Grace and Courtesy 

Grace and Courtesy 
Cynthia Blessman, Lead Primary Teacher

The definition of the word grace is elegance, beauty, and smoothness of form or movement. It means dignified, polite, and decent behavior. In a Montessori environment, it also implies thoughtfulness, concentration, poise, and economy of movement. 

The word courtesy comes from the word cour, meaning heart. It means politeness that shows consideration for other people. Courtesy involves actions that come from the heart. Not empty politeness. We act in such a way because we recognize respect for others.

A Primary Montessori child greets the photographer as she approaches the classroom

Grace and Courtesy in Montessori

Grace and Courtesy is an area of Practical Life in the Montessori curriculum for children ages three to six. It is as distinct and important as all the other areas, such as Care of Self and Care of the Environment. Montessori lessons often use specific materials, and in this instance, the materials are the people in the environment. Primary-aged children are in both a period of self-formation and social adaptation. They are learning the behaviors of the group. Consequently, Grace and Courtesy lessons will vary by culture. Children not only explore and learn through their senses but also through emotions. They take in people’s movements as well as their reactions and attitudes. Mario Montessori, son of Dr. Maria Montessori, said the young child pleads, “I want to become like you.” 

This stage is a time when young children are taking in the behavior in their group; therefore, the environment needs order and respectful attitudes. The ages of three to six are the perfect time to teach social lessons.

Lessons in Grace and Courtesy

A Grace and Courtesy lesson is like a play or rehearsal, like role-playing but nothing pretentious or flamboyant. These lessons are designed to help children realize that care for others is the reason for etiquette, that it arises out of respect for others. Timing is essential for many of the lessons as we anticipate the needs of the children. For example, at the beginning of the school year, Montessori teachers demonstrate how a child can get the teacher’s attention without interrupting a lesson and then remind them of that throughout the year as necessary. 

In general, these lessons are given at an emotionally neutral time. Adults are never to use a child as a bad example. When a child is observed lacking in grace and courtesy, the adult mentally notes and presents the lesson again. Otherwise, the child will be put on the defensive and not be open to learning.

children working in a Montessori classroom

A Montessori Primary child waits to get her teacher's attention

Grace and Courtesy Beyond the Classroom

Not only are the lessons to be culturally relevant but also applicable beyond the Montessori environment. They are opportunities for children to generalize their learning to the world beyond. The adult is to keep in mind that children this age are in a sensitive period for order thus needing the language used in their culture; and a sensitive period for the refinement of movement, thus needing the movements in their culture. 

It is also important to note that the child’s will is developing. So adults must wait for grace and courtesy to come from the child’s heart, always remembering that the taking in of knowledge is separate from the expression of knowledge.

For example, you might notice your child slamming doors in the house. Pick a time when everyone is rested and open to learning to share this lesson:

  • Say to your child, “This is how to open a door without disturbing.” Slowly and deliberately grasp the doorknob or handle in one hand, then turn or pull down until the latch bolt releases from the frame. Slowly pull the door towards you and slowly allow the knob to return quietly.
  • Walk through the doorway with the child. 
  • Say, “This is how to shut a door without disturbing.” With the doorknob or handle in one hand, slowly turn or pull down until the latch bolt is flush with the door. Slowly shut the door then quietly allow the knob or handle to return to its original position. 
  • Encourage your child to repeat the exercise!

The older child may be interested in various cultural expressions of grace and courtesy, which aids the development of tolerance and respect for cultural differences. The lessons lead to a certain kind of self-control in addition to gaining independence to work in a group. The adult shows the appropriate forms of behavior.

More Examples to Practice at Home

When you know guests will be coming to your home, begin practicing in advance by demonstrating how to greet your guests. You can model the actions while saying, “Hello, so glad to have you visit today!” or “Welcome to our home, may I take your coat?” Children practice by taking turns playing the part of the guest and the greeter. Remember, repetition builds repertoire. Depending on the social situation, additional actions may be required to practice such as shaking hands, bowing, or hugging and kissing.

Grace and Courtesy Lessons You Can Use at Home

  • Blowing one’s nose
  • Covering one’s mouth
  • Introducing oneself
  • Introducing two friends (this is a great one to practice before a birthday party)
  • Opening a door for another
  • Knocking before entering
  • Offering help
  • Excusing oneself from the table
  • Giving and receiving a gift
children practice giving and receiving a gift

Primary children practice giving and receiving a gift in the classroom

Grace and Courtesy lessons provide a proactive approach that remains true to Montessori’s plea, “Teach teaching not correcting.” Offering the means for children to master certain social situations gives them confidence in their abilities to maneuver within a social group.

Learn more about the Primary program for children ages three to six.

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