Grace and Courtesy in the Montessori Home of Something Sweet & Neat

Let’s Talk Grace and Courtesy With Something Sweet & Neat

***All the pictures and quoted brown text in this blog are from the account of Something Sweet and Neat. You can check them out on Instagram here or their blog here.

To say we were excited to interview Sandra from Something Sweet and Neat is an understatement. If you’ve seen her account on Instagram or her blog, you know just how beautiful, inspiring, and genuine her account is. ‘Something Sweet and Neat’ follows Sandra’s daughter “A” in their Montessori home. Sandra is a Certified Montessori Early Childhood teacher. Her account offers ideas for learning through play, self-directed lesson inspiration, and at-home learning approaches.

We’ve followed this account for quite some time and were impressed with the Grace and Courtesy that seemed to flow from the screen. We knew we wanted to highlight them so we could share the light they bring into the world. Below you will find an interview we did highlighting how they incorporate Grace and Courtesy in their home.

To begin, Sandra offers a great sentiment to the importance of the Montessori environment. She says,

“One thing that makes a Montessori environment exceptionally unique is the way the children and adults speak to one another and the way they carefully move about. We practice Grace and Courtesy daily in our home, when we are in the social world, and especially in the classroom.”

Montessori is more than just pretty shelves and materials. The emphasis on Grace and Courtesy lessons proves this. When we practice Grace and Courtesy in all areas of our lives, you will see a positive shift in communication, outward action, peace, and harmonious living for individuals, families, and society.

1. Why do you think practicing Grace and Courtesy is important? How have you seen it make a difference in your home?

“Grace and courtesy methods are what makes a Montessori environment special and unique to the rest. I noticed at a very young age with Adelaide, she began interacting with others in a more mature manner. She learns how to interact with others in a respectful way, play nicely with her siblings and other children on the playgrounds, even when engaging with adults.”

Respect. I love that Sandra mentions A’s experience with learning to play with respect. In a world with so much noise and hatred, we are missing on a very fundamental level, the basic respect that each individual deserves. Children and adults alike must be treated with respect. Grace and Courtesy lessons build respect and we can clearly see through A’s example to us that it’s for children and adults of all ages.

Now, let’s dive into what lessons have inspired this beautiful behavior during interactions with others.

2. What are some of your favorite Grace and Courtesy lessons?

“There are a multitude of Grace and Courtesy lessons, from opening a door to mealtime etiquette to blowing your nose.

Our current favorite is introducing Adelaide to the phrase, “Excuse me.” We have lots of tea parties (essentially a snack party), we are learning through play. I usually prepare fruits, dry snacks, and cups of water.

First, I would model using “excuse me”, as in,

“Excuse me, would you pass me a slice of apple please?”.

Then, I would offer her a turn and tell her, “Now it’s your turn!”.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After all, children learn through play. Some other examples of Grace and Courtesy lessons we love are how to solve a disagreement, how to get someone’s attention without interrupting, and how to walk carefully around the classroom.”

So many lessons mentioned and we love them all! Sometimes it can feel intimidating to try and ‘get through’ all the important teaching points for our children, especially when it comes to Grace and Courtesy. There is a lot that goes into it. But I love the method here of learning through play.

Learning through play is important for our children. It’s learning by doing, which they will have far more growth with than being talked at for 8 hours at a desk like in most academic settings.

They also learn through our behavior and actions. Take a peek into Something Sweet and Neat’s home as they discuss this below.

3. How important is modeling when it comes to Grace and Courtesy?

“I always model the behavior I hope that Adelaide will reciprocate.

Grace and courtesy starts with intentional modeling. As parents, we are both very careful about how we behave and interact with one another. I am always thinking about showing her what I hope to see mirrored.

For example, I have a deep respect for her autonomy by always being very careful not to interrupt her work. When I do that, she learns the importance of doing the same. I am very aware of the power of my modeling, because they are always watching us and learning from our behaviors.”

Those are some powerful points. I am so drawn to this statement when she says, “They are always watching us and learning from our behaviors.”  They really are. I will be the first to say that when I model a behavior that isn’t good in front of my child, they pick up on it. They see it. They do it.

I will also say that when I correct my mistakes and begin modeling the behavior I wish to see from my child, my son also picks up on it. We are shaping the future with our actions. Wouldn’t we love to see more Grace and Courtesy in the world and less quick to anger and cause commotion?

Next, we wanted to know what interests sweet A as they have implemented Grace and Courtesy in the home.

4. What things are your daughter drawn to? Or what did she incorporate easily as you began to share lessons with her?

“Adelaide was always drawn to “Order” in her environment. The easiest lesson that was incorporated was how to handle the work rugs. In a world so big, order gives them a sense of control and comfort. When the environment is respected, there is a sense of order.”

Order is everything! I think I can speak for most people when I say that order is an innate need we all have within ourselves. When we create an environment or order, we facilitate a place with more happiness, calmness, and peace.

However order doesn’t mean absolute control of the environment and room for flexible learning or lessons. Our next question to Sandra was how Grace and Courtesy can be taught in an impromptu manner.

5. Do you plan for these lessons or do they come up spontaneously? How does this work best for you and your daughter?

“Many of the Grace and Courtesy lessons arise naturally in our environment. In a day, I typically notice certain behaviors that Adelaide seems to not have learned or mastered yet. These are what we call as guides “teachable opportunities”.

One of the Grace and Courtesy lessons we practice most often in a day is “Walking in the Home”. Beginning around age two, Adelaide was given lessons on walking around her work rug and on a line to practice. One of my goals as her guide at home is to try to help her understand the peace of walking feet brings to our environment. My other goal is to model my walking patterns for her to mirror and follow my lead.”

It’s beautiful when natural opportunities to teach something new arise. I experience moments like these in my own life where out of the blue I am taught something or see something that helps me learn and grow as a human.

And I love this idea of the power of walking. With an athletic and spunky boy, sometimes, peaceful walking seems to be anything but our reality. This is a lesson I think I will start implementing within my own home so we can see the beauty and grace behind this action.

This next question is a favorite of mine and Sandra’s answer is something I think we can all agree is an important part of everyday routines. Keep reading to see what she has to say.

6. Walk us through a typical day in your homeschooling routine…can you share with us how you might incorporate Grace and Courtesy?

“Grace and Courtesy begins early morning when we prepare for the day. For example, our morning exchange typically looks like this:

I will crouch down to be at her level, look her in the eye, and say, “Good morning, Adelaide” with a pleasant smile.

“Good morning, mommy.

“Greeting someone” is exceptionally important to us and we incorporate as many chances of greeting her older siblings and Daddy in her morning routine.

Once she starts greeting everyone daily, it becomes second nature as she learns to be a thoughtful young lady when she’s out in the social world.”

This is so important!!! In an age of technology sometimes greeting people or even acknowledging them can become awkward or difficult for us. Most people would rather look at their phones and avoid eye contact at all costs.

I love that Sandra points out that it will become second nature for A to know how to greet people as she practices this Grace and Courtesy lesson in the home. It’s something we all might need more practice at. A friendly hello, yes ma’am, no sir, thank you etc. never did the world any harm. ;)

Our final question for Something Sweet and Neat ties the whole interview together in a beautiful conclusion of thoughts.

7. Do you think Grace and Courtesy lessons should be given daily? Or at least practiced daily? How easy is it to do this?

“Grace and Courtesy lessons are demonstrated both ways in our home environment. I will present a lesson when I feel like a demonstration of polite etiquette is needed, but for the most part, we practice Grace and Courtesy daily.

Grace and Courtesy lessons or practices essentially help her to understand polite social norms and how to appropriately communicate her feelings. 

In our home, the best opportunity to model this is during meal times through role-play demonstrations given by me and/or her older siblings.”

As “role models” we demonstrate the following:

  • Pulling a chair out
  • Sitting forward
  • Placement of utensils and dinnerware
  • Serving herself and others
  • Cleaning up her area after a meal
  • Restoring dishes to the dirty basin
  • Saying please and thank you
  • Interrupting with “Excuse me”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Children will use Grace and Courtesy lessons throughout their entire lives.  Children are eager to copy our behaviors and follow our lead, we need only to give them the opportunity. By inspiring your child’s home environment with these lessons, they will become second nature as your child grows into a thoughtful and considerate adult!”

Wonderful thoughts to consider as we implement Grace and Courtesy into our homes. We can use everyday routines to teach important life lessons. Like how Sandra teaches several lessons at meal time, we can find ways to naturally teach our children many different Grace and Courtesy lessons through everyday activities.

And we can guide our children toward excellence as we model the behaviors we are trying to teach. Our children will follow our example. Our actions can be some of the best opportunities for learning and growth.

We wanted to give a HUGE thank you to Sandra from Something Sweet and Neat. We are so grateful we had the opportunity to interview you and highlight your amazing account. Thank you for taking the time to provide us with such thoughtful answers.

If you aren’t following Something Sweet and Neat, you need to check them out! You can follow her on Instagram here or her blog here. And again, all of the quoted brown text and pictures above comes directly from Something Sweet and Neat’s account. Thank you Sandra!!

And if you want to learn more about Grace and Courtesy lessons and ideas on how to implement them in your home, check out our other blog article here.

Wonder House of A

Interview Spotlight With Wonder House of A

Our Interview With ‘Wonder House Of A’

The prepared environment is something that we are really passionate about here at iML. Whether in the home or the classroom, the materials in these learning spaces have a specific purpose and are presented to children in a way that allows them to learn independently and at their own pace. A Montessori prepared environment is by nature, child-centered, child sized and promotes independence and freedom of movement. What’s not to love, right?

We interviewed Sara from ‘Wonder House of A’ who shares this same love of the prepared environment. We’ve followed her account for awhile now and it is filled with beauty, inspiration, and the Montessori mindset. We know that as you read through her interview and analyze the beautiful pictures of her prepared home, you will learn from her words and example.

What is the “Prepared Environment”? Why is it important to you?

“The prepared environment as we know is a pillar of the Montessori approach. It was
actually one of the first things that drew me to Montessori. I just loved the
beautifully-prepared, child-sized and simplistic Montessori spaces I came across.
But I quickly realized the importance of the prepared environment was a lot deeper
than the beautiful aesthetics. It is truly a foundation on which us as parents can
encourage independence, offer freedom of movement and choice, inspire learning
and provide a sense of order in our homes. What I love the most about Montessori spaces is that they are designed with the child’s needs in mind. They are typically accessible, organized and inviting; “yes
spaces” by definition. They give the child ownership over her environment and
allow her to develop the competences required to care for herself and her
environment. And on a deeper level, for me as a parent, it tells my child “this is your
space. You matter. You are seen, heard, supported, loved.” And that’s a solid
foundation for a growing, learning, little human I think.”

I wanted to highlight the idea of “yes spaces.” I love the verbiage on this because it’s so important that our children have places that feel safe and comfortable to them. So much confidence and independence can come from an environment that is tailored just for them. And there are so many places we can draw inspiration from. Sara has wonderful suggestions below!

Where do you draw inspiration for your prepared environments at Home?

“When I was just starting out I certainly drew inspiration from Pinterest and
Instagram accounts by more experienced Montessori moms. I was fascinated by
how beautiful and inviting some of the spaces were and how at ease and confident
toddlers looked in those environments. And I felt this strong urge to re-create that
feeling for my daughter.

Since starting my journey and delving deeper into Montessori though, I realized my
child and our own family life is my best inspiration. Every child is unique and on
their own individual developmental path. The spaces we create as well as the
materials we offer our children should cater to their unique interests and to our
particular living conditions and family life. This means that Montessori can look
different from one home to another. What works in one household may not
necessarily work in another. And that’s OK. Montessori shouldn’t have to be an all or
nothing approach.”

What beautiful and thought provoking words. She mentioned the Montessori isn’t formulaic and rigid by nature but rather is something to be catered to each family and family member. I love this idea of supporting our children and the family through Montessori. It reminds me of a beautiful talk by Joy D. Jones. In it she says, “When we Strengthen the child, we strengthen the family.” The Montessori approach does just that!

 

Where and what kind of materials did you need for these spaces?

“Like many parents starting off on their Montessori journey the first thing we did
was purchase a set of shelves to display her toys. Before that we had all of her toys
out at once and it would get pretty messy. We uncluttered her play space and
started rotating toys according to her interests. This really set the tone for a new
chapter when it came to play and learning. Having the materials displayed on low
accessible shelves, a few items at a time, seemed to stimulate interest, focus and
continued practice, and made it easier for me to observe what was actually
capturing her attention.

After that we set up her floor bed and the reading corner in her bedroom when she
was around 13 months. The rest of the spaces followed gradually. Rather than
having a playroom we opted for areas – “prepared environments” – in most rooms of
our home so that she would be free to move around and this has worked really well
for us. She is now 26 months and we have a few prepared spaces in our home:
In our kitchen, my daughter has her own functional kitchen with her dishes and
utensils, cleaning supplies, a child-sized table and chair, and her learning tower. This
is where we do most of our practical life activities.

In her bedroom she has a floor bed, toddler wardrobe, self-care station, shelf and
reading corner. It’s her own little world where everything is accessible to her.
In our living area we have another set of shelves, an art space and a music and
movement area.

In her bathroom there is a potty learning area and we made small adjustments to
make the sink accessible to her with a faucet extender and a stool. She also has her
own entryway station and a plant care station in our balcony.
These spaces continue to evolve with her interests and skills and I imagine our
home will look very different a year from now.”

It’s amazing how fast our babies grow and evolve! And with their learning and growing, the spaces we create for them are always changing to fit their needs. We have seen our own homes change so much over the last year so that we can honor the natural development of our children. Continue reading to see how Sara’s little girl has been impacted by these child-sized and uniquely tailored spaces in her home.

How have your children reacted to these spaces in the home? How
do these areas affect your daily family rhythm?

“These spaces have not only helped my daughter become more independent and self-
confident in her abilities, but they have also helped things run more smoothly when
it comes to daily routines. Having designated areas that are accessible to the child,
where specific tasks are performed, encourages practice, provides choice, and
makes it easier to keep things organized. It also appeals to children’s sense of order
and makes it clear what our expectations of them are. Essentially, it helps to set a
foundation for a home based on cooperation.

When it comes to play patterns, having a prepared environment that responds to
the developmental needs and evolving interests of our child has also helped us
gradually increase independent playtime.”

Adults need order, routine, and expectations. Why would children be any different? It’s innately human to crave the stability that the Montessori environment provides. Although it can be overwhelming when you first begin your Montessori journey because there are many elements to the Montessori world, but at its core is simplicity.  Montessori is meant for everyone. Read on for great advice when it comes to Montessori beginners.

 

What advice would you give beginners wanting to set up “prepared environments” around the home?

“For parents just starting out on their Montessori journey the task of creating new
Montessori spaces can be so fun but also a bit daunting at first if you don’t know
where to start. Scrolling through IG can also leave you feeling like you need to buy
all new wooden toys and child-sized furniture when in reality you can make small
adaptions to your home and existing toys to make it more toddler-friendly and
Montessori-aligned. Please know that you don’t have to and shouldn’t do it all at
once.

My advice is to start by simplifying. Limit toy choices and start rotating toys based
on your child’s current interests. Display them in low accessible shelves or even on
the floor if a shelf is not an immediate option, in baskets or trays, and model putting the activities back in their place. Keep it simple and orderly. This will make it easier for the child to understand what is expected of her and for the parent to observe the child.

Work with what you have at first and improve from there. Before we had our
current reading corner we started off with just a cozy carpet on the floor with some
pillows and a few books in a basket. The important thing is to make it accessible and comfortable.

Let your observations guide you in the creation of new spaces, always keeping in
mind what your child’s immediate needs are and what works for your family.
Montessori is fundamentally about following the child. This means respecting the child’s natural interests, abilities as well as her unique ways and pace of learning, and the prepared environment should be a reflection of this. Allow the spaces to evolve gradually in tandem with the child’s interests and abilities. Our art space
evolved from a child-sized desk with a choice of two art activities to our current set
up with a choice of 4 art trays and a lot more art supplies within reach. With more
choice comes more responsibility. Give your child as much or as little responsibility
as they can handle and build up from there.

Montessori left us a guide for how a schoolroom should be designed. As parents we
are adapting our homes to align with a learning pedagogy, which to many has
effectively become a lifestyle. However, the home shouldn’t look like a classroom
(unless you are homeschooling). It’s a learning environment but also a family / play
environment. Don’t be afraid to express your own unique “flavor” of Montessori. As
long as you follow and respect the child, you can’t go wrong.”

I love this advice! Sometimes scrolling through these perfect Montessori homes, it can seem like you’re not measuring up. But Montessori was never meant to be this grand thing, out of reach for most. The exact opposite is true. Montessori is meant for everyone! We often find materials, activities, and DIY’s from things around the house, thrift stores, and bargain hunting. You can do Montessori anywhere and with any budget. :)

Do you have any other comments or thoughts you would like to
highlight?

“I would like parents to remember that though the prepared environment is
important, you can start implementing Montessori at home before you even begin to
prepare the environment. One of the easiest ways to start can be to simply include
your child in practical life activities such as baking, cooking or cleaning. Give them a
chance to do things for themselves, without interrupting. Let them struggle to put
on their shoes even if it takes a few extra minutes to get out the door.

Montessori starts with a shift in mindset; the realization that children, even the
smallest of them, are immensely capable. As parents this can challenge us at times
because it requires us to slow down, be fully present, and trust the child to lead her
own learning journey. But if we can do this, we will set them up for success with
self-confidence and a foundation for life-long learning.”

We wanted to conclude with a big THANK YOU to Sara from @wonderhouseofa. We have loved being able to highlight her knowledge, thoughts, and ideas when it comes to a prepared Montessori environment at home. If you like anything mentioned above or the beautiful pictures provided, you should really check out her instagram account. It is full of inspiration, beauty and education!

How to Present Shelf Work

How to Present Shelf Work

We are often asked, “So now that I’ve set up shelf work for my child, how do I get them to use it and clean it up?” As you all know or are learning, there are many facets to a Montessori environment and mindset. There are so many important details that go into preparing an environment for your child as you set them up for success. Knowing when and how to introduce  and present materials is a very important step in creating a flow in your child’s Montessori spaces.  

Keep in mind that sometimes we set up work for a child and because of the intricacy or challenge to the child it will need a lesson. Other times we set up work for a child and just wait to see if he/she notices it and chooses to explore with it. Both are correct and both are necessary. Even after giving a lesson to a child on something like preparing a snack of crackers and jelly, we leave them to work and explore the activity on their own so that they begin to draw conclusions and understandings.

Here is how we present work in our school and in our homes allowing for as much freedom and exploration within limits that we can. Remember that solid boundaries and gentle reminders are a big part of setting your child up for success, too!

Presenting Shelf Work (How to’s and What to’s)

  • Always start with an invitation:
    •“Would you like me to show you this work today? Or I have a work to show you, would you like to see it?” or
    •Your invitation can be simply laying a work out on the table or the shelf and see if your child gravitates towards it.

If your child answers “yes” to your invitation, then proceed with the following steps:

  • Lay a mat to define space.  
  • Demonstrate how to take the work from the shelf to the table or floor.
  • Show your child with as few words as possible how to work with the material.
  • Demonstrate how to clean up the work and return it to the shelf. 
  • Return the mat to its correct place.
  • Invite your child to try the work. 
    • Ask: Would you like to do this? If the answer is “Yes.” 
  • Allow your child to explore the work.
  • Before your child moves on to the next work, encourage and remind him/her to put the work back where it goes.

Important Reminders

  • Remember when giving the lesson or introducing the shelf work to say as few words as possible. Let your deliberate movement be the teacher, not your voice. If your child seems a little squirmy or maybe not totally paying attention, you can say, “Watch this” or “Look at this.” Remember to do it with quiet excitement, not as a command.  
  • We have found when we draw back attention to a task with peaceful excitement, it brings the child into the presentation. If this doesn’t work, then you will need to determine if maybe your child isn’t really interested in the work or isn’t quite ready to receive it yet. If this is the case, you can suggest they choose something else or ask if they would like to see this work later. Then gently clean up and move on to something else.
  • If a child refuses to put his/her work away whether following a lesson or at any time during the day, simply state, “I’ll do it this time and maybe next time you will want to do it yourself” or “Watch how I do this.” They might watch and even start helping, but either way, don’t make a big deal or try to get them to help or watch, just invite. 
  • Finish the clean up and quickly move on to the next activity. By doing this, you will avoid power struggles which can come naturally for this age group as they are growing in independence. It also allows you to be an example of how something should be put away or be cared for. Our experience has shown us in classroom and home environments that after doing this a few times, the child begins to understand that cleaning up and restoring work is part of the daily routine. 

Take Time to Observe
When your child is engaged in work or play remember that observation is the key! Try not to intervene unless your child is being unsafe with the work (such as throwing it)otherwise, just watch! Take note of:

  • Your child’s interests
  • Are there certain things that your child gravitates to? Seems to favor? Doesn’t like or doesn’t show interest in?
  • How does he/she choose to use the material?
  • How well does he/she follow the set up and clean up steps?
  • Did they remember where to return the materials or how to prep them for the next time?
  • How much time was spent exploring the work or materials?
  • Did the material seem too easy? Too difficult?
  • Are your areas and materials prepared in a way that allows your child to be independent and find success?

These are important notations and can help you plan further shelf work or maybe change up your shelf work presentations.

Try these steps and let us know how it goes! We would love to hear your experiences with preparing and presenting work to your child and we are happy to answer your questions!

My First Impression of Montessori

One of the most inspiring Maria Montessori quotes to me is, “The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.”

I began my Montessori journey when I was 19 years old. I stumbled upon a job ad in the newspaper (yes, that is how we found jobs pre technology days) and I had no idea what a Montessori School was but I was a brand new child development major and I had just finished my first work experience job at a local elementary school in a kindergarten classroom during my senior year of high school. I found out during that time that I loved working with children, so I thought “let’s just see what this Montessori thing is.”

“I loved the idea immediately of how the owner transformed this space. Her school reminded me of a little farmhouse school in the country.”

A few days later, I found myself at the cutest little house turned school that was located on a peaceful and mature downtown street close to my hometown. I loved the idea immediately of how the owner transformed this space. Her school reminded me of a little farmhouse school in the country.

Following my interview, I was allowed to observe for a while which gave me time to see a Montessori classroom in action. I couldn’t help comparing and contrasting it to the Kindergarten class that I had worked in for a year where we brought children to our kidney shaped table in groups and gave them worksheets and standardized lessons until the timer rang. The Montessori preschool children, even younger than the Kindergarten children in my previous class, were busy working independently on things like: making snacks, washing dishes, letter sound practice, manipulating materials I had never seen before, counting lessons, and even washing the big windows at the back of the school.

I remember that I was struck by the beauty and flow of the moment. It is kind of weird to say, but in that moment I felt a sense of gratitude for the experience of witnessing this class of about 30 students just moving about attending to their inner needs. Although I knew nothing about Montessori, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it somehow. I knew I wanted to know more.

That very moment began my studies and love of the program that Maria Montessori began over 100 years ago. A woman well ahead of her time in every aspect you can imagine and one not just dedicated to the academic learning of her students but to the discovery of the inner child as well as helping to promote a peacefulness in life. During my years of study and work in Montessori to follow, I would come to learn what a leading pioneer she was in her theories, observations and educational implementations. Her way of thinking and teaching would become not just a big part of my life but my whole life. I would later learn that the roots of my pull towards Montessori were deeper than I knew.

Montessori is the very foundation of learning and growth. It encompasses honor and respect for the child, develops peace, kindness and grace and guides children through their social and academic lessons naturally. Montessori education is a celebration of the child.

-Barbara