Developing Self Control Through Grace & Courtesy
Children in Montessori often learn to read at a very early age (although I will admit there was a point in time when I wondered if my son would EVER learn to read, but he did exactly when his teacher predicted he would.) They learn their numbers – not just counting but understanding that seven is one more than six and not just because it follows six. They begin to add and subtract, even multiply and divide, as early as kindergarten. They learn about leaves and leaf shapes. They learn about zoology, geometry and time. There seems to be almost no end of the surprises of what our children learn. It is ironic, however, that one of the most important lessons they learn in Montessori does not appear on a progress report. And yet once it’s learned, it’s a lesson that will make your child stand out for the rest of his or her life. The lesson: grace and courtesy.
Why Is Grace & Courtesy Important?
You cannot observe a Montessori classroom for even a short time without coming away with an impression that Montessori children are by and large very polite, orderly and impressively quiet and serene. That is because grace and courtesy – good manners, caring about each other, putting others first – set the tone for the classroom. This is important because the individuality of the classroom can only succeed if each child exercises care and consideration for his or her classmates by taking turns, helping each other, encouraging each other and teaching each other. The quietness and the serenity allow the concentration that precedes significant accomplishment.
Being Part of a Community
While the exercises of grace and courtesy are tremendously valuable all by themselves, they also lead to four significant outcomes. The first is helping children understand what it means to be part of a community. While the Montessori environment is a classroom of individual learners, each progressing as quickly as they can, it is also a community of learners who help, encourage and teach each other. Children practice the courtesy of using an inside voice so as not to disturb their classmates. They practice the courtesy of walking slowly so as not to disrupt the learning going on. These are just the beginning of creating a community-based learning environment. Sharing the learning materials, waiting your turn patiently, helping each other – each of these actions transforms the classroom into an oasis of peace where concentration and learning can happen.
Demonstrating Love - Not Just Saying It
Second, practicing grace and courtesy are key steps in the process of showing love. Love is the ability (and the desire) to put someone else’s needs in front of yours – wanting the best for them. Kids are full of love – at least once a day both my son and daughter make it a point to tell me how much they love me. But showing love – whether it is holding a door, letting others go first, or deferring to someone else’s wishes – is more difficult for most children. As they learn and practice the lessons of grace and courtesy, they are learning also how to demonstrate love, in both small and big ways.
Nurturing Positive Relationships
The third benefit of grace and courtesy is the ability to sustain and nurture positive relationships. I think most people would agree with me when I say that when we are kind and courteous to others, we feel better about ourselves. I know I do. On the same token, when key relationships are damaged or challenging, it’s hard not to feel badly about yourself and the role you played in getting the relationship to that state. Practicing grace and courtesy in your relationship with others helps to set a tone that makes relationships easier.
Developing Self Control
The fourth benefit is that demonstrating grace and courtesy contributes to the development of self control. The lessons of grace and courtesy give children an external set of markers that they internalize and practice, which in turn leads them to change their own behavior. Children become accustomed to using polite words, walking around a rug, greeting each other, and knowing how to politely interrupt. These are the first steps to controlling themselves. In her work, Maria Montessori demonstrated that self control leads to focus; focus leads to accomplishment; and accomplishment leads to success.
I have loved the ways grace and courtesy have worked their ways into our home as a result of my children attending WBMS. I am constantly being told by friends, neighbors and relatives that my children are among the most polite, articulate children they have ever met. When asked by adults if they would like another serving of something or to read another book, my children almost always respond in complete sentences that end with “yes, please,” or “no, thank you.” I even see it when my kids are interacting with each other – rather than “give me that” or “stop it,” I hear phrases like “may I have that, please?” and “please stop doing that.” It also reminded me that the words I use will be the words they use. The addition of grace and courtesy in our home has helped to create a more calm and orderly environment, which benefits us all.
You may thing that's all well and good for your child, but not all children behave this way. I’ll end with a quote from Maria Montessori who extensively observed thousands of children over a century of studying the behavior of young children:
“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.”
Not a bad outcome for learning to say please and thank you! If you would like to see what grace and courtesy looks like in action, schedule a time to come observe in any of our classrooms to see for yourself.