Grace and Courtesy in the First Plane of Development

Ever wonder how a classroom of 28 (or more) children, each engaged in their own activity, remains a calm and orderly environment? How do Montessori guides elicit appropriate behavior in their students? Lessons in Grace and Courtesy (another Montessori Buzzword!) account for much of this reality. Today, we’ll share with you what we mean by “grace and courtesy” in a Montessori classroom.

Grace describes the harmony of our own mind and body. Courtesy describes the extension of that grace to others. Through Grace and Courtesy lessons, guides demonstrate and model how to handle certain situations that naturally occur in the classroom environment, which include language and movement.

We will focus on the first plane of development in this blog post, which includes children from birth to six years old. Grace and Courtesy lessons occur in elementary classrooms as well, but take on particular nuances because of the differing developmental needs of the older child. We will look at that age group specifically in a future blog post.

Guides use Grace and Courtesy lessons to show children how to walk around a work rug, how to blow their nose, how to ask for help, or how to greet adults and each other. The lessons are narrow in focus and aim to introduce a specific skill so as not to confuse the child. For example, the guide would introduce separate lessons for offering assistance versus asking for help. Grace and Courtesy lessons are usually presented to a small group of children and at a neutral time after a particular behavior or language has been observed. The guide might notice an issue in the classroom and make a note to present that particular lesson at a later time.

A lesson might look like this:

1. The guide starts by inviting the children to the lesson, “I’m going to show you how to walk around a work rug.”

2. The guide models for the child how to properly walk around the work rug. When the guide demonstrates the movement, they keep the words separate from the action. Because the child is in a sensitive period for language development, their brain will focus only on the words said and miss the action demonstrated, if the two are not separated. As Dr. Maria Montessori said,

“Do not tell them how to do it. Show them how to do it and do not say a word. If you tell them, they will watch your lips move. If you show them, they will want to do it themselves.”

3. The guide then invites each child to practice the activity. As always, it is optional for the child.

The guide does not remind the child to put this lesson into practice in a real-life situation. If pressure is applied to the child to perform these activities, children can develop negative feelings towards the lesson and avoid the behavior we seek. Ideally, the activity will be recalled spontaneously by the child when they notice what is required and are ready to perform the task. They may need the lesson presented again until they choose to demonstrate their knowledge, and the second presentation would be offered as if the first had never happened.

The guide always focuses on the positive behavior she wants to see in the child, as opposed to the negative. In the rug lesson above, the guide would be careful not to step on the rug in her modeling, as that is an action to be avoided. Children tend to copy what they see adults do; thus, guides always model the behavior and conduct they want to evoke in the child.

These lessons can be implemented at home as well. Perhaps you notice the shoes are consistently scattered all over the mudroom and you’d like them to be placed on the shoe rack instead. With your young child, you could take them aside at some neutral time and tell them, “I’m going to show you how to put your shoes on the shoe rack.” Then demonstrate the action you’d like them to practice. Start with your shoes on your feet, model taking them off and placing them nicely on the shoe rack. Ask your child if they’d like to try. It’s fine for them to say no. Watch and see if this positive behavior starts to show up more in their day-to-day routine and make sure you model this action consistently for them, as well.

The child instinctively wants to be like the adults they are with and to do the right thing. These lessons give the child the opportunities to practice and perform these appropriate actions in their own time, without introducing shame. This brings the child feelings of security, competence, and joy to know what to expect and what to do in each situation in which they find themselves. As Dr. Montessori said,

“A child who becomes a master of his acts through repeated exercises of grace and courtesy, and who has been encouraged by the pleasant and interesting activities in which he has been engaged, is a child filled with health and joy.

We Are VdM: Jaxson Morrow

The very best part of Villa di Maria is our people. Our community of families, faculty and staff is something to be proud of. In this series, We are VdM, we highlight the energies, talents, humor and wisdom of some of our amazing people. Today, we’ll get to know Jaxson Morrow, Lower Elementary (Checkerboard) classroom assistant. Wherever he goes, Jaxson brings his friendly vibes and keen intuition with him. A favorite with the campers, we knew Jaxson was a keeper ever since we first met him as a counselor at our summer camp. We couldn’t be happier about his return to VdM, now as a classroom assistant, where his warm and supportive presence enliven the environment daily.

What brought you to Montessori/Villa?

What brought me to Villa was first starting at Camp Pegnita. I worked two summers at Pegnita, and it was the best time at a job I ever had. I looked forward to going every day. I genuinely had so much fun, coming up with games, doing the all-camp events and just getting to know the kids. When I decided to take a gap year from school during my Spring 2023 semester I reached out to Ms.Megan, one of our camp directors, to see if Villa had an opening for the next school year. My aim was to gain experience in the classroom to see if I wanted to pursue education for my degree, but also to experience the Montessori approach first hand. Before all this, however, I went to high school at Rockwood Summit in Fenton. Next, I went to pursue a degree in Civil Engineering at Mizzou, where I discovered that I didn’t like math as much as I should have for any engineering profession.

What is something you love about the Montessori approach?

My favorite thing about the Montessori approach is the fact that almost all of the learning is hands-on, something that I so wished I had when I was in school. I specifically remember one day when Ms. Megan demonstrated the Rack and Tubes lesson for me, and I was mind-blown by how easy it was to understand and how it connected with other lessons such as the Bead Frame or the Checkerboard. Another aspect of Montessori that I think is amazing is the amount of independence each child gets for their education, the ability to choose what they want to work on, and how they can naturally progress at their own rate academically is so fascinating to observe.

What is your favorite thing to do on the weekend?

My favorite thing to do on the weekend is to spend time with my friends and family whether it’s playing a video game with my little brother and sister, going to dinner at my parent’s house, or visiting my friends in Columbia.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

My favorite book as a child was The Hunger Games. I’ve always been a huge fan of dystopian worlds, and these books have amazing world-building to where I could feel like I was there and experience the world.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Growing up I wanted to be a variety of things. I was interested in everything! I would look up at the stars and want to be an astronomer, watch a documentary about the Great Barrier Reef, and then decide to be a marine biologist. I’d see the mountains and want to be a geologist or visit a big city and want to be a city planner or an architect. I never could make up my mind until now.

What is a favorite memory/quote so far from the classroom?

So far this year I have many, many quotes and memories from the classroom. My prime source of comedy is from the classroom. So far this year the best quote was from subbing in an upper elementary classroom when one of the children came up to me and said “Mr.Jaxson, did you know farts are like feelings, if you hold them in they can hurt, and if you let them out they can be messy.” Promptly after I heard that, it became my life motto. Truly I have never heard anything more accurate in my life and it made me laugh.

The Re-Birth of the Second Plane Child

The start of the academic year is always a joyful, exciting time with the reunion of old friends and welcoming new ones. Many children returned to their familiar classroom environments and communities of children and guides, while other students made the transition to their brand new community. Today we’d like to discuss the transition between the Children’s House environments (3-6 years old) to the Elementary (6-12 years old). This is the most significant transition that happens here at Villa di Maria Montessori, because it encompasses a shift from the First Plane of Development to the Second Plane. Dr. Maria Montessori used this framework of the Four Planes of Development to describe the journey each child passes through from birth to adulthood. Read more about Dr. Montessori’s Four Planes on this past blog post 

As parents, witnessing this shift in characteristics of their child from the First to Second Plane can be a bit surprising and often results in the need for readjustments in the household/family life. Dr. Montessori believed this transition was so momentous that she called it a re-birth. Our annual Montessori 202 presentation was born out of the need to help parents successfully navigate this important transition. Our guides do a tremendous job presenting crucial information during this yearly Parent Talk and we’d like to share some important pieces for those of you that are looking to the future or wanting (needing!) a refresher. If you know what’s ahead, it’s easier to adapt and embrace the changes that emerge.  

Second Plane Characteristics  

Children begin to transition to the Second Plane of Development around the age of six years old. It doesn’t magically happen on their sixth birthday or at the end of their Culminating year in the Children’s House. Gradually you will begin to notice some of these characteristics revealing themselves in your child as the transition to elementary grows near.  

Fearless and Tough  

The second plane child is strong physically. The first plane child tends to be more susceptible to illness, as does the adolescent (12-18 years old). The elementary child is more daring and adventurous and doesn’t want a fuss made over an injury, like they might have when they were younger. Within safe limits, it is beneficial to allow the child to take these bold leaps and bounds in order to build their confidence.  

Messy 

The elementary child tends to be a bit messy and untidy, generally speaking. They no longer have the urge to order their external environment because they’ve internalized that order. They are now focused on ordering their mind. You might notice this trend affecting their personal hygiene as well. They might lack awareness of the dirt on their hands or the changes in their body odor, so they need gentle and firm encouragement to continue regular handwashing and bathing or showering. Please see more ideas further down in this post for assistance with household cleaning and organization.  

“Why?”  

Dr. Montessori spoke of these years between the age of six and twelve years as the most intellectual of a person’s life. Their brain functions differently than the way it functioned throughout the first plane, where they had the power of the Absorbent Mind. Now entering the phase of the rational mind, they want to ask ALL THE QUESTIONS about the world around them, and well beyond. Why do the birds migrate? Why is the sun so hot? Why does my family do things differently than other families? We want to invite these questions and explore together to find the answers. Guides seek to connect students with resources (books, safe internet websites, experts in the field) to promote their independence in finding answers in the future.  

Socialization 

Friendships become more important to the child at this stage of their development. In the First Plane, the child was mainly focused on self-construction (i.e. independent movement, development of language, eating, putting on shoes, etc.), and now, in the second plane, the child must begin to take their place in society at large, well beyond the home and the classroom. We encourage and support the “Going Out” in our elementary community because the classroom is no longer sufficient to satisfy the needs of this intellectual extrovert. To learn more about “Going Out”, check out this past blog post. Parents can support the expression of this characteristic by providing opportunities for the child to accompany them into society (i.e. taking the lead in paying at the cash register or navigating directions to the store).  

Justice  

During these years, the children develop a strong awareness of morality and justice. Their conscience emerges more clearly as they explore their sense of right and wrong. This might express itself as tattling or reporting as they seek to understand what is acceptable and what is not. Guides in the classroom notice this particularly around the ages of  6 ½ – 8 years old. Initially, the intent may not be to get others in trouble, but merely to know if the guide will accept this behavior. Guides respond in a way that helps the child begin to set their own moral compass, confirming whether the behavior is right or wrong, but not necessarily intervening to stop the behavior right away (unless safety is a concern). In this way, the guide addresses the moral need of the child, without reinforcing a pattern that could develop.

Hero Worship 

Along with the sensitivity towards morality, the elementary child seeks out heroes; admirable people to look up to. Guides and parents can help direct the child toward positive heroes and role models through books, stories and relevant current events. We want the children to recognize the true heroes of this world, those who sacrifice for others and work to make our world a better place.  

How to Support your Second Plane Child 

What are the ways you can assist your child smoothly through this transition? First of all, simply being aware of these characteristics will help you recognize that this shift is to be expected and embraced as your child continues on their developmental path. 

In the area of cleanliness, though they won’t naturally care to keep things as tidy and organized, it is still important to have structure and expectations in this area. In the elementary classroom, we give the child freedom to explore their work and to create expressively, but once the work is finished or the work period has ended, we expect them to tidy their spaces, clean the materials and return them to their space ready for the next child to use. Likewise, you might decide at home that there are certain times when projects must be cleaned up or stored away. Perhaps consider implemenmting a cleaning routine before bed or helping tidy the kitchen right after dinner. Elementary age children need assistance with these boundaries to maintain external order because this does not come as naturally for them in this season of their life. Because children in the Second Plane are motivated socially, doing chores together might help them complete a task. Deciding expectations together, as a family, ahead of time will be important as well. Their keen sense of justice will rest a bit if they have some choices in which chores and responsibilities they agree to do.  

Finally, you are supporting your Second Plane child simply by having them at an authentic Montessori school! The elementary environments (including the guides) are specifically tailored to meet the needs of this age group so that they can utilize the characteristics of this season to the utmost. The energies of this deeply intellectual and social period needs to be harnessed, guided and encouraged. What better place to explore all their deep questions about the universe than in the rich, engaging Montessori environment? Because the elementary classroom addresses the social, emotional, and intellectual needs of our Second Plane children, they are able to thrive and reach their potential, becoming their own heroes, and perhaps someday to save the world.  

 

 

 

Going Out in the Montessori Elementary Classroom

 

If you have an elementary child at a Montessori school or if you spend any time on our socials, you probably have heard or seen the phrase “Going Out”. And does the Montessori lingo never end?! It is probably one of the things students most look forward to about being in elementary.  “I get to go explore outside of the classroom!!” Besides being a lot of fun, these opportunities for Going Out serve many purposes for the elementary-age child. Today, let’s deep dive into one of the most-loved, and perhaps most-unique, aspects of the Montessori Elementary classroom, the Going Out.

Going Out is a critical component of the Montessori Elementary classroom (grades 1-6). The Elementary child is in the 2nd plane of development (age 6-12 years) and therefore has unique proclivities and needs. If you don’t know about Montessori’s planes of development, check out the blog post entitled, “Montessori Theory: The Four Planes of Development”. The rational mind of the 2nd plane child is ready to dive into the “Why” behind everything! Why is the sun warm? Why do we have rules in a community? Why do I have to listen to you? Why does my family make different decisions than yours? In the classroom, the child explores their questions through research, reports and larger projects. The Montessori guide connects the child to materials and books in the classroom to further fuel interests, but they must go beyond the classroom to fully satisfy their need for answers. Going Out provides an opportunity for the child to dive further into the research process by visiting a local museum, zoo, library, and the like, to gain real-world knowledge that could not possibly exist in the classroom. Additionally, the classroom guide might connect the child with an expert in the field for an interview.

A second reason for Going Outs is that the child emerges as a social being in the 2nd plane. In the first plane, the child is experiencing their own personal development (learning to walk, talk, and gaining functional independence), but as they enter the 2nd plane there becomes an acute awareness of the people around them and a desire to relate and to connect. The child becomes fascinated by community dynamics, how to belong, and the expectations and guidelines of each community member. Desire outstrips ability at this early social stage and, at first, the child needs a lot of guidance and support from classroom adults to navigate the misunderstandings and disagreements that naturally arise. The social neophyte requires experience in the real world to witness civil adult interaction and to practice taking part in their culture. The child needs opportunities to pay at a cash register, ask for help from the librarian or store clerk, navigate their way around town, and learn the various expectations for behavior in different venues (concert hall vs. basketball stadium). Going Out is a perfect way for our Elementary children to practice how to interact in their society and to develop their emerging social instinct.

Some might say, isn’t Going Out like a field trip? While both experiences take the child outside the classroom, field trips are generally for the whole classroom and are planned by the teacher. For example, the class might attend the symphony or museum exhibit, but those trips are organized and led by adults. Going Out is different in that it is planned and carried out by small groups of students with minimal assistance by the adults. The children gain experience with phone conversations and email correspondence as they plan their Going Out, and they must engage with and navigate their way using maps to find the best route to their location. While at the location, they are responsible for leading the way and communicating with shop owners, docents, etc. Chaperones are present to give support when needed but they allow space for the child to learn from their experience, and even from their mistakes when safe to do so. For example, a chaperone driver will follow directions from the child, even if it means taking a wrong turn, so that the child can have the experience of solving the problem of potentially getting lost.

We are so lucky to have the supportive parent community and staff that expands our ability to take students on Going Outs. These experiences deepen the learning initiated in the classroom and foster the social development of the 2nd plane child.

Dr. Montessori said, “When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them up in cupboards.”

Objects are important for grasping concepts, and we certainly use them in the elementary Montessori environment, but without connecting them to life outside the classroom, we deprive students of deeper learning and the opportunity to find their place in a wider world.