By Ana VanderPol, Primary Guide at The Portland Montessori School
Being in a mini-community brings a lot of opportunities to practice using our words, and helping others learn whatever that may be. Sometimes we are part of another person’s learning. In our classroom, we have been practicing a lot of grace and courtesy lessons, which are basically small role playing games where children practice what to say in different social situations or what to do when something happens. From how to walk safely in the classroom to how to carry a chair when setting up lunch, these lessons vary depending on what I’m observing in the room and happen on a regular basis. Not only that, but because Montessori’s recognition that children’s absorbent minds work like sponges to absorb the world around them, children are eager to know what to say when social situations occur. A few that we practice often include: How to walk around a rug, How to be a silent observer (and not interrupt someone working), How to ask a friend for space, How to ask an adult for help, How to offer help, How to ask for a hug (and that its ok to say “ No Thank you), How to walk carefully in the room, How to ask someone to move politely (Excuse me), How to ask to use the hallway bathroom, How to greet an observer in the Bluebird room and How to ask a friend for help. If you’re looking for a fun activity to do with your child, I would encourage talking through these lessons with your child and perhaps you’ll come up with some for your home (i.e. what to do when you’re on the phone and your child needs your attention. )
Recently, we have also been talking about personal space, (by visually showing them with yarn on the floor in a circle around them) and that everyone has it with them no matter where they are, and that if someone is in your personal space, you can ask them politely to give you space. This has been a grace and courtesy that helps children to know what to say if a friend is touching their body and they don’t like it: “Please keep your hands to yourself.” As we know, young children need lots of reminders and we continue to practice these every week. In general we tend to bring everything back to our classroom rules of: Be Kind. Be safe. Be helpful. Children really want to do the right thing and feel confident when other children listen to their words! They are so proud of themselves when their friends listen. We’ve also been extending this conversation to the playground and how to be a safety ambassador: Someone who is safe and helps others be safe. Empowering children with what to say is just one aspect of how Montessori classrooms are set apart from a traditional setting. We really do educate the whole child so that they can become confident, positive, joyful, contributing citizens of the world.
Another aspect of grace and courtesy that we have been practicing is that instead of saying “Sorry” to teach children to take responsibility for what they’ve done (regardless of intention) by making sure the other child is taken care of. So next time you’re inclined to have your child say “sorry” you might consider the following: First, have your child ask the other child/person, “Are you ok?” Second, if the child/person says “yes” then they can continue on their way. But if the child says “No”, we encourage the child to ask “What do you need to feel better?” It is very sweet to hear children ask for an icepack, Kleenex or even a hug. So many unpleasant social interactions are forgotten after a hug is shared and is very sweet to witness. Teaching children to take responsibility as this young age will no doubt help to create a better world, no matter where they are.
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