Grace and courtesy in the primary school

By Tania Gaffney–Deputy Principal Primary

As ākonga enter into their primary years they become a much more social being; they are also testing limits and are developing their independence.  As a result of this, grace and courtesy becomes very social, a negotiated construct within the community, yet still guided by the adult.

Standing alongside grace and courtesy is another term you will hear in the Montessori community–‘freedom with limits or responsibilities’. The limits or responsibilities are often the grace and courtesies that we need, to be able to get on in society–in this case, our school or class.  Mario Montessori Jr. said of freedom, “One can only speak of a true community when each member of the group feels sufficiently free to be himself or herself, while simultaneously restricting his or her own freedom for the sake of adjustment to the group. It is in seeking an optimal solution to this tension between personal independence and dependence on the group that the social being is formed.”  We can all struggle with this at times! Each area of the school plays its part in helping the child develop him or herself socially.

In primary, ākonga are emerging into independence for the first time, pulling away from adults in their lives and wanting to be with their peers more; looking outside of themselves for the first time, but often with a foot in both camps–self and others., Interactions therefore can be fraught as children begin to figure out and negotiate how they will be with each other. “What Freedoms will I insist on?” and, “What shall I adjust?” or, “What grace and courtesy will I use for the sake of my friends and classmates?” They (and in fact, many people) don’t always get it right especially at the beginning of this journey which is when we need to sit down, talk and negotiate to find a way through.

Much of what we do in the primary years is helping the child, both overtly and covertly to develop their grace and courtesy, e.g.

– setting up and negotiating the class rules at the beginning of the year;
– discussing etiquette around lessons or eating or setting up your work space;
– small role plays by the teacher or children about the many different aspects of class life (humour is often used at this age);
– regular class meetings where issues are discussed and solutions found;
– setting up the community jobs; and
– even when telling stories, we may be expressing gratitude for those that have gone before us.

A great persuader to using your grace and courtesy or thinking about your responsibility in the class is your peers–far more than the adult’s influence. This is why whenever possible so much is done in the social setting at the primary age.