By: Alex Chiu
Let’s face it. Summertime is when we all take a little break. Whether it’s a vacation from work, time off from school, or a slight easing up on the usual daily routines, summer often finds us relaxing in one way or another at some point. And that’s a good thing! With our wound up, stressed out lives, we DO need to take a breather and enjoy the ‘dog days’ of summer while we can.
However, it’s important to remember that even in the summer, we must never allow ourselves, or our children, to take a break from basic human kindness, respect, and compassion. Actually, summer is a great time to focus even more on acts of kindness since it is for many a season that makes us naturally happier! As people are out and about, walking in parks, eating in the outdoor seating of restaurants, etc., we have a chance to connect with others even more. Let’s show our children how to make that connection positive, and how we can use this summer season to spread some joy.
Children in Montessori classrooms learn all about “Grace and Courtesy”— common, decent, kind interactions with others. They greet their teachers and friends with a kind word, handshake, and eye contact to start the day. They take care in how they move about the classroom so as to not disturb someone’s work on a table or rug. They learn the tried and true ‘Ps and Qs’ of saying, “Excuse me”, “Please”, and “Thank you”. They also learn conflict resolution and the art of making a genuine apology. It’s a part of the curriculum that’s as important as the academic subjects children learn. So, just as parents worry about ‘summer slump’ for their children in regards to math or reading, be sure to address your child’s social skills as part of your family’s summer lessons.
Here are just a few ideas of how to attend to your family’s own Grace and Courtesy skills this summer:
- Greet people with a smile. As you walk through your neighborhood, greet others with a smile and extend a hello. Teach your children that while we must be safe regarding strangers, there is no harm in sharing a brief, kind greeting in passing when they are with a trusted adult.
- Encourage your children to speak with community members. When visiting the library, encourage your child to ask the librarian where to find a certain type of book to practice exchanging conversation with others. If you see a police officer at a crosswalk, model for your child a “thank you for your service to our community” greeting and then have your child emulate that the next time you see a first responder.
- Bring a sweet treat to your volunteer firefighters or first responders. Have your children decorate cards and bake cookies (or if it’s too hot to bake, stop by the local ice cream shop for a gallon of ice cream) to share with these hard-working community members.
- Make a phone call to a far-away family member. Practice before you call! In this digital age, more and more children are learning to text and NOT learning the art of conversation. Keep this fine art alive by making a monthly call to someone special! Teach your children how to ask questions that elicit a response from the person on the other end of the line. And teach them to listen! Both are important skills in being gracious and kind.
- Write a letter. Similar to phone calls, many of us have strayed from the tradition of letter writing. Still, most of us smile at the sight of a card or letter that’s not a bill in our mailbox! Share that feeling with someone you know who needs a little pick me up. Encourage your children to share a funny story, personal anecdote, or information about a family outing that the other person might like to learn about in the letter. And remind them to include some questions for their recipient in order to prompt him or her to write back! Then wait for a reply to come in the mail! Speaking of mail, why not greet your mail carrier with a cold drink on a hot day? Just another opportunity to perform an act of kindness and learn how to interact with a community member.
- Maintain the expectation of kindness and respect in your own home. It’s easy for children to get too comfortable with parents, siblings, and other close friends and family members. However, EVERYONE deserves our respect and kindness, so make sure you model this for your children and maintain the expectation that they mind their ‘Ps and Qs’ with you, too! Even when there’s a disagreement, keep the Montessori spirit of Grace and Courtesy at the forefront of your interactions. It’s okay to disagree or to feel sad or angry, but the way we act when we feel this way is in our control and makes a difference in how others see us and how we find our place in the world.
While these words and actions are small and brief, they can have a positive impact on how your child interacts with others and grows in his or her capacity to be a kind, compassionate, contributing member of our world. So go on—enjoy the sunshine of the summer with a smile, and keep those social skills sharp!