Thursday, June 19, 2014

Introducing the first lessons of grace and courtesy to the pre-k child

The categories for the Exercises of Practical Life in the Montessori classroom can be divided into:
  • Elementary movements
  • Care of self
  • Care of environment
  • Care of community
  • Activities of social behavior
The last of these, the activities of social behavior, are critical for the function of the classroom. How do you know when someone is well-mannered and thoughtful? The expressions of this thoughtfulness are different from time to time and place to place. Sometimes, teachers wonder if lack of eye contact is a sign of potential disability, but this can be a sign of courtesy and respect to avoid eye contact in some cultures. The observation of cultural modes travels from child of adult and also adult of child. Children incarnate the values of thoughtfulness and empathy observed in their culture.

The actions of grace and courtesy are awareness of the other and following through with an action to show you are aware of the other person's needs. Awareness of the other is just beginning. Courtesy is specific and individualized person by person. It is a matter of choice working together to show that I am thoughtful. I am considerate of your needs. 

Grace and courtesy will come out of the capacity for will, as the child develops further and manifests those internalized grace and courtesy experiences in the classroom. Where should my body be in relation to another person? What words do I use in my culture? 

How do I give lessons in grace and courtesy? It will always be a small group lesson.
When do I give these presentations? Observe the children. These lessons are given not in a corrective manner, but in a cuing way to practice together. Teaching the phrases of courtesy are preventative, so that when a situation arises, the children will have the tools. When we give the presentation, it is important to observe when this activity typically happens. 

We have to decide when to present and how to present the social grace and courtesy lessons. The first to show the child is how to greet the teacher. I need an assistant to take on the role of the teacher while I model the role of the student. So, I speak to the assistant before I call up the group of children. I model saying, Good morning, Ms. A, or whatever is part of the culture of that community, to as I go in, then repeat the action calling attention to the hands and eyes. We do not insist on the greeting, if they are not ready or are resistant. It is a process-- we never hound the children to do this or that. Show them the best way, and wait for opportunities for them to express the grace and courtesy when they are ready. Later, you can refine the firmness of the grip and variations of greeting.

Presentations like this not only satisfy the need for functional independence, but it satisfies her need for language, order, movement, and sensory perception (the other person's feelings). We can take a casual minute out of the day to talk about sneezing or coughing.

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