The Arbor Blog

Grace and Courtesy in the Montessori Classroom

Grace and Courtesy Beyond Please and Thank You


By P Donohue Shortridge


 A few weeks ago, I arrived at a hotel to check in, only to find that my room would not be ready for quite some time. There had been a pop concert nearby the night before, attended mostly by moms and their teenage daughters. Apparently, the moms spent their after-event time at the bar, while their teens proceeded to trash their hotel rooms, blast loud music, and run wild in the hallways until 3:00 a.m. The next morning, housekeepers were overwhelmed by a tsunami of debris: lipstick on mirrors, teepeed beds, and wet trash everywhere. As I sat in the lobby con­templating this uncivilized behavior, I asked myself, How does this happen?

Parents want children to be polite, kind, and civilized. But what does it take to foster that outcome? Mam­mals, especially humans, are social learners. We gain knowledge from our environment and from other people, especially from those whom we love. Unfortunately, we learn both antisocial as well as pro-social behaviors by watching others.

So if there is anything you want your child to know how to do, or a way you want him or her to behave, you should first model it, then show him or her how to do it, offer lots of opportunities for practice, and finally, hold the child accountable.

First, modeling: In the early years of life, we learn mostly by taking in the sensorial impressions of the world around us. A series of neural connections helps us imprint that which we see. The child watches what other people do and attempts to do it too. Research has shown that mimicry increases pro-social behavior in very young children (Car­penter, Uebel & Tomasello, 2013). If you want your children to wait their turn to speak, do that yourself. If you want your children to stay at the table during dinner, turn off your cell phone and stay seated yourself.

Second, practice: Think about what you want your child to learn—every­thing from when and how to say “excuse me,” to carrying on a phone conver­sation with Grandma, to holding the door open for someone with an armload of packages, to conducting oneself at a restaurant, in a theater, on an airplane, and at a hotel. Take it slow; you will have many years to inculcate these habits. Start with simple daily activ­ities: “In our family, when we need to sneeze, we sneeze into our sleeve. Watch me. Now it’s your turn.”

Other examples include: For a young child—pushing in one’s chair after getting up from the table. For an Elementary-age child—lessons on how we treat those different from us.

After you have modeled and prac­ticed, hold your children account­able. If you use inductive statements, it will help the child discover for himself how to make the correction.

Some examples:

For young children—“When you go back to the table and push in your chair, then you may be excused.”

For an Elementary-age child—“Before we go over to the neighbor’s house to apologize for that bullying incident, you’ll come up with how you will make amends, which, as you remember, is part of apologizing.”

Finally, remember that your children really do want to learn all this. It’s how they feel competent and socially adept.

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Nurturing the Spirit

Here in North Bend in this pocket of nature and beauty, it is easy to see and nurture the wonder already present in our learners. With Mt. Si in the back-drop, visiting birds and squirrels, and daily worm hunts in the garden we can take the time to appreciate our surroundings. However, as an educator, the task of nurturing the spirits of these little beings can seem quite overwhelming. As Aline Wolf tells us in her book of the same title, 

"Our task as spiritual nurturers becomes easier when we realize that we do not have to instill spirituality in the child, we have only to protect it from being trampled and nourish its natural growth."

Dr. Maria Montessori states that if we can meticulously create an environment with this in mind, we can reach and therefore nourish the spirit of the child. At Mt. Si Arbor Montessori School, this is our goal. 

We cannot discount this importance of reaching this goal daily. Yes, we want our learners to reach their academic goals and they do with the use of our hands-on Montessori developed math, language and geography materials. But what we are speaking of here goes much deeper than that- we delve in to the development of compassion, forgiveness, honesty, kindness, and love.This is what we are referring to when we say the nurturing of the spirit within our prepared indoor and outdoor environments. This is an education for life. 

We invite you to come see this for yourself. Our toddler and primary classrooms are always open for observation with an appointment. 

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Open House Event!

Join Anne Granderson, Positive Discipline Educator and mom of four, for an Intro to Positive Discipline. During this 2 hour session we'll dig into what it means to raise children in a way that feels RESPECTFUL and EFFECTIVE. You will leave with a framework for parenting with firmness AND kindness that will strengthen parent-child relationships, foster independence and confidence, and bring more ease and joy to your family life.

To register for this FREE event visit: 

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