on how to teach grace

There are only few things that give me confidence that I’m doing a good job in raising my girls.

Parenting is difficult that way.  It’s not quantifiable.  There is no blueprint for what’s getting better or what’s getting worse.

But every few days, 4-year old A. sits down for a meal that I’ve placed in front of her.  She starts to dig into her food, and then she looks up at me with her big blue eyes.  “Mommy,” she pauses and looks me straight in the eye, “Thank you for making this wonderful dinner. I love you. ”

I mean, gawsh.  You are welcome, kid.  And thanks for being SO FREAKING awesome.  Would you like cake with that dinner?

Teaching grace is a remarkable thing for young children.  In the midst of learning about superhero’s and princesses, numbers and spelling, they learn the importance of displaying every day acts of kindness and respect.

This is A.’s second year in a Montessori school.  One of the hallmarks of the primary year Montessori curriculum is learning what Montessorians call grace and courtesy.   They are taught through planned lessons to be considerate and respectful towards one another.

For young children, learning how to work and play together with others in a peaceful and caring community IS the most critical life skill they can learn.  They learn everyday social customs, such as how to enter a room, not to disturb another’s work, how to ask if you may join in an activity and how to graciously decline an invitation, table manners, and how to offer an apology.  

grace-and-courtesy-montessori

When my daughter shows me grace and courtesy without prompting, I know I’m doing a good job as a parent.  These life lessons are THAT important for our children.  So why is it we place so little importance in adults acting the same way?

The news is riddled with instances of adults acting without concern or care for anyone else.  A little over a week ago, United Airlines Flight 1462 from Newark, New Jersey, to Denver was forced to divert mid-trip because two passengers got into a fight over legroom. Since then, not one but two additional U.S. flights have been forced to make unplanned landings because of similar in-air squabbles.  

I get it.  Airplanes are getting smaller;  travel is getting more stressful and people want their personal space.  Blah, Blah, Blah. I want my space too. Hell, I can’t even go to the bathroom alone anymore without one – or maybe – two small children, and a dog barging in on me.

But what is more important than personal space?  Respect.  In the young child’s Montessori classroom, children do most of their work on rugs they lay out around the floor.  Talk about personal space all over the classroom.  So as soon as they enter the classroom, children are taught to walk around the rugs, to respect their peer’s workspace, and to wait quietly for their turn.

Why then does it seem to adults that civility and manners are old school?   I’m always surprised (and slightly humbled) when my husband bothers to ask for and remembers the name of every person he meets.   I’m also constantly surprised when I introduce myself to other adults who apologize in advance for being bad at names; and will likely forget mine. Let’s be honest.  That’s not forgetful, it’s just rude.

Technology seems to have made things worse.  A few days ago, I was at a salon and a lady actually had her phone on speaker for a good 20 minutes blabbering away while her nails dried.  She had absolutely no concern for the other people around her.  Are we getting more and more rude? Have we forgotten everything we learned as small children?

And if so, how can we be surprised that our young adults are faced with challenges like bullying in our schools? How can we expect them to display acts of kindness when we model no better?

Teaching and practicing grace on a daily basis is a kindness we do for ourselves and our community.  Our children learn this as one of the first lessons they are taught in school.  Hold the door for your peers, shake hands and say good morning, say please and thank you, look people in the eye and wait patiently.  We would do well to remember and practice them as adults.

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