An example of Grace and Courtesy: children learn how to interrupt politely when a teacher is working with another child—by quietly placing a hand on the teacher's shoulder and waiting patiently.
The Practical Life area is the heart and soul of a Montessori classroom because it helps children assume a responsible place in our society. Children get the opportunity to strengthen the skills needed to accomplish simple tasks on their own with materials that are commonly seen in the home or in other surroundings.
However, there is a critical part of this curriculum that often gets overlooked. It is not tangible like pouring beans from one pitcher to another or sweeping spilled rice into a dustpan. I am, of course, speaking of Grace and Courtesy. The very definition of grace is a “smoothness and elegance of movement, courteous good will, and an attractively polite manner of behaving,” and courtesy is “the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behavior toward another and a polite remark or considerate act.” These lessons are important because they promote polite, responsible, and respectful behavior, and they foster empathy in a world that seems to be increasingly less courteous. Some lessons include saying please, thank you, and excuse me. Others are inviting someone, refusing an invitation, getting someone’s attention, and holding the door. Two teachers regularly model these lessons as a demonstration, and the children are invited to try afterwards. These happen from the first day of school and continue until the last in order to exercise consistency in the way we as teachers expect the students to behave.
When a child holds the door, s/he takes responsibility and shows care for others.
A popular tool for Grace and Courtesy is the Peace Rose, which helps children to resolve conflicts independently. For example, children might use the peace rose if one friend said something hurtful to another, or a friend took a material that someone was already using. First, a child must get their friend’s attention. Then he or she must quietly and respectfully explain why the Peace Rose is necessary. The Peace Rose ensures that only one person is talking at a time, giving each child a chance to speak his or her mind and also truly listen to what the other is saying.
When a conflict arises between friends, a conversation with the peace rose can set things right again.
From greeting a teacher in the morning and observing a friend at work, to offering each friend food during group snack, and walking slowly through the classroom, the skills the children learn will serve them well throughout the three years in their classroom environment and beyond. As Maria Montessori herself said, “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" (The Absorbent Mind).