grace & courtesy
One of the many underlying lessons of a Montessori education is termed “Grace & Courtesy”. It is underlying in the sense that while a subject such as geometry has a specific scope and sequence with manipulative materials as accompaniment, “lessons” in grace and courtesy are the foundation upon which the daily activities of the classroom, both within and without of presentations, are built. It is the breath behind the words.
It’s instructive to make a distinction between grace and courtesy. Montessori defined grace as the ability to control one’s own will, an inner power that leads to a comfort with, and respect for, self. Courtesy is grace manifested in our behavior towards others. The kindness and respect developed as part of our grace is then gifted to the world.
It is almost cliche to mention that children from Montessori environments are often notable for their politeness to others, especially adults in the “outside world”. Most every Montessori teacher can relay a story or a dozen stories of being on a field trip and having the docent or group leader mention “how well-behaved your students are”. More often than not, it comes as a bit of surprise to the teacher, not because they don’t expect to hear the comment, but rather because he or she didn’t notice anything particularly remarkable about the children’s politeness in the first place. Perhaps the students behavior is elevated relative to other school group? For any given value of “polite”. Similarly, Cornerstone teachers will occasionally ask me if an observer noticed how “out of control” his or her classroom was, when in fact the visitor praised its demeanor! Like the old saying goes, “One man’s chaos is another man’s calm” (disclaimer: not a real saying; this quote was made up only for this article, all rights reserved). 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.
grace and courtesy in the toddler environment
In my family lore, comes a story from some 35 years ago. My then 2-year old nephew, Kaya, was attempting to move my mother from her standing position in the living room, where she was unintentionally blocking the route of his Brio train tracks. “Gramma Moof!,” he commanded. When she looked down at him with a bit of a glower, he quickly amended his voice and face to a more beseeching, perhaps cloying tone, “Pleeeez?”.
The first half of the First Plane of Development (from birth to 3 years old) is represented in Toddler programs. If we were to look at any learning activity that happens in that environment, from arithmetic to botany, from geometry to geography, we would start and finish with acquisition of language. The toddler-aged child possesses an absorbent mind, taking in and responding to all the culture and concomitant nomenclature it provides. He or she imitates and experiments with this new skill in order to get their needs met. But rather than encouraging an imperious attitude, a Montessori toddler program also provides both the model and the language necessary to practice empathy and compassion, the nascent themes that grow into grace and courtesy, politeness and kindness. It goes without saying (but here I go), that the child’s teacher must be impeccable in her language, tone, and manner, imbuing her interactions with kindness and love; tempering limit-setting (when necessary) with tenderness. The reservoirs of patience this requires are, at times, enormous, but that doesn’t diminish their importance. A child will develop grace (within themselves) and courtesy (towards others) only to the extent to which it was demonstrated to them by the adults in his or her life.
The work for a Toddler is no less than the early stages of personality development, the realization of inner value, the construction of a personal humanity. Heady stuff for someone not yet well-versed in the use and intricacies of indoor plumbing. Their journey continues as the next three years unfold in the Primary environment.