Grace and Courtesy here, there & everywhere

Some people forget that love is
tucking you in and kissing you
“Good night”
no matter how young or old you are

Some people don’t remember that
love is
listening and laughing and asking
questions
no matter what your age

Few recognize that love is
commitment, responsibility
no fun at all
unless

Love is
You and me

 

Love Is by Nikki Giovanni

 

There is a room in my house in which I rarely set foot—for fear I may puncture my foot on a Lego.

I think the room was designed to be a formal dining room, but formal anything is just not my style.  So instead, the room has always been a playroom, as well as a place where our guests stay.

Image result for public domain legos on the floor

Cubbies and shelves hold bins, boxes and baskets for toys and supplies.  Although everything (okay, okay, most things) have a place, I allow my boys to spread out books, toys and projects in that one room, and leave them there, untouched.

And in contrast to my classroom, where the children are required to restore each work before choosing another, I don’t require that the boys even tidy up the playroom every day. The exception is when guests come to stay.  

When H was a toddler, we tidied the playroom each evening together.  I would remind him what belonged together and where things went. He would help while he sang “What’s Gonna Work? Teamwork!” at top volume.

Around age four, I knew H could tackle cleaning the playroom solo, so I  decided to modify our schedule a bit. I told H to clean the playroom while I finished dinner.  

But just ten minutes later, when  I went in to check on him,  he was playing!

Through trial and error, I discovered if I sent him to clean the playroom alone, he still didn’t really understand what I meant, so he’d either put everything into one big, tangled mess in the biggest basket he could find or he’s get distracted and start to play.  

By telling him to “go clean the playroom,” I was being too vague. He still needed my guidance.

I still had to show him that when I said,”Clean your room,” it meant something specific, like:
*Put the blocks back in the green basket and then restore the basket on that shelf.  
*The books go on the shelf with the binding facing outward.  
*Trash needed to go in the trashcan, and abandoned socks needed to go to the hamper.

Even now that the boys are 8 and 11, I still have to guide the clean-up a bit.  I still model for them what my expectation of a clean room looks like by doing it with them.

Today, my help looks different.  I take a supporting role. I make an observation, and then ask which part should I do, like, “ I see lots of Legos, books, and stuffed animals around.  Which one do you want me to do and which ones do you guys want to do?”

If one of the boys stops cleaning, I make another observation. “It looks like you’ve stopped cleaning. Do you want to play with Legos when we’re done cleaning? Yes? Ok, that sounds fine. Which Legos do you need to leave out and which can you put away?” Then we clean up everything else with the promise that they can play a bit later.

 

Although they work well for some families, I don’t do chore charts of any kind.  When the boys were one and four, I had a chart that had
daily tasks for which each boy was responsible.  The chart was not for chores, but for self-care things that needed to happen each day. In fact, the responsibility chart was put into play because I felt like a nag. It worked well for the tasks that each child needed to remember to do each day, such as clearing his own place at the table, putting his own laundry in the hamper, brushing his teeth, etc. The boys had a feeling of accomplishment when they could see all they’d done, and—bonus—I did a minimal of reminding.  

The best part: when  the patterns of responsibility were intrinsic, the chart hung unused.

Today in our family, when some chores need to be done, we tell each other and it happens.  There are  no stickers, there are no rewards, and there’s no allowance associated with personal and family responsibility. We have a “we’re all in this together” thing going on.

That’s grace and courtesy: care of self, care of others, and care of environment.

 

***

 

As I said in my last post, when Dr. Maria Montessori began work in her first classroom back in the early 1900s, she developed a teaching style using the practical applications that prepared children to normalize, allowing the mind and body to work together. Dr. Montessori’s aim was “to allow the child to do, in a more perfect and orderly manner, what he strives to do in any case by his own natural impulses.” (Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work)

When I mention the phrase, Grace and Courtesy, you may automatically think of manners. Saying please and thank you, or holding the door for someone coming out of a shop. When I brought up Grace and Courtesy to a group of well-seasoned Montessorians over lunch this past weekend, my colleague Patti said, “Grace and Courtesy isn’t what you do, it’s who you are.”  It’s a bit of both what you do and how you do it and it comes from the heart.

carry one thing with two hands

 

 

In the classroom, we teach Grace and Courtesy lessons and we support  the children as they practice both with each other and with the adults. Montessori Publications has a great collection of the lessons given in the classroom. The skills learned in these lessons happen inside, outside, and at all times of the day. Just like I had to show my toddler what I meant when I ordered him to clean his room, I show the children:

  • How to greet the teacher
  • How to use a quiet voice
  • How we hold things with two hands
  • How to wait their turn to talk
  • How to have polite conversation
  • How to ask permission to walk past
  • How to walk closer to talk to each other
  • How to resolve conflict
watching respectfully

To name a just a few! I even show a child who is running how to stop and look around to see if it’s a good time and place to run, and then confirm his declaration, “We can run later when we’re outside.”

staying organized

There’s lots of other things that go along with using grace and courtesy in a community.  Things that  are more tangible and more  concrete, such as the lessons that I mentioned in my Practical Life post:cleaning up a wet spill with a rag or a sponge, sweeping the floor, restocking when you used the last of something, restoring your work where it belongs, and keeping your work space organized.

The Peace Rose

A lovely book called The Peace Rose by Alicia Jewel uses something tangible, like a rose or other artificial flower, that two children can hold when handling something invisible: feelings and conflict resolution. It is a lesson that helps when the children take turns to say how they feel using “I” statements and coming up with a solution together.

using the peace rose to say, “you hurt my feelings when you said…”

Modeling is key when it comes to Grace and Courtesy. Your walk has to match your talk.  Act like you want your kids to act.

If your spouse is in the living room and you’re having a conversation from the kitchen as you finish the dinner dishes, your child will imitate by trying to chat with you from the next room, too.

Two sisters made their way through my classroom. Both girls struggled with this issue. They would call my name, or just start telling me whatever it was that they needed to say from across the room.  I would gesture an exaggerated beckoning hand gesture until the blue-eyed girl came closer.  Then, before she said anything, I would exaggeratedly say, “Thank you so much for waiting until you were close to talk to me.  You were so far away, I couldn’t hear you.” When in fact EVERYONE in the room had heard her.

Image result for public domain kitchen pass through

I remember asking the little sister about her house, wondering if she had a big house with maybe a great room or something. I just knew it was their family culture to have conversations through a kitchen pass-through or some such thing. If those kinds of long-distance  conversations are part of their family culture, and the whole family is on board, that’s ok.  It’s really  a matter of teaching the child to observe and adapt to the culture of different environments. We’re quiet in a library, in a museum during a flag ceremony, or in a place of worship, for example.

 

***

 

Please and thank you are only one tiny part of Grace and Courtesy. Social manners encompass so much more. Understanding emotional needs of yourself and others is an important life skill. Being a part of a community, whether it is a family community or a school community has its own skills  set and expectations.  

Grace and Courtesy is a very BIG important thing that we sometimes forget is even there.
Children need us to support them as they learn, how to be gracious, how to be thoughtful, how to wait, how to be helpful, how to stay organized, and how to be aware of their own needs. We can show our children these aspects of life without nagging, rewarding, punishing or shaming. If we can guide them with respect, with modeling, with observing and offering a helping hand in a supporting role, the qualities we desire to see will start to become our child’s natural impulses.

Purpose in Practical Life

Isn’t it interesting how children imitate the grown-ups in their lives?  We can’t deny that our kids pick up words and phrases that we say (keep it clean, folks!). When cracking pecans in the front yard some years ago, my two-and-a-half year old hit his thumb and dropped an f-bomb. The phrase sounded a lot like something from Papa’s work buddies. I asked him to repeat what he had just said, and so he did. Yep. That’s what I thought….

Our babies smile when we do, laugh when we do, and copy us all the time. And they do it with such purpose.

Young children are drawn to do the chores and activities that their parents do around the house.  We’re told that we should read and also
write in front of children so that they will understand the value of these skills. Entire marketing campaigns monopolize on the fact that children desire to imitate their parents.  

Like when mowing the lawn … as a toddler, my son H had a bubble-blowing toy lawnmower that we were constantly filling with bubble solution so that he could help his Papa mow the lawn.

And in maintaining a home … H and his toddler buddy spent hours “fixing things”with a set of plastic construction tools. They hammered and twisted and sanded, even if there was nothing but air beneath their little fingers.

And while cooking … When my younger son, A, was three, he had an extensive collection of dishes and pots and pans with which he would make me imaginary gourmet toddler meals, including blueberry pizza, whipped cream sandwiches,  and peanut butter salad.

One area of the Montessori foundation is called “practical life.”


It relates to a child’s natural desire to imitate adults and fit into this world with purpose. Initially,
Dr. Maria Montessori and her assistant taught the children in her first classroom to take care themselves and their environment out of necessity.  There were simply too many students for the two adults to attend to. The children had to learn to tie their aprons and wash their own dishes, among other things.

What Dr. Montessori discovered from this was  interesting. She discovered that many chores used in everyday life helped the children to “normalize.”  These  life skills, such as sweeping up a spill, sorting forks and spoons, and folding laundry, all allow the child’s mind and body to align.  

Life skills that Dr. Montessori included in the “practical life” curriculum are lessons in:

  • grace and courtesy (making eye contact, saying thank you, waiting for a turn to speak, etc.)
  • care of self (toileting, blowing nose, zipping a jacket, etc.)
  • care of the environment (watering the plants, sweeping the leaves off the back porch, clearing the lunch dishes, feeding the pets, etc.)
  • control of movement (control and strength of the hand, fine  and gross motor skills, impulse control, etc.).

The Montessori philosophy of Practical Life is really simple when you break it down.  

First, the number one way to create successful behavior in children (or if you’re more of a glass half empty type: the number one deterrent of undesirable behavior in children) is: Purpose. When a child has purposeful work, when a child feels helpful, when a child is proud of his accomplishments, he is his best self (That’s what Dr. Montessori called a normalized child.).

In a Montessori classroom, we prepare activities that allow children to practice a specific skill.  The children practice scooping beans from one bowl to the next, for example.  They practice buttoning and unbuttoning fabric on a frame.  They practice pouring water from one container to another. The skill is isolated so that it’s simply one skill. There are only one or two steps. At home, the skills your kid needs to practice will not be isolated.  The skills he will need to learn and to practice will come up naturally and might contain many steps.

So many parents are scared of messes. I love messes! Messes are an opportunity for your child to practice body control, hand/eye coordination, attention to detail, and  concentration. Last week, my student, “Tommy” chose to do a science work with which the child explores how water moves and flows. There’s a big container and some foam shapes that float and stack.  The child basically builds a waterslide, and then scoops water and pours it to see how it flows on the structure.
“Tommy” used this work for a very long time, using it as it was designed to be used, and when he was done, he experimented by pouring the water back into the narrow pitcher rather than the larger, easier bucket provided for the work.

Naturally the majority of the water spilled onto the floor.

I just watched.  I even protected him from friends (and adults, too) who were ready to correct him and to point out his large spill.  Next, “Tommy” sat on the floor with one of the foam shapes in his hand, carefully dunking it in and out of the half-filled pitcher, watching as the water level rose and fell. When he was done with that, he stood up and started to walk away.  

This is when I spoke to him, saying,”That’s quite a lot of water on the floor.  Are you going to get another towel or do you want to get the mop?”

I didn’t hear his response, although he returned in a few minutes with the mop. “Tommy’s” whole experience, including the cleaning up, took 50 minutes.  This four-year-old boy was deep in concentration for a very long time and he was experiencing many important things including order, sequence, gravity, water displacement, flotation, surface tension, volume, to name a few. If I had interrupted him to prevent a mess, he would have missed the whole  opportunity!

Have a whisk broom and dust pan available for your child for when he makes a little mess (or a BIG mess!) Here’s a whisk broom my boys use at home. Get down with him and talk him through the process of cleaning up step-by- step together. He’s seen you use the broom. Now let him do it while you watch. As his body becomes more coordinated, you will help less and less.  

When your child has a sniffly nose, show her, standing side by side in front of a mirror, how you blow you your nose and let her blow her own nose.

When your child has a shirt with buttons in front, show her how to button it and let her practice.  If you see that your child really tries to fasten the buttons, and she cannot, only supply her with knit shirts she can don by herself. Try again a few months later with buttons. The same goes for blue jeans or overalls.  You should not have a button frame like we do in the classroom that isolates the skill of buttoning.  You can offer your child a real shirt of her very own to practice buttoning (while it is OFF her body, is easier at first).

An important side note here.  A child may show an interest in something that he is not yet ready to do. Children often show an interest in reading and writing before they are ready to tackle those skills. My Montessori colleague Beth Phillips, at Academy Montessori Preschool in Albuquerque, NM wrote, “In Montessori, I am trained to observe the child for indications of both needs and readiness.” In her blog, Montessori Publications, which you can read here, she talks about how a child can only understand academic material once they have normalized. Observing your child without engaging is important.  See what he is interested in and at the same time, see what he is capable of.

Watch your child.  Show him how…then get out of the way and let him try. Let him struggle a bit. Let him persevere.

I hope you found my explanation of Practical Life helpful.  I welcome your questions and comments. Next time I plan to post about Grace and Courtesy.

how i found montessori

 

“We are made of our smallest thoughts

We are breathing and letting go

We will take the best parts of ourselves

And make them gold”
–Chvrches ‘Make Them Gold’

 

Just like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz,  it turns out, I had Montessori inside me all along.  I had to take those parts of myself and let them grow.

In August of 2007, I was immensely pregnant and expecting my second child. I knew I would need to spend some time bonding with the new baby so I set off to tour preschools. I wanted a school that was a just-right fit for my bright and articulate son, who would soon be three years old.

I know every mom thinks her kid is the smartest kid on the planet. I am no exception. But no, really —  my kid was so clever and so articulate. It was crazy how much more  verbal he was than his two year-old peers. He started to talk exclusively to his teachers. He even began to take on the profound stutter of the teacher at his twice-a-week Mother’s Day Out program. His peers couldn’t have a full-on conversation with him, so he decided he would chat up the teacher instead.  The stutter passed, thankfully, but what lingered for me was a nagging feeling that a play-based program wasn’t the right learning environment for my little man. I thought he needed something more.

Several people (including my mom and my mother-in-law, both of whom often offer sound advice) suggested that I look at Montessori schools, so I decided to start there.  

During my first tour, I felt overwhelmed. The director walked me through a mixed age, mixed-skilled classroom, telling me that Montessori was about “experiential learning and supporting independence and autonomy.”  

What?!

Come again?


My 8-months-pregnant brain became cloudy and overwhelmed by what she was saying to me, so instead, I  focused on the children working in the classroom.  I was impressed.  Rather than zipping wildly from one bleeping toy to another, the children were calm. The room was quiet and peaceful. There were activities rather than plastic toys. Instead of an alphabet of animal-shaped letters and distracting cartoony posters littering the walls, the room was decorated like a home with lamps and plants and framed art.  I saw children sitting at little tables, deep in concentration.  I saw two children on the floor poring over a map of the world together. It was clear at a glance that the children were independent and had purpose. I was surprised that it took me several moments to locate the teacher in the room.  She was practically invisible, quietly assisting a child with a box of letters spread out on a table.

As I hoisted my huge, round belly into my car after the tour, tears of joy and relief fell. I knew that some of the tears were hormone induced. Fine. Pregnant women cry at the drop of a hat.  But I was also crying because I knew this kind of school was perfect for my curious and clever kid. 

***

I enrolled my guy into a Montessori school shortly before his third birthday. The classroom was small, warm and inviting. It felt like home.  As I began to learn more about the way Montessori teaching works, I realized something: I was already incorporating many of the foundations of the Montessori philosophy into my parenting style, and I didn’t even know it.

  • I used real language and didn’t use baby talk.  (To this day it bugs me when a parent says “horsey” or “doggie” to their child!)
  • I followed my child’s curiosity and stayed out of the way as he experienced new things. (I offer open-ended questions to lead him to find his own answers and I “help” without doing it for my kid.)
  • I set clear expectations and I allowed appropriate choice. (My husband and I have firm boundaries with our boys and we respect them as much as we expect them to respect us.)

A few years later, I enrolled my second son into the toddler program at a Montessori school.

That’s when I found myself lingering in the coatroom  just after I dropped the boys off.  Parents weren’t allowed in the classroom, so I hung around and asked questions. I wanted to see what was going on in that school! I was jealous that my boys got to go there every day and I had to go to the grocery store, run errands, clean house, and all that boring mom stuff.  I took on any and every task that teachers gave me. I volunteered to Xerox copies, cut paper into booklets, sharpen pencils, organize office supplies, and whatever else they would let me do, just to get an  idea of what Montessori was all about.  The director of the school was so patient with me for several months. She must have thought I was crazy! One day, she handed me a business card for the Montessori training center.

I completed my Montessori certification from the New Mexico Center for Montessori Education in 2012.  I have worked at Hawthorne Montessori school, here in Austin, Texas since I got my certificate.  Both my boys attended Montessori through their kindergarten year.

The parts that are ingrained in me — my parenting style, my core beliefs, my inner voice — are what drew me to that Montessori school building. I found the building. But I think parts of the Montessori way of life had me all along. I just never knew it.  


Please join me on my blog journey next time as I explain what Montessori calls “Practical Life” activities and why they are essential in a child’s development.