So in the child, besides the vital impulse to create himself, and to become perfect, there must yet another purpose, a duty to fulfil in harmony, something he has to do in the service of a united whole. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, pg 57.
We had some guests over yesterday evening.
It was late so our four year old son Raif, greeted them, exchanged a few pleasantries and went up to bed. After putting Raif to sleep with his favourite story The Smartest Giant in Town (more about this book later), I came downstairs ready to unwind from mum duties and to enjoy some much needed adult conversation.
One of our guests started to talk about parenthood and some of its challenges. Not yet a parent himself, he was intrigued about our relationship with Raif and he asked both my husband and I an interesting question. The question he asked was: “what one value have you consciously focused on instilling in Raif?”
I have never been asked this before, so it took a while for me to think it through. I initially thought it was an impossible question to answer. Parenting is such an ongoing and evolving process. To try and pin it down to one defining value, to me seemed over simplistic.
I sat pondering many of the qualities I love about Raif. Is it empathy? Maybe it’s being fearlessly honest and always caring for others. Just as I was mulling over these potential answers, my husband came out with “good manners”.
It definitely wouldn’t have been my first answer.
Yes, Raif is well mannered but there is so much more to him then just saying please and thank you. I immediately thought that my husband had been unjust to both Raif and our parenting! I was about to interject and say “no, no I would say kindness” but I stopped myself and listened to my husband explain.
He went on to say that teaching our son to have manners led him to be empathetic, sensitive and able to understand things from others’ point of view (not always!).
It got me thinking, and the more I thought about it, the more I agreed. Notions of the word “manners” often conjure up strict obedience and listening, doing as you are told or facing punishment.
This is why I had wanted to object in the first place, as that is nothing like the environment that we nurture. It made me realise that actually manners means so much more than that. It promotes empathy so that children learn the effects kind words can have on one another. It creates a natural desire within the child to understand and accept others and, most importantly, teaches them to understand that we should all have the right to be heard, understood and respected.
I wonder what the world would look like if mainstream schooling started a grace and courtesy curriculum at the pre-school /reception stage. I believe it would be hugely different!
The Montessori curriculum covers grace and courtesy between the ages of 2 and 6 years old. It is at this age that they are in a sensitive period for these things, and so it is crucial that both as educator and parents we introduce and model this behaviour.
So how do we define “grace and courtesy” in the Montessori classroom? The best definition I’ve seen is that grace and courtesy should promote harmony in every level of human existence, large and small:
At a small level:
- Within each person.
- In relationships.
- Within families.
At a larger level:
- In the community.
- Throughout the world.
Early lessons of grace and courtesy develop positive interpersonal skills that will serve children throughout their lives. Demonstrations of Practical Life activities involving it are designed to nurture a child’s natural qualities, and their inherent desire to contribute to the peaceful order of their environment.
What do you do to promote grace and courtesy in your home? I would love to hear about your experiences.
P.S I wanted to quickly mention The Smartest Giant in Town
This is one of my favourite bedtime stories to read with Raif and is all about kindness and the power of helping others. It’s a beautiful story which is suitable for any child age three and above. The link below will take you to where you can purchase online but it might be worth going to a bookshop and choosing it off the shelf. It would be a great opportunity to discuss kindness and its importance. Enjoy 🙂