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Grace and courtesy is often used to mean either rules or manners, or mannerly following of the rules. There are many lists out there about the grace and courtesy lessons that should be presented in the beginning of the year, making it seem to be a “one and remind” lesson. Yet, with not much thought we can see that grace and courtesy lessons need to be given throughout the year, need to be role modeled always, are presented based on observation, and fall into different categories. Dr. Montessori reminded us that, “social grace, inner discipline, and joy. These are the birthright of the human being who has been allowed to develop essential human qualities.” The Secret of Childhood (1966, xvii).

To help our students and our children develop the inner-discipline Dr. Montessori spoke of, grace and courtesy lessons need to be given throughout the year and in a multitude of ways. We start the year with a list of basic lessons, which need to be presented so that we may function as a group, and we present them again when there is going to be a change. In the beginning of the year, we present how to knock on the door and wait for an answer if the bathroom door is closed; this helps the class or family function with greater comfort. If we are going to see a live performance, a series of lessons would be given on entering the performance area, showing respect during a performance, and how to show your appreciation of the performance. What is sometimes forgotten is that in between these events, we should be regularly presenting lessons that build upon those we previously presented.

When a child pulls a third chair up to a two-person table to work with one friend, and the third child complains, you have the perfect opportunity for a grace and courtesy lesson rather than a reminder. It is easy to say, “Chair Mover, do we move a new chair for a table in this class?” A new lesson involves working with the left-out child. Starting with an acknowledgement, “I see it bothers you that Chair Mover is working at the table. What is happening?” When the child tells you the others are talking too much, or taking up the workspace, or simply that the chair doesn’t belong there, you may help them figure out how to speak to the other students. Asking, “What could you say to them to let them know how you feel?” You can help the child figure out a courteous way to ask the other children to help solve the concern. Admittedly, this is the slow way it would be faster to remind Chair Mover that this is a two-person table. Pressing our own personal pause button can help us slow down and take the long view when opportunities to present grace and courtesy lessons occur. With a reminder, the table is back to two people with everyone having space for their work. With a grace and courtesy lesson and practice opportunity, a child has practiced a way to respectfully speak up about a perceived injustice, and two children have learned to work with another to solve a concern that one of the three people feels is important.

Grace and courtesy needs to be role modeled by the adults in the school or home for it to become important to all the people involved. Before I had children of my own, I had friends that were interviewing to enroll their son in the only Montessori school on the island we all lived on. They rode their bikes to the interview and a car came close to my friend’s bike, while his son was on the back of the bike. Obviously, he was scared and angry, and he shared this with the driver, calling him some choice names. They got to the interview, and you can guess what the child shared when the Montessorian asked him what he saw on the way to the school. She was just trying to engage the child; instead, she got to present a grace and courtesy lesson. She asked Dad if he had been scared and angry and hinted to him to apologize for his outburst. Dad did and the child learned that they could all learn from mistakes. Being a role model does mean that we consider not sitting on tables or walking around eating unless this is common practice for all in the room; more importantly, it means taking the time to acknowledge actions that we did not want to role model and to change that behavior.


All grace and courtesy lessons should be presented from observation. Sometimes it is developmental, such as our beginning the year whole class grace and courtesy lessons, sometimes they are based on “in-the-moment” needs, and they should also be based on whole-group observation. My teaching partner and I gave a couple of well-received individual grace and courtesy lessons around speaking in a way that respects classmates’ feelings. Yet, as we observed the class and discussed with each other, we noticed that teasing that one person thought was fun and acceptable, was happening regularly throughout the classroom. In more casual conversation with students, rather than formal lessons, we began to talk about the way we talk to others. In our weekly group team-building time, we played some games and did some projects that brought attention to the way our words could help or hurt another person, with or without us meaning the hurt. The multi-pronged approach helped us, as a class, find a balance between joking and inadvertent hurting; yet, without observation for grace and courtesy skills we would have been managing one person at a time, probably never reaching the same balance.

Grace and courtesy are so much more than a set of rules and the manners we demonstrate when we follow those guidelines. It is noticing and caring for the environment, which is one of the first places students can begin to see how their actions affect others. It is helping children become aware of how they are feeling, what is going on inside them and developing language to express these feelings. It is working to develop social awareness, thinking about how your actions affect others and the environment around you, and finding the willingness to give grace to others when their actions affect you negatively. It is using kind and respectful language to express your own feelings and needs to communicate with others. It is bringing the grace of physical action to awareness, how one’s actions affect themselves, others, and the environment. It is being aware of those who may need you to be an advocate or help them take action, in your immediate community and the community at large.

Grace and courtesy do not end at the classroom or school door; it should be a part of our lives in all areas. At home, my time has been allocated differently in the past couple of years. One thing I have been able to do is tend to the roses in my garden with more regularity. I do not trim them, water them, or fertilize them for a greater length of time than I did previously. I just have smaller amounts of time to spend on them more often. Grace and courtesy in the school, classroom, or home works the same way. You don’t need more time over the year, you just need to be more consistent with your time. My roses bloom much more often than they did a couple of years ago, there is nearly always at least one rose in bloom, which I love to see as I walk out the door. With regular attention to grace and courtesy, you will probably find at least one bloom of kindness and consideration every day, most likely a whole bouquet’s worth. •

Cheryl Allen is the Associate Coordinator of the Montessori Family Alliance and is also a parenting educator and a Montessori consultant with the Montessori Foundation. Cheryl attended Montessori school as a child. After some time as a traditional Secondary teacher, she worked in Montessori classrooms, 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12, earning certifications from both AMS (3-6 and 6-9) and IMC (6-12). She is a teacher educator, workshop presenter, and member of IMC accreditation teams. Cheryl’s two children attended Montessori from age two through high school graduation.