Some people forget that love is
tucking you in and kissing you
no matter how young or old you are
Some people don’t remember that
listening and laughing and asking
no matter what your age
Few recognize that love is
no fun at all
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.