Monday, May 30, 2011

Grace & Courtesy - Table Manners

For those unfamiliar with the term "Grace and Courtesy" as it pertains to Montessori, in short, it simply means is teaching a child manners - the social graces and common courtesies that one should have when they interact with others.

Over the past couple of months I've been teaching James about table manners - a very important and very necessary skill set that everyone should learn. Unfortunately, I feel like I am in the minority when it comes to placing value on this form of etiquette. I don't mean to sound uppity - I just think being able to sit across the table from someone and enjoy a nice meal without seeing them pick their teeth or hog the food, is a good thing and something few people (young and old!) seem to know how to do.

That said, I'm making a point to teach James how to conduct himself properly during a meal. I've been staging lessons during our daily snack time and it's really benefited him. James has always had pretty good table manners (he doesn't run around at the restaurant, he knows not to put his feet on the table, etc.), but it's those little refinements that he's come a long way with.

~pouring water for a friend~

During our lessons we always invite some "friends" (stuffed animals) to join us to provide more opportunity for practicing grace and courtesy. :)

Here's a list of the things (in very random order) that we've focused on:
:: Washing our hands before eating.
:: Pulling out a chair for someone/pushing in our own chairs when we've finished our meal.
:: How to deal with coughing, burping, sniffles (or any other bodily noises). :)
:: Saying please and thank you.
:: Excusing ourselves when we need to leave the table or after the aforementioned noises.
:: Chewing with our mouth closed.
:: Not speaking while there's food in our mouth.
:: Not speaking to someone else when there's food in their mouth. (I explained that it's rude to ask someone a question when they've just taken a bite of food as it makes the person feel as though they need to rush through their bite, which isn't comfortable).
:: Sitting up straight and still while eating.
:: Facing forward and eating over our plate.
:: Using a napkin and other utensils properly. (My ex-stepmother thought straws were not only for drinking out of, but also for cleaning her teeth!)
:: Not making rude remarks about the food and instead offering compliments to the chef. :) (I love this one since I'm the primary chef in the house!)
:: Not hoarding food or taking the last food item unless you're really hungry in which case you make sure no one else wants whatever it is.
:: Proper topics of conversation and those that are off limits (i.e. subjects involving poop/blood/other gross things).
:: Keeping elbows (and other body parts) off the table.
:: Clearing your dishes/helping to clear the table when the meal is finished.
:: Not playing with our food/avoiding a deliberate mess.
:: Serving/offering food to others before ourselves.
:: Not taking food off of another person's plate.
:: Eating slowly/not stuffing our mouth full of food.
:: Waiting until everyone is served before eating. (So few people do this - such a pet peeve of mine!) and waiting until everyone is finished before leaving the table.
:: Offering thanks and appreciation to the host, specifically complimenting one particular dish.
:: Not reaching over someone's plate and instead asking for something to be passed.
:: Saying grace before the meal starts (this is, of course, dependent on each family's beliefs).

Yes, I know, this is quite a long list. But it's really just basic stuff and much of it is just a matter of doing it once or twice before it becomes second nature. Also, I'm sure there are many more "rules" that could be added to this list - this is all just off the top of my head. Feel free to add others in the comment section, if you'd like.

Learning and mastering table manners is definitely going to be a work in progress for a long time. James is only 4 and so the whole sitting still at the table idea seems to be physically impossible right now lol! We're just introducing things early on so he'll have these manners down pat by the time he's a teen. :)

Lastly, with regard to the actual table setting, we've already focused on the basics here, but someday I will explain to James a more detailed table setting and what all those extra spoons and forks are for!

~Thank you for your comments!~


Anonymous said...

I am with you on the knowing how to conduct oneself in the proper manner at the dinner table! My parents made this a priority when I was a child and I am still teaching Tim some of the rules ;-). I love the idea of working on this with James at snack time. That way its not such a long meal and its not a battle over them eating what is on their plate since usually snack is something they enjoy. We have been teaching Sammy these things but I think now that he is 4 it's about time to step it up a notch :-)

FroggyMama said...

Thank you for such a timely post! I was just wondering this morning if the Dudimus (5) would ever stop eating like a madman, and you have given me some great ideas on how to work on our table manners. It seems working on these things during our regular meals isn't sinking in too well, I think I might start "staging" a special meal just like you have, to focus specifically on manners.

Jenn said...

Great post! Thank you for making a list, it serves as a great reminder :) James' guest are too adorable, great idea!

Duckys said...

Well, its great to know I am not the only one that teaches my children these basic and courteous manners! Great job and I really enjoy your blog, THANK YOU!

phasejumper said...

Such an important topic! I know I need to work on not getting up before everyone is finished-I'm always tempted to start on dishes while my slow-eating oldest is working on his food!

Ash said...

Good for you! I think it's wonderful that you're taking the time to actually show your child that manners are still so very important. We're so concerned with children writing, reading, playing every sport ever faster and sooner and better, that we've forgotten about the simpler things like holding the door open for someone, sending thank you cards, or saying "Excuse me from the table" when you're done eating.

divya said...

So beautiful. Love the way James is so nicely pouring :)Isn't the Montessori education the best thing happened to a child ?!
My Blog -

Jess said...

Thanks for this. I am right with you for the etiquette stuff and have been doing this with Little Bird generally whenever we eat. But maybe a special practice session would be good to. LB does not like a lot of food at the moment, but the rule (inline with etiquette) is she must just leave it on her plate, not groan about it and just eat the sections she likes (I always make sure there is at least one thing on there I know she likes, but dont do separate meals for her). And yes a compliment for the chef is always appreciated. (: Get so much inspiration from your blog! So wonderful. Thanks.

The girl who painted trees said...

We are very much working on staying in our seats and eating slowly with small bites. Bear has the unfortunate desire to stuff everything in at once:( I love the idea to invite "friends" to snack time.

Montessori Beginnings said...

LOVE your manners post! L has been sitting at a table to eat since she was 12 months old and we've never had a problem with her running around and getting up until she's done. It drives me insane when other children get up and down from the table numerous times during a meal!
I would love to have a meal with you and James!

Kelly said...

How sweet to see your son pouring water for a "friend!" You definitely have the right idea. I agree that these things need to be taught... and I dislike the idea of "modeling" good behavior in place of actually teaching it. There's nothing wrong with having a candid conversation about manners!

Kelly @ Creating a Family Home

Coedith said...

I love having little ones to model manners for. It keeps me accountable : ) I have had to work on getting my girls not to comment when they do not like something they were served. I am always saying "If you do not like something please simply leave it on your plate after you taste it. No need to announce it."

Joey said...

I totally agree with you about manners! I think it is so important to teach children table manners partly so that they don't feel uncomfortable as adults!
~ joey ~
ps. my pet peeve is when children play under the table during a meal and their parents don't say anything!

Chocolate Drool and Kisses said...

What a great idea, I so need this for my son, he is almost 3 so I am not sure how all of them will work but if I start small and work my way up hopefully it will help! Thanks so much for sharing.
The only thing I would add to your list is trying at least 1-2 bites (in my family its one scoop) of a dish you havent had before or dont really like.

Unknown said...

I love how you are teaching table manners through play. Do you know how Montessori handles this with children if other cultures where manners are different. We live in a multicultural family, and my Il's have a different way of eating. I don't want my daughter to think the Western way if eating is better than her grandparents' manners.

Counting Coconuts said...

Thank you for your kind comments!

@Rebekah: I'm not sure how "Montessori" would handle teaching cultural difference in manners. I could see there being some information available/explained to the children about how some children eat differently. I believe it depends on the teacher and oftentimes the location of the classroom (as in, where in the world it is located/what are the social norms in that country).

Personally, I would suggest you simply take it upon yourself to expose your children to whatever is common in your family. Make your own list! :)

Alexandra said...

Your picture with the stuffed animal guests is priceless - so adorable, and I love his face when he is pouring for his guest. This is a super post for covering table manners, and your son looks like he is having fun(engaged)with it.

Deb Chitwood said...

It's awesome that you're giving such concentrated effort to teaching manners, Mari-Ann! I love your table manners role play with stuffed animals ... stuffed animals can be great friends for activities like that! I featured your post and one of your photos at


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