Most every Montessori teacher can tell a story of being on a field trip and being approached by a stranger marveling, “Your students are so well behaved!” And visitors to Montessori schools are often awestruck when students introduce themselves with a handshake and offer the visitor a cup of tea. Yet this skill set comes as no surprise to Montessori guides. Lessons in grace and courtesy are the foundation upon which the daily activities of the classroom are built. While these lessons encompass basic communication and social skills, such as greeting a visitor or tucking in a chair, their greater gift is in helping children develop and grow emotional intelligence. At Greenspring Montessori School, this work spans from the Toddler Community through the Adolescent Community—and is carried out into the world when our graduates leave for high school.
Dr. Montessori defined grace as the ability to control one’s will, an inner power that leads to respect for self. Courtesy is grace manifested in our behavior towards others. A hundred years or so later, psychologists now call these skills “emotional intelligence,” defined as the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflicts.
So what does this look like in practice? In our Toddler community, comprised of students ages eighteen months to three years, children learn to move slowly and carefully though the room, handle materials carefully, and prepare a work space for the next person. Students practice skills such as how to greet one another politely, observe the work of another student without interrupting, and patiently wait for help.
Students in our Children’s House community, comprised of students ages three to six years, learn to ask to join another’s work and how to politely accept or decline. Each classroom has a peace table, and when conflicts arise, guides model the process and language needed to resolve conflicts. At lunchtime, students participate in setting the table, serving one another, engaging in polite conversation, cleaning up after themselves, and tucking in their chairs.
Students in our Elementary communities are comprised of students ages six to nine years (i.e., first through third grade) and students ages nine to twelve years (i.e., fourth through sixth grade). Students now have opportunities to practice grace and courtesy in a wider context – as part of an audience at a performance, in writing thank you letters to a recent guest speaker, or making a phone call to schedule a “going out” expedition. Community meetings and role playing become new forums for practicing conflict resolution.
Students in our Adolescent Community, ages twelve to fifteen years (i.e., seventh through ninth grade), work “shoulder to shoulder” with a variety of adults on a daily basis (such as guides, administrators, advisors, parents, and experts) and spend more time in the greater community. Students meet with local representatives, apply and interview for internships with professionals in fields of interest, and travel across the country on Odyssey trips. These experiences provide adolescents opportunities to practice grace and courtesy in the wider world they are about to enter.
At every level, guides provide both the model and the language necessary to practice empathy and compassion. Montessori guides strive to be impeccable in their language, tone, and manner, infusing all interactions with kindness and respect. A child will develop grace (within themselves) and courtesy (towards others) only when it is demonstrated to them by the adults in his or her life.
With grace and courtesy lessons, “manners” are a welcome side effect, but their true value is much deeper. When we allow children to grow their emotional intelligence—how to recognize their feelings, understand where they come from, and learn how to deal with them—they gain essential skills for success in life. Current scientific research backs this up. Research indicates that emotional intelligence (EQ) “predicts over 54% of the variation in success (relationships, effectiveness, health, quality of life).”* Additional data concludes that “young people with high EQ earn higher grades, stay in school, and make healthier choices.”* *Psychology Today, March 2017
At Greenspring Montessori, students of all ages are learning healthy ways to share differing opinions, resolve conflicts, overcome challenges, and empathize with others. In Dr. Montessori’s view, grace and courtesy, the development of inner peace and its propagation in the world, serves as no less than the seeds of world peace.
Please come visit us and see grace and courtesy in action!
“The child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity. He has shown us the true process of construction of the human being. We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and as their sense of order, discipline, and self-control develops within them…. The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.” (Dr. Maria Montessori, Education and Peace)