my Negative Mind. I'm going to use my Positive Mind.' Then he corrects what he was saying."

Another parent was amazed that her child had developed so much empathy through these practices. "My child had a problem in hockey with another child hitting him. He said, 'Mom, maybe he hasn't learned yet how to be peaceful.'" (Honoring the Light of the Child)

Research

Older students enjoy researching Grace and Courtesy in other eras and cultures. They might discover that in some religions it's important to take off your hat before entering a place of worship; in other religions it's important to cover your head. While some people eat with forks or chopsticks, others eat with their right hand. In Japan it's polite to noisily slurp noodles and soup as a sign of enjoyment.

George Washington's copy of the "Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company & Conversation" gives children a fascinating look into the manners and language of that era:

  • Lift not one eyebrow higher than the other and bedew no man's face with your Spittle.
  • Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy.
  • Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.

Children might enjoy writing up their classroom rules using the language style of Washington's time!

Heroes and Justice

"The seven-to-twelve-year-old period then constitutes one of particular importance for moral education... It is at this age also that the concept of justice is born, simultaneously with the understanding of the relationships between one's acts and the needs of others. The sense of justice, so often missing in man, is found during the development of the young child."
—Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence

Elementary children are in the stage that Montessori called "hero worship." They enjoy reading about people like Gandhi and Dolores Huerta, who demonstrated grace and courage as they stood up for justice. Maya Angelou (author and Montessori parent) lived a life of valor, resilience, and courage in the face of racism and segregation. Nelson Mandela showed compassion and kindness towards the guards at the prisons where he was incarcerated for over 27 years. Mandela is a powerful role model for all of us, demonstrating that grace and courtesy are possible, even in the face of hatred and injustice.

In his report about Montessori's first school in the poor San Lorenzo district in Rome, an elementary-age child expressed displeasure about injustice and poverty: "It was in an icky slum run by an evil landlord named Sam Lorenzo." (Sarah Werner Andrews, keynote speaker, NAMTA conference, 2018)

In the San Francisco Bay Area, many children wear the jerseys of their heroes from the Warriors' basketball team. The Warriors' unselfish playing style makes the game particularly fun to watch. More importantly, many on the team exemplify the values of good sportsmanship. Star player Stephen Curry grew up attending his mother's Montessori school. Some attribute Curry's respect for others and willingness to share the ball, all least in part, to his early Montessori education.

From researching heroes like Maya Angelou, to role-playing, and walking the road of peace, we can offer elementary children many opportunities to learn how to be kind, compassionate, and respectful citizens of the world.

"Life is a gift, and I try to respond with grace and courtesy."
—Maya Angelou

—by Irene Baker, MEd, Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She holds both primary (ages 3-6) and elementary (ages 6-12) Montessori certifications and has taught at all three levels. For over 20 years, she has served as a Montessori consultant and teacher-trainer for primary and elementary levels, and has presented workshops for teachers at schools and AMS conferences. Her work with students and teachers is infused with her passions: storytelling, history, social justice, non-violent (compassionate) communication, poetry, meditation, music, and the natural world.

—Originally Published 2018

R135 Manners
R173 Giving Thanks
C764 The Barefoot Book of Children
R200 Honoring the Light of the Child Book & CD
R209 Ten Amazing People
R114 A Little Peace
R166 Peacemaker Messages
R01 Children of the Universe
R74 Children Learn What They Live
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