“It is interesting to see how little by little, these children become aware of forming a community which behaves as such…Once they have reached this level, the children no longer act thoughtlessly, but put the group first and try to succeed for its benefit.” (Dr. Maria Montessori)
In Montessori, our main goal is to help the child succeed in whatever way possible. When they first enter the community, there is a certain level of expectation for how they are to act. Children are treated with respect, and treat one another as such. This is called Grace & Courtesy. To help orient them to the environment, they are taught basic, or preliminary lessons on how to function in the classroom. They’re given lessons on which works are to be used at the table, or which ones can be used on the floor, where to locate table/floor rugs, the Guide models how to gently close/open doors, how to walk quietly and control ones body while moving about the community, how to ask for help, how to push in a chair, how we walk around our friends’ work, saying “please” and “thank you”, covering one’s mouth when coughing, or saying “excuse me”, and just generally how to act in the classroom. Exercises in Practical Life are also introduced to help the child refine skills necessary to carry out more complex works, such as dish washing, sweeping, dusting, window washing, and so forth.
I get asked quite frequently by newly enrolled families, “Why is my child receiving lessons on how to push in a chair”, or “Why did they spend the afternoon practicing walking on the line? Shouldn’t they be reading, or doing the art works”, or something along that line. These preliminary lessons, are just as important as any other lesson, and build the foundation for how the child will act and work in the classroom for years to come. These lessons are extremely significant to the child’s orientation to the environment. We cannot expect a new child to enter the community, and immediately focus all of their attention and concentration on one work at a time. Especially if they’ve never been in a school setting before. Take “learning to write” as an example. The child will never learn to properly write without first mastering the pre-writing lessons, such as strengthening their large muscles, developing strong hand-eye coordination, then refining their pincer grasp, and then working with pre-writing materials, such as tracing the metal insets, or tracing sand paper letters with their fingers, and so forth. In time, the child learns to master these complex works through muscle memory. Montessori children are patient. Their young minds are extremely absorbent. They have a deep appreciation towards caring for their environment, and those around them, above all else.
Dr. Montessori introduced the exercises in Grace and Courtesy as she observed a young child’s need for order. “Montessori education includes explicit instruction on social behavior in a part of the curriculum called Grace and Courtesy, which are on par with lessons in math, music, and language” (Lillard, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius). Grace and courtesy lessons help the child to have the language required to build confidence and awareness of those around them. They also help the child become a productive member of the classroom community.Our goal is to model these fundamental lessons for the child, and have them repeat the activity in their own successful way. The child needs to participate in these core activities to prepare them for their environment; to learn how to grow into problem-solving, independent, young thinkers.
To initiate perfection at this time of life is an immensely productive piece of educational work: the teacher reaps a wonderful harvest after a minimum of trouble given to sowing the seed. (Montessori, The Discovery of the Child)