A part of Practical Life in every Children’s house are the lessons of grace and courtesy. These impart to the child various skills of physical and social grace, and are, in a sense, the “social lubricant” of a classroom. If you’ve come to a parent education night, undoubtedly, you’ve heard Fatima and I discuss grace and courtesy; these lessons are some of the most important that we can offer, and truly help set Montessori apart from traditional education. Given to the children in small groups, Grace and Courtesy includes things like: How to pass by, how to greet a guest, how to answer a phone, how to blow one’s nose, etc.
I have always considered myself at least (relatively) courteous. I know how and when to say excuse me. I know how to introduce myself. I am polite to my waitstaff, I push in my chair when I leave the table, I enjoy hosting parties. When I was becoming a guide, I felt confident in my ability to share courtesy with the children in my environment. But grace? Grace is something I felt much less familiar with.
As a little girl, My Momma called me “Grace” for my utter lack of it. I am doubtful that any child fell, tripped, tumbled, bumped, bruised as much as I did. And every time, without chiding, my Mom would patch me up and lovingly call me her Grace. Dance classes as I got older certainly helped, and getting to dance in our high school production of “The Secret Garden” was a surprise and joy. It’s been a few years now since I’ve fallen and scraped myself up. But being in an environment with a million materials that are out of scale to me has sometimes made me feel bumbling. Holding the spoon is hard. How can I sit in this chair? The bowl is too small for me to grasp. Ow, my knee! Darn table. Knocked the pencil off of the table again! Slow down, I must remind myself. Slow yourself down.
When I was taking my Montessori training, my classmates, trainer and I defined grace together: fluidity. precision. purpose. exactness. organic. natural. internal calm. internal peace. lightness. a beauty that is owned. the essence of movement taken to a level of elegance. The finest of movements, where precision becomes natural.
So I ask myself: do I move and live with fluidity? With precision? Is there purpose? Am I exact? Am I thoughtful in my word and in my action? How do I incarnate something which I’ve never…embodied before? It is the Adults job, whether parent or guide, not just to model grace and courtesy, but to own it, to make it incarnate, a part of ourselves, whenever possible.
When I consider these questions, I find it easiest to pinpoint situations in my everyday life where I should be dealing with others with grace and courtesy. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of them with you all; perhaps you will find them helpful in your own negotiations with grace and courtesy.
-When one of the children picks up a pencil I’ve dropped on the floor without me ever even having the chance to ask, am I thanking them? What about when they are holding the door for me? Or when they step out of the way so that I may pass by? It isn’t necessary that I thank them for doing those things which are expected of them—but when they are doing things for me, it is only polite that I let them know how much I appreciate it.
-When I am speaking with the children (or other adults, for that matter), is my tone even? Even when I’m frustrated, am I keeping myself collected? In our conversations, what does my face say? My body language? Before I can correct the children, I must consider: when I see in them inappropriate body language, or hear inappropriate tone or language; is that a reflection of me? Note here that the children are always absorbing; and so those phone conversations and chats between parents and partners matter, too.
-Where do I put my things when I come in? Are they away where they belong, or do they wind up scattered? I cannot tell the children that I expect them to be orderly and on task if I am not orderly and on task myself. If my laundry is on the floor, I cannot expect for theirs to make it into the hamper; if I can never locate my shoes, I cannot expect them to, either.
-How do I move when I am around them? Am I carrying multiple things, juggling carelessly? Do I catch my hip on the counter because I’m moving through the kitchen too quickly, or flop down on the couch rather than sitting? Precise movement requires thought and time; it is difficult to be precise at high speed.
I continue to work, everyday, towards being able to embody grace. I am working to own it, so that I can offer it to the child. Remind me, if you see me, to slow down; you will be assisting me in my goal. I’ll do my best to remind you, too.
“Whatever effort you as teachers have expended to make the children they once were into men better than they would’ve been without your help, this benefits not only the child himself, but many others you do not know.”
Maria Montessori (p. 13, Human Tendencies and Education)Share on Facebook