Anyone who observes a Montessori classroom for even a short time will come away with amazement and a feeling of calm. This is because of how the classroom functions – the children are by and large very polite, orderly and impressively quiet while they work.
This is shaped by the lessons of “grace and courtesy” in the Montessori classroom. Grace and courtesy, that is, good manners, caring about each other and the materials and, putting others ahead of oneself – are virtues that no only reflect etiquette but can even make extraordinary academic gains possible because the children become more receptive and have a positive approach to everything. And this is quite evident even when we see Montessori children outside of the school premises. Grace and courtesy is one of the non-traditional academic foundations of a successful Montessori education. While the exercises of grace and courtesy are tremendously valuable all by themselves, they also lead to other significant outcomes.
There are many ways in which Montessori teaches lessons indirectly to child. For example, the arrangement and order of working with materials in practical life work (polishing, sweeping, etc.) are such that they indirectly make it possible for the child to write and read later when language materials are introduced. Similarly, the practice of grace and courtesy is the keystone in the arch that holds everything that the child learns in place.
Many a times we find that children lack self-control, and this often leads to tantrums. We must understand that it troubles the child just as much (if not more) than it does the adults. Grace and courtesy lessons in Montessori serve to provide invisible markers for children which they will internalise with repeated practice and change their general approach to situations and the subsequent reactions. They are, in essence, gaining self-control. And let’s not forget – Self-control leads to focus; focus will lead to accomplishment; accomplishment will lead to success. And you will have with you a confident and independent child.
Grace and courtesy are at the very core of building self-respect. It makes sense when we think about it – when we are kind and courteous to others, we like ourselves better. The young child cannot talk articulately about the conflicting emotions he feels, but the practice of conscious grace and courtesy helps them enjoy a calm and orderly environment. They then become much more at peace with themselves and automatically all his troubles vanish. He thus learns to respect himself and others.
In a Montessori environment, the people, the materials and the general atmosphere is one of awareness and interest. You will find children learning with hands-on materials individually for hours on end, for days and even weeks sometimes. However, the classroom is also a community of people who help each other, teach and learn from peers, and encourage each other too. The children, who have the freedom to learn what interests them, never need to be told to quieten down. When they work in pairs or groups for some activities, they share the material and know that help will come when needed from peers (as well as adults if needed). Even if they are hungry, they learn to wait patiently for their turn at the snack corner, and those at the snack corner also become aware of someone else who needs to sit and eat.
Whether it is holding a door open, helping someone put things back in their place, offering a drink or allowing someone else to go first, grace and courtesy is always demonstrated in small ways by the adults and thereby imitated by the children as well. Being there for each other and still holding their individuality while working with concentration are traits that even adults struggle with, and yet Montessori children transform the classroom into an oasis of peace where learning happens without the need for much intervention.
Dr.Maria Montessori got it right. Quite effective, this grace and courtesy.