Sunday, December 15, 2013

Teaching Grace and Courtesy to a Toddler: Our Homemade Manners Book

     In lieu of a totally Christmas focused unit during this season, I opted to embark on a big grace and courtesy push prior to visiting family.  In line with the Dr. Montessori's idea that young children have a strong need for order in their environment (most often notable by a clean and neat space), social graces and acceptable behavior provide young children with clear standards by which to interact with others. These social courtesies also enhance the respectful atmosphere found in Montessori classrooms.  In our house, we have used three methods to teach grace and courtesy: modeling, role playing, and finding examples in books.
Knock on a closed door. (Important for visiting family!)

    Up to this point, we have primarily modeled social graces for Q-ball.  According to Dr. Montessori, this is the most influential way to teach grace and courtesy.  We say please, thank you, and excuse me.  And, we model behaviors like gently opening and closing doors, greeting others, waiting in line, placing our napkins in our laps, expressing concern when someone is upset or hurt, and expressing admiration for other people's work.  Even without any previous prompts or instruction these phrases and behaviors have occasionally slipped into Q-ball's habits (the latter more than the former.)

   Recent holidays provided opportunities for grace and courtesy role-playing. Given that Q-ball's current favorite method of play is pretending, these activities have been a huge hit. Before starting the role- playing activity, I modeled the exact phrases and actions for Q-ball. For Halloween, we practiced how to greet and thank people while trick-or-treating.  Q-ball loved this so much that she actually still asks to play!  And, for Thanksgiving, we held several tea parties to learn basic table manners as well as practical life skills like napkin folding, table setting, and flower arranging.
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

   I've done several posts on books as they are always a favorite in our house.  When I plan a new unit or when Q-ball expresses interest in a new topic, my first stop is always our library's online catalog. Our manners unit was no different, and I checked out every age appropriate book I could find.  Sadly, I wasn't overly impressed with the selection.  Q-ball did enjoy the books, but I was a little more critical. I found many were a little too broad (I don't expect her to master manners from all aspects of life at this point) or too silly (many books were a bit tongue and cheek, making light of bad manners, but this may be a little abstract for a toddler just learning the appropriate social expectations.)
Q-ball enjoying her very own Big Book of Manners

    However, some good did come out of not being able to find a great manners, book, as we decided to make our own! Q-ball was very excited to be in her own "Big Manner's Book" after reading so many others.
Here's what we did:
  1.  Introduced basic social graces through Model, Role-play, Read (see above!): again and again and again and again and again
  2. Make a list of our most important manners: I guided Q-ball through this activity.  I asked her to recall our role-playing activities and what phrases or actions we use in certain situations.  We also went page by page through her manners books, and she identified selected manners using the pictures as cues.  We came up with a list of 12 manners.
  3. Take pictures! I tried to take pictures of Q-ball preforming the action or stating the phrase as it was actually happening.  This was pretty easy to do for table manners and cleaning up, but some pictures (like covering your mouth when you sneeze) had to be posed.  But, posing made Q-ball more excited to see the final book, so it worked out well.
  4. Make a photo book.  I used an online program for our local drugstore, so we'd be able to pick the book up together for more immediate toddler gratification.  This process was a little arduous for Q-ball, so I did this and let Q-ball see the product preview.
  5. Pick-up your photo book and read!


  1. This is great, Amy! Thanks for sharing ... I know it's old - I'm super behind on reading, but I'm so glad to see it now! I pinned the link to bella's casa so I can remember it as we get closer to our littlest ones arrival. I have a gobbi and I made some black and white pictures to hang for E, but neither of my littles would relax alone on their backs, so I didn't end up using either much and therefore didn't bother to buy the rest. We'll see how baby 3 is different from his or her siblings :)

    We did not set up a dedicated nursery for E, even though we had a spare room that could have been used for one. Our bedrooms are upstairs, and our life is lived downstairs, so I knew it wouldn't be used. Instead, I set up a mirror in our living room with a little mat so baby could relax beside it, and I used the Michael Olaf toy hanger for my failed mobile attempts. Our new baby will also have a spot in the living room for his or her first couple of months, and then an infant area in our classroom (Elliot is being kicked out of his 'office' and coming to join the preschoolers in the fall ;) We'll see how it goes!

  2. We loved the bella casa mobiles- crazy how short of a time they get used. I felt like I used them even less because Q became overly interested, so it was a bit of a problem- especially as our stand wasn't as sturdy as a wall mounted one. Maybe you'll have better luck next time!


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