Montessori

A Peek at the Montessori History Curriculum

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Montessori elementary classrooms certainly do lots of work with math and language, but they also rely heavily on what is often referred to as cultural studies.  These cultural studies include geography, science, and history, and today’s post will focus on the latter.

Think back to when you first learned anything about history.  Perhaps your earlier lessons were based on holidays we celebrate, or on the political history of the nation.  Later (in high school), you may have been introduced to more about the history of the world and expanded upon earlier learning.

The Montessori study of history is much like all its other subjects: we start with the largest, overarching concepts, then gradually zoom into the smaller details.  With that said, we officially begin teaching history in the first grade, and it all starts with the birth of our universe.

It starts with a bang

Imagine this: one sunny afternoon, very early in the school year, the children come in from recess.  The classroom is dark and soft music is playing.  Second and third year students immediately know there is an exciting surprise in store, and they do everything they can to contain themselves so as not to spoil the magic for the younger children.

The guide is at one end of the large rug, and in front of her lay a series of curious items.  The children sit facing her, with the youngest ones in the front so that they may have the best view.  The guide waits for the children to settle into silence, then begins her story.

She tells of a time when our darkest night would have seemed blindingly bright, and our coldest winter would have been warm in comparison.  She continues into tales of particles forming, connecting, and repelling away from one another.  She incorporates information about states of matter and weights of liquids, giving demonstrations as she speaks.  They talk about the vast quantity of stars in the universe, the incredible distances, and eventually, the formation of earth.  The children hear how the particles on earth heated up and cooled, how the water filled in the crevices, how storms raged and volcanoes exploded (they see a model revealed from beneath a black cloth!), and how eventually all was calm and our planet was ready to support life.

In addition to the scientific view of earth’s beginnings, the children may hear creation stories from cultures around the world in the weeks following.  The stories may be read to them, or they may read them or perhaps even act them out.  They will have a sense that there is always more than one version of history.

Impressionistic lessons

Following the creation story, there are several materials that give the students a deeper understanding of time.  

The Long Black Strip is just that: a strip of fabric that is nearly 100 feet long.  (Dr. Montessori’s original was much longer and had to be unrolled by teachers holding it on a dowel and riding bicycles!).  As the guide unrolls the strip she talks about the beginning of the earth, how the planet changed over time, the coming of the first single-celled organisms, early plants, the evolution of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals.  By the time she gets to the end of the fabric the children will notice a tiny strip of fabric at the end, just a fraction of an inch wide.  She tells them that this tiny strip represents the time humans have spent on earth.  This can be an amazing lesson, even for adults, when they see it for the first time. What a concept to grasp! 

The Clock of Eras gives the children their first look at how life began to evolve over the course of time.  Earth’s geologic time periods are represented as if all of our planet’s history were on a 12-hour clock.  The circle chart shows representations of the various eras via colored pie slices.  Check out this fun stop motion video made by some Montessori students:

Time through an evolutionary lens

The Montessori guide may introduce various timelines in the classroom to spark curiosity among the children.  Through a series of discussions, research, reading, and other activities, children learn about the evolution of life on earth.  This history work connects directly to a large portion of the lower elementary science curriculum, which is based in botany and zoology.  

These lessons, oftentimes stemming from a material called the Timeline of Life, give children a deep understanding of the connection between our physical world, the living things on it, and how species have changed throughout history.  

Human history

As you may have noticed, human history is not the focus in the Montessori curriculum.  It is important however, and an emphasis is placed on how humans have changed over time and to the various contributions different groups of people have made.

Much like the Timeline of Life, many Montessori classrooms use a timeline of early humans.  There are also several other areas of human historical study that are covered, oftentimes connecting children to other areas of study in the classroom:

  • The history of writing

  • The history of mathematics

  • How different civilizations have met the fundamental needs of humans

As a final note, you may be wondering why Montessori schools begin teaching such deep concepts at such a young age.  Our reasoning lies in the readiness of the children and a deep respect for the elementary child’s capacity to grasp larger concepts.  Our methods rely less on what has been traditionally taught to children in schools (as well as the traditional timing), and more on what is developmentally appropriate and engaging to children.  We know that elementary aged children, even those as young as 6, are incredibly eager to learn about the world and their place in it.  By giving them a larger historical framework in which they can place the immense amount of historical, geographic, and scientific information they acquire, we are providing them with a better understanding of themselves and the world (and universe!) around them.  

Curious about our methods?  Want to learn more?  Please contact us with questions or to schedule a visit today.

Montessori Basics: Respecting the Child as an Autonomous Person

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The title of this post may seem a little unnecessary.  You may be thinking, “Of course the child is an autonomous person, and of course we respect that!”  If you are here reading this, chances are you care deeply about your child’s education, and more importantly, you care about your child as a person.  When it comes to parenting, however, our inclinations are often to protect and guide.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this (in fact, we can all agree those are our critical tasks), but our good intentions can sometimes get in the way of our child’s individual path.

You’ve probably heard Montessori guides talk about how we “follow the child”.  What this means is that we suspend our own assumptions about how things ought to be done and instead observe the child to see what they actually need and/or want.  Sometimes we forget that children are capable of doing more than we realize, or that they have interests that are vastly different than our own.

We want to show our children that we trust them.  We trust them to learn, to do things for themselves and for others, and we trust that they know what they need.  

What does this look like in the classroom?

As a teacher, especially if one is trained in traditional methods prior to discovering Montessori, there is a sense that we are obligated to engage with the child at all times.  Our society leads us to believe that stepping back and allowing the child to work without us must mean that we are not doing our jobs.

Dr. Montessori, however, had other ideas.  She said, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”

We want to guide the children in such a way that they are eventually able to direct their own learning.  Our job is to present new material in a way that drives curiosity rather than conveying ready-made answers.  We want to create a classroom environment that supports each child in every stage of development to do as much for themselves as they are capable of doing.

When a child doesn’t need us?  We consider that a win.  Of course, as they grow they will need help in other ways, but the long-term goal is to gently help them reach their potential as they work toward adulthood.  We want them to trust themselves and their abilities, so we show them that we trust them.

Some examples of what you may see in a Montessori classroom that honors a child’s independence:

  • Open shelves at an appropriate height for the children using them.

  • Real (not toy), child-sized cleaning supplies like dustpans, brushes, sponges, buckets, and mops.

  • Clearly defined spaces to store personal belongings on hooks and shelves that the child can easily access.

  • Freedom to use the restroom whenever the need arises, without having to ask permission.

  • Snacks and water available to serve oneself whenever the child feels hungry.

  • Freedom to choose work that feels important and meaningful.

  • Freedom of movement; children may sit wherever and with whomever they like.

  • Work occurring at an individual pace. Children are not expected to all learn the same thing at the same time, but rather progress through skills at a pace that is right for them as individuals.

  • Children using materials that are not typically seen in other settings: glass cups and containers, knives for cutting, and so forth.

What might this look like for families?

Some moments to consider: 

  • Let your child (even your toddler) choose their own clothing. Perhaps you wouldn’t pick the cow-print pants and the polka-dotted dress, but does that make the choice any less valid? Relish in their delightfully unique sense of style! It’s okay to set some parameters; for example require pants instead of shorts on a cold winter day is perfectly reasonable.

  • Show your child how to do something rather than just demanding it be done. Remember, even if you have shown something once (or even five times), learning requires repetition. For example, instead of telling your 6-year-old to make their bed, give them a short lesson on how to do so.

  • Consider your child’s physical autonomy. Don’t force them to hug and kiss relatives if they are uncomfortable. Talk to them about how we are all in charge of our own bodies, and that they have the right to say no (even to you!) if they do not want physical affection.

  • Make sure your child has access to toys and supplies around the house. This might mean having a low shelf in the kitchen stocked with their own bowls, cups, utensils, and even snacks. A designated area in the refrigerator could hold a small pitcher of water, milk, or juice for the child to pour independently. A small dustpan and a basket of rags should be accessible to allow them the ability to clean up their own messes. You will be surprised at how often your child will be motivated to take care of themselves rather than asking you to get or do things for them.

  • Create routines. If your child knows that in the morning they are to use the toilet, wash their hands, brush their teeth and hair, and get dressed, then they know what to expect every single day. Support them with reminders as long as they need it. Some families find a visual reminder helpful - a small note can have a list with words or pictures to keep the child on track.

  • When the urge to intervene strikes, remind yourself to pause and observe. When we see our child struggle it’s natural to want to help, but jumping in and fixing their problems all the time does little to convey that we trust they can do it for themselves. If you see their frustration building, try saying, “I’ll be over here if you need anything.” They will ask if they really need you.

Questions?  Interested in seeing one of our classrooms in person?  Contact us today.  We would be happy to help!

Montessori Basics: Sensitive Periods

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A child learns to adjust himself and make acquisitions in his sensitive periods. These are like a beam that lights interiorly or a battery that furnishes energy. It is this sensibility which enables a child to come in contact with the external world in a particularly intense manner. At such a time everything is easy; all is life and enthusiasm. Every effort marks an increase in power. Only when the goal has been obtained does fatigue and the weight of indifference come on. When one of these psychic passions is exhausted another area is enkindled. Childhood thus passes from conquest to conquest in a constant rhythm that constitutes its joy and happiness.
— Maria Montessori

Dr. Montessori spoke and wrote about her discovery of what she called sensitive periods for learning.  Simply put, they are periods of time in a young child’s life in which they are primed to practice and master certain skills.  During these sensitive periods, a child craves this practice intensely, and can concentrate on the work deeply and in ways that sometimes surprise us as adults.  Once they have engaged in enough repetition over time, they master the skill, become bored, and move on to whatever is next.

Montessori’s sensitive periods stretch throughout childhood.  It is important to recognize that learning is not linear or standardized.  Different children will arrive at different developmental stages in their own time.  What Dr. Montessori did notice were strong patterns among the children she observed.  The following is a guide to what you might expect: 

Birth to age 1

Sensory learning

Babies interact with their environment in an effort to refine their many senses.  This learning continues throughout early childhood, and Montessori classrooms are equipped with specialized materials that appeal to the child who is seeking such practice.

Verbal language

In the early months of a child’s life, they are listening to the language of others around them, attempting to make sense of sounds, patterns, and inflections.  They derive meaning from the speech of those older than themselves even before they are able to speak.

Ages 1 to age 4

Continued sensory learning

Development of speech (typically until around age 3)

We all know and love this stage!  Toddlers work so hard to communicate verbally for several years, eventually getting to a point where they can be understood.  Afterward they continue building vocabulary.

Continued verbal language

Motor coordination (both fine and gross)

From body control and movement (running, jumping, skipping…) to manipulation of small tools (think holding a pencil, cutting with scissors, sewing, etc.), these three years involve a lot of work on the child’s part!  Their bodies are growing, their muscles are developing, and they are generally having a blast in the process.  

Ages 3.5 to 4.5

Writing

Children at this age are ready to begin the work that will help them become writers.  They will learn to hold a pencil properly, to draw lines carefully and intentionally, and to form shapes that lead to cursive and print letters.

Ages 4 to 5

Continued sensory learning

Continued verbal language

Continued motor coordination (typically until shortly before age 6)

Reading

At the beginning of this sensitive period, the child is understanding sounds and blends.  They then move on to reading simple words, more complex ones, and eventually stringing them into sentences (which may come a bit later).

Mathematics 

During this time the child is preparing to learn basic math skills, and eventually mastering them.  They develop a sense of numeration, place value, and operations, among other important skills.

Ages 6 to 12

Social development

During the primary years children often engage in what is referred to as parallel play, when they sit beside one another but focus on their own agenda.  In the elementary years, there is a definite shift; children crave the company of their peers.  They want to sit together, talk together, work together, and learn from each other.  They learn the many benefits of friendship while also developing skills to resolve conflict and work together as a group. They learn the delicate balance between the needs of the group and their individual needs. 

Understanding and interest in justice and morals

When children at this age have recess time, adults commonly report that most of the time is spent by the children developing the rules for the game, with far less time being used to play the game itself.  They are very interested in making sure things are fair, and they are at the perfect age to learn about character development and how we should treat one another. 

Imagination

Children at this age use imagination not just as a fantasy world, but as a vehicle in which to place facts.  Storytelling used to teach information is particularly useful at this time.

Interest and understanding in human history and culture

Now capable of thinking of more than themselves, elementary-aged children are keen to learn about the origins of humans and the various ways we live around the world and have lived throughout history.

Interest and understanding of the history and evolution of the universe

Much like their interest in humans, children at this age are curious about the universe and everything that resides in it.  They are fascinated by creation stories, both those told from a modern scientific perspective and those that reflect historical cultures around the world.  They are also the perfect age to learn about the evolution of life on earth.

As adults, our task is to be aware and supportive of children’s sensitive periods.  When we notice the deep focus or repetition beginning, we can give children the space, time, and support they need to practice and engage with whatever skill they are working on.  We must let the magic they’re feeling ignite while they learn, for once a sensitive period passes, the child will likely never feel quite as motivated in that particular area again.  Montessori classrooms strive to create environments that guide children to dive deep into their sensitive period work, no matter how old they are.

Curious to see what this looks like?  Contact us for a tour today!

A Montessori Mini-Dictionary

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Dr. Maria Montessori created her methodology over a century ago, and those of us who study her work and practice her ideas know it really works for children, even all these years later.  Like any specialized approach or body of work, Montessori education incorporates unique terminology.  Curious to learn more about what we mean when we say normalized, concrete and abstract, or false fatigue?  Read on to learn more (and bookmark this post for future reference)!

Casa dei Bambini

This was the name of the first school Dr. Montessori opened in Rome, Italy.  It translates to children’s house, and references a Montessori class for 3-6 year olds.  Other names for classes for this age group include casa, primary, children’s house, or early childhood.  Casa classes are a combination of preschool and kindergarten.

concrete & abstract

Dr. Montessori believed that “the hand is the instrument of the mind.”  She understood that children learn best by doing first and internalizing later.  In Montessori classrooms, we give children specialized learning materials that they manipulate with their hands to begin grasping various concepts.  Over time, they use materials that are less concrete, and require more abstract thinking, until they are eventually able to master a skill without the use of any material at all.   

control of error

One hallmark of a Montessori education is supporting children to become independent learners.  Most of the materials children use in our classrooms incorporate a control of error; that is there is only one way to correctly use the material.  If a child uses a material incorrectly, they will not be able to complete the activity, and will understand they have made a mistake somewhere along the way.  An opportunity is provided naturally: instead of a teacher correcting a child and telling them what to do differently, the child is able to self-assess and determine what changes they need to make on their own.

cosmic education

During the elementary years, children begin seeking out answers about the universe and their place in it.  It is our job to provide children with lessons and experiences at this age that aim to satisfy their curiosity, and to give them a deeper understand of the interconnectedness of all things.  We call this broad study cosmic education.  Elementary classrooms use special impressionistic lessons to inspire children as they explore concepts such as the creation of our universe, the evolution of life on earth, the evolution of humans, and the origins of math and language.

Erdkinder 

This was the name Dr. Montessori gave to her ideas about education for adolescents.  The German word for Earth-Children, she felt we should focus less on testing and college preparation and more on self-sufficiency.  Erdkinder programs are traditionally run as farms that serve as micro-economies, with the students running and managing all aspects of operations.  Today, some Erdkinder programs interpret the ideas differently, with students running a variety of small businesses themselves.  Traditional learning is also an element of the program, and real-life experiences are often closely connected to any classroom experiences.

false fatigue

In Montessori classrooms we set aside a large chunk of time (3 hours for children 3 years of age and older) each day in which they receive lessons and work independently.  (Learn more about this in the definition of work period below.)  At a certain point during the course of this time, an adult observing will begin to notice the volume in the classroom beginning to rise, social activity beginning to increase, and an apparent decrease in productivity.  Our task is to pause, wait, and watch for the flow of the room to return naturally to its previous state.  We all need a break once in a while, and it is normal to expect that children will, at some point, need to step away from the work they have been deeply engrossed in.  In the long run, this false fatigue break actually allows them to be more productive and focus better once they return to their work.

grace & courtesy 

This phrase is applied to the approach Montessori schools have when teaching children how to interact with others.  Manners play a part of this work; we explicitly teach children how to say please, thank you, excuse me, and you’re welcome, but it’s also so much more.  We teach children how to navigate friendships, how to resolve conflict, how to express gratitude, and how to share their own feelings.    

guide 

While the term teacher is sometimes used, many Montessori schools opt for the term guide.  Our educators do not stand in the front of the classroom and impart their knowledge upon students in conventional ways.  We don’t feel that our task is to give them information, but rather to lead them toward it so they may discover it themselves.  The term guide is much more fitting.  Another traditional term that is sometimes used in our schools is directress.    

Nido

Nest in Italian, this is the term Montessori uses for the infant program.  Nido classrooms are nurturing and secure, giving babies a safe and comfortable place to begin their exploration of the world.

normalized 

When Dr. Montessori began using this word to describe children a century ago, it was used with a very positive connotation.  When a child is normalized, it means they have embraced to ability to learn independently within the Montessori classroom; they are able to enter the environment confidently, select work that interests them, and complete it with concentration and perseverance.  That is not to say they never feel struggle or frustration, they have simply internalized the expectations of the environment and are joyful learners in the community.

planes of development

As a scientist, Dr. Montessori carefully studied patterns in children’s learning.  Her observations led her to notice specific planes, or stages, of development.  Each plane is marked by very specific differences in the way children view the world and learn from it.  Having this information assists educators in creating environments and utilizing approaches that teach the child according to how they are developmentally prepared to learn.  The first plane includes children ages 0-6, the second plan 6-12, the third 12-18, and the fourth 18-24.

practical life

We make it a point to teach children a range of skills they will need to be successful.  While math, language, and science certainly make the cut, there’s a lot more to life than traditional academic subjects.  Practical life exercises teach children how to clean up after themselves, how to feed themselves, or how to do any number of tasks that are required of us as we grow to become independent humans.  We do not give children pretend food to cook with or play tools; we give them beautiful, sturdy, child-sized versions of the real thing.  This allows them to take this practice seriously, and to know that we take them seriously, too.

prepared environment

This is typically what we use to refer to our classrooms, but the term could actually be applied to just about anywhere.  When a Montessori adult takes special care in creating a space that serves the child in their developmental stage and allows them to explore and learn independently, they have prepared the environment.

sensitive period

During her years of observation, Dr. Montessori noticed that children went through typical periods in which they seemed primed and ready to learn specific things.  While there is of course some variability, Montessori guides know when to expect children to be ready to learn early math skills, beginning language work, gross motor skills, and so much more.  If we introduce a skill too early a child is likely to become overwhelmed and frustrated, if we miss the window, or sensitive period, the child is likely to have lost interest to an extent.

sensorial 

Montessori toddler and primary classrooms provide children with a series of lessons and materials that allow them to refine their various senses.  These are referred to as sensorial materials, and help children learn differences in weight, size, color, shape, scent, sound, and more.

three-period lesson

The three-period lesson is one way Montessori guides present information and assess comprehension.  The first time information is presented to the child, the guide names it.  For example, “This is the gill of a fish.”  The second time (perhaps the same day, perhaps not), the guide will point to a picture and ask the child, “Where is the gill?”  The third, and final period consists of the guide asking, “What is this?” when they point to the gill.  This strategy may be used for presenting and assessing a wide range of skills.

work 

Any time a child is focused on a learning activity we refer to this as work.  This does not mean the child must be writing something down on a piece of paper, in fact more often they are not.  We recognize that work looks different at different ages, and we honor its importance regardless.  

work period/cycle

Montessori schools utilize a three-hour period of time each morning in which children are able to dive deeply into their work.  We recognize that it can take some time to settle into the flow of the day, and giving children this gift of time allows them to fall into stronger patterns of learning and independence.  Older children often have a second work period/cycle during the afternoon.

Preventing Math Anxiety

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Researchers from the University of Cambridge recently released a report following their study of math anxiety in primary and secondary students.  [https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/290514] Their findings illustrate interesting characteristics of children who experience math anxiety, and suggest a potential connection to interactions with teachers and parents.  The interview-based study included 2,700 children in primary and secondary school in the United Kingdom and Italy.  

What researchers discovered

Four general themes emerged from the research:

  1. Girls were more likely than boys to experience math anxiety at both the primary and secondary levels.

  2. An overall perception that math is more difficult than other subjects contributed to developing anxiety.  Children spoke about comparing themselves to others and receiving poor grades in classes and on tests.  This led to a decline in confidence and seemed to contribute to development of math anxiety.

  3. Interactions with adults is a factor.  Children in the primary grades spoke about feeling confused by the variety of methods used to teach certain skills.  Older children felt that negative interpersonal interactions with teachers and parents contributed to their anxiety.

  4. Children in secondary school felt overwhelmed by the transition from primary school.  They indicated increased pressure in regards to the difficulty of math content along with more testing and homework.

What might this mean for Montessori classrooms?

The approach and structure of Montessori classrooms is already so different from that of conventional settings; this may serve as a benefit to students learning about math.  As educators it is critical, however, to be open to new research and dedicated to creating an environment that will nurture our students and their learning in the best ways possible.

We might question: why are girls experiencing greater levels of math anxiety?  It could be beneficial to pay close attention to the girls in our classes and be ready to intervene when markers of anxiety appear.

The children in the study expressed frustration as a result of comparisons with peers.  Montessori strives to create an educational environment that downplays competition and focuses instead on intrinsic motivation.  Not asking students to take tests, not giving grades, and not having a sticker chart on the wall that displays who has memorized their multiplication facts can all help with this.

In Montessori schools we recognize that learning is not a steady, linear progression, nor is it the same for different children.  Students work through a series of materials at their own pace; teachers teach small groups or individuals and reteach as necessary, for as long as necessary, without any pressure to move along a predetermined pace.  

It can be challenging at times to compete among schools that take on more traditional methods.  Montessori schools can feel obligated to offer standardized testing and homework.  It may behoove us to recall the success Montessori has had for over a century without tests or homework.  Most importantly, even while finding a balance, we need to keep our children’s development in the forefront of our decision-making.  One question to ask while implementing something new might be, “Is this new structure affecting our students’ attitudes toward math?”

Of course, as children get older we have a responsibility to prepare them for whatever setting they will transition into.  How might we do this without compromising our ideals?  How can we present homework and testing to Montessori adolescents in such a way that they understand what will be expected of them, while continuing to support them in a supportive and non-competitive learning environment?

What might parents do to help prevent math anxiety?

More research needs to be done to determine how parents can help stave off negative feelings about mathematics.  We have a few ideas to share:

  1. Make a conscious effort to not emphasize your own math anxiety.  It’s certainly fine to share your experiences with children; this allows them to see that we can be successful in the face of adversity and challenge.  The key is to not dwell or allow any residual math anxiety to affect their own perception.  Make sure to avoid saying things like, “I’m bad at math.”  If you hear your child saying something along those lines, you might encourage them by reminding them that they’re not bad at it, it’s just an area that might feel a little more challenging right now.

  2. By all means, engage in math activities with your child!  Just remember to keep them light and fun.  We may have grown up with math drills and rewards for achievement, but a growing body of research is showing us that external rewards are not usually effective.  Math at home should be a fun way for children to see how we use numbers in our everyday lives.

  3. Trust the Montessori process.  This one can be hard.  If you are the type of parent who is actively engaged in your child’s education, you are likely to want to teach them whatever you can.  This is great!  Unfortunately, it can be hard to know exactly when a child is developmentally primed to learn a particular skill.  One common example is parents wanting to teach their child how to add larger numbers.  We believe they could grasp the concept of carrying and doing it all on pencil and paper.  While the child may be able to, Montessori curriculum utilizes materials that allow the child to arrive at such a discovery without the assistance of an adult (and often much earlier than they would typically be taught in a conventional school).  By learning first with the hand and figuring it out authentically, a child is able to understand the whys of number manipulation while simultaneously feeling a sense of empowerment and confidence.  Showing children how to use these specialized materials requires extensive training that all Montessori teachers must complete to become credentialed.  

It will be interesting to see what future research learns about math anxiety in children and how we, as adults, might support them further. 

Have you ever dealt with math anxiety?  What do you think might have made your experience different?

As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions, ideas, or to schedule a tour.

Montessori Basics: What is Grace and Courtesy?

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If you are just beginning to learn about Montessori education, you’ve probably heard the phrase grace and courtesy.  You may be wondering what that means in a Montessori classroom, and why we go out of our way to identify it as something special.

Simply put, grace and courtesy is all about helping children to understand polite social norms.  

As a Montessori school, we understand that even very young children are capable of much more than is traditionally expected of them.  For example, you might picture a preschool classroom in which children are running around or shouting loudly if they are excited.  After all, children of 3 or 4 years of age can’t be expected to have mastered such behaviors yet, right?  

If you were to observe children of the same age in a Montessori classroom, this would not be the case.  Just as with any other skill, Montessori children are taught how to behave appropriately.  This is not to say that they are never allowed to run around and be loud; outdoor playtime is a perfectly suitable environment for those behaviors.  They have simply learned that the classroom is an environment dedicated to learning and concentration, and they must do their part.

Modeling

Grace and courtesy starts with intentional modeling.  Guides, as well as other adults in the building, are very careful about how they behave in front of the children.  When interacting with one another, or when interacting with a child, they are always thinking about showing the children what they hope to see mirrored.  

For example, when a guide sees a child as they arrive at school in the morning, the guide will crouch down to be at the child’s level, look the child in the eye, and say, “Good morning (child),” with a pleasant smile.  

If the guide expects the children not to shout across the classroom, she will not do so herself.  When managing a classroom full of children this can be challenging at times, but we understand that the children are always watching us and learning from our behaviors.

Adults in a Montessori school are always very careful not to interrupt a child’s work.  They have a deep respect for the child’s autonomy, but they are also aware of the power of their modeling.  When adults refuse to interrupt a child’s work, the children learn the importance of doing the same.

Lessons

Aside from modeling, Montessori guides give lessons to explicitly teach grace and courtesy.  They will show the child step by step how a certain behavior or activity is done.  Here are just a few of these types of lessons a child might receive:

  • How to greet one another

  • How to welcome a visitor

  • How to get a teacher’s attention without interrupting

  • How to participate in a group discussion without interrupting

  • How to listen in a conversation

  • How to walk carefully around the classroom

  • How to follow directions

  • How to resolve a social conflict

  • How to unobtrusively observe another’s work

  • How to hold a door for someone

  • How to use polite words such as please, thank you, excuse me, etc.

Older children

As children get older, they may have mastered many of the basics of polite behavior, but they still have plenty more to learn.  There are two main differences as children move into the elementary years:

  1. Most (but certainly not all) of the grace and courtesy needs are related to friendships and social interactions.

  2. They have developed a sense of humor and tend to respond well when guides teach what not to do in a silly manner.

For example, a guide may notice children entering the classroom for lunch in a manner that is less than ideal.  One day during a class meeting, she will address the issue by wondering aloud how we might enter the class for lunch.  She may then act out a variety of scenarios, asking the children if she is going about the task in the right way, including:

  • Running breathlessly through the door to grab the desired seat.

  • Flinging a lunch bag across the room to the desired table.

  • Weaving in and out of other children to get where she wants more quickly.

This is sure to bring on the laughter, because the children likely already know these are not the correct behaviors.  Before the conclusion of the lesson, the children will contribute their ideas and tips for the teacher to try, who will then model the ideal behaviors.  Ideally this exercise would be done just before lunch, giving the children a chance to practice right away.

Throughout the course of the school year, a guide at any level may notice certain behaviors that the children seem not to have learned yet.  Guides consider these teachable opportunities and take the time to give the children lessons.  We find that children are eager to copy our behaviors and follow our lead, we need only to give them the opportunity.

Curious to learn more?  Want to see grace and courtesy in action?  Call us today to schedule a tour.