The dictionary definition of courtesy is…excellence of manners or social conduct, polite behavior; a courteous, considerate act or expression. The manifestation of courtesy is reaching out to other people in a heartfelt manner. There are many opportunities in the Children’s House for the children to experience and behave courteously. The presentations include serving food, observing another child working, welcoming a guest into the environment, moving aside so someone can pass, and introductions.
Civility can be described as behavior that is respectful, considerate, and compassionate. It allows groups of people to live and work together locally and globally, embracing their shared humanity and interpersonal connections. The children acquire civility though the Grace and Courtesy presentations as well as from their observations of the adults interacting with the children and the other adults. It is worth mentioning that at this time, there is a concern for the lack of civility that is manifested in our culture. Sara Hacala has written a book called Saving Civility in which she discusses this lack of civility and what we can do to help solve this problem. She writes,
In a cacophonous sphere, where everyone talks at once but no one listens, where we say hurtful things and do harmful deeds at will without remorse or punishment, and where outrageous exploits are protected by a veil of anonymity, we are fast approaching [a] danger zone. Without any resistance, bad behavior continues to spread, threatening to become the new normal. Enough is enough. (Page 2)
If we think of the social guidelines of our culture, we can understand which Grace and Courtesy presentations are necessary. They are preventive medicine, which allows us to introduce the guidelines for behavior, which in turn eliminate the need for constant correction of behavior.
Naturally there will be conflicts in any community of children or adults. It is important that we provide the children with guidance to resolve their conflicts in a cooperative and respectful way. We must never forget that the experienced children know how to do this, so they will be providing constant guidance to the newer children, through their use of their conflict resolution skills. There are ways we can give Grace and Courtesy presentations that will cover some of the issues that might come up between the children. One way to do this is to offer one that focuses on what we can do if someone is bothering us or our work in some way. This can be done by telling the children in the group that sometimes we want to tell someone else to stop doing something that is bothering us such as stepping on our rug. When demonstrating, have the assistant step on the edge of the rug we are using and then demonstrate to the children what can be said to change this situation in a respectful way. For example, we can say, “Susan, you may not know this, but your foot is on my rug. Will you move it please?” Then this situation can be practiced with the children as with any Grace and Courtesy presentation. At the end, we can ask the children what other things might happen in the environment that would make them want to ask a child to change what he is doing. They will probably offer examples such as touching my work, talking too loudly, or jumping over their rugs during work. Granted all of these issues can be addressed with Grace and Courtesy presentations, but in the meantime, we have given the children a way to address other children that are bothering them one way or another.
There are times when it becomes obvious that children will need our immediate assistance to resolve a conflict. This becomes apparent when children are hitting or pushing each other. (It makes sense that we do not want to give a formal presentation on dealing with these kinds of problems as we do not want to show those behaviors to the children.) When our assistance is required, the first thing we want to do when we get to the scene is stop the children from hurting each other. Once that takes place, we want to check with the child who has been accosted to see if she is all right, and tend to her needs. Then we can turn to the child who was mad enough to hurt the other child and invite him to talk about what happened. If the other child does not agree, she can have a turn to talk about it after the first child is finished. Perhaps there has been some infringement of rights that can be pointed out to the children. So, if for example, one child took another child’s pencil without permission, we can help that child say to the other child that he did not like it when she took his pencil. This might mean that we need to give the child the words to express his concerns, as he may not possess this skill. Of course, then we need to do the same with the other child so that all of the parts of the disagreement are brought to light. Naturally, with each disagreement, the adult will conclude the work with the children with the appropriate guidance. When the children are new to these concepts, the adult will need to spend more time with them during the resolution phase. However, it is sometimes surprising how quickly the children understand and appreciate the negotiation process and become proficient at it. It is also interesting to watch the older children sometimes step in to these situations and play the role of the facilitator. There is no recipe to resolve all of these conflicts. It is up to the guide to use his or her judgment, knowledge of Montessori theory, and understanding of the individual children involved to provide the right guidance.
The Little Community
If we look at all of this social guidance we are giving the children, we can see that it will benefit them in the Children’s House as well as in the larger social context. In the process of acquiring these skills, the children become conscious of the little community to which they belong and are motivated to make contributions to that community. They feel the unity that the shared values of the community provide, and are proud of their contributions. The older children play a large role in bringing this about, and the younger children look to them for guidance. Maria Montessori wrote about this unity and called it social cohesion. In The Absorbent Mind she wrote,