Montessori's Grace and Courtesy lessons are a beautiful component of our Early Childhood environments, offering engaging, playful ways for children to learn the customs of social graces and to care for each other and their community. You'll notice them at work when you visit and are offered a freshly brewed cup of tea, or when you see a child gently place their hand on a teacher's shoulder to interrupt, and when children pass each other freshly baked bread. We protect children's empathy and collaborative nature by giving them meaningful opportunities to demonstrate it.
And our bodies are wired to gratitude. When we feel gratitude, the parts of our brain linked to motivation and bonding are activated, as are the areas that regulate healthy eating, sleeping and relaxation. Gratitude is good for our relationships and good for our own well-being. And when we express these feelings out loud, we activate the prefrontal cortex, the area of your brain that's critical for moral cognition, decision-making and positive emotions.
For children, we often remember to encourage displays of gratitude at big events: birthdays and holidays when they've received gifts, for example, or the end-of-the-school-year celebrations. But the day-to-day ways in which we model gratitude for young children can have a more important and most lasting influence. Rather than insisting your child, "Say Thank You!" model expressing your own thankfulness.
The most immediate place to consider this is in your home. Often, we get so busy with the chores of the day that we forget to acknowledge the family members around us. Setting the table for dinner? Be sure to say, "Thank you," to the family who help out. If you're parenting with another adult in the home, regularly acknowledge the things for which you're thankful in them. Notice aloud when you see someone in your home who needs help, and encourage your children to be a part of that solution. "Oh! Look! Dad has arrived with the groceries! Let's go out to the car together and help carry them in."
There's little we can do to change the demands that are placed on us, the laundry and meal preparation, the tidying up and gardening and all the household chores that we need to accomplish above and beyond our regular jobs. But remember that your children need as orderly environments at home as they enjoy at school, especially in this window from 0-6. Instead of thinking about how much you have to do after the children go to sleep, let the tasks that support your household be ones your family completes together, just like we do in the classroom. Our "society by cohesion," develops because everyone's contribution is meaningful. Meaningful work, completed within a spirit of gratitude and acknowledgment, doesn't feel so much like a have-to as a get-to. And while you might start for practical purposes, the brain benefits or time management ones, you may notice sooner than later that the practices you adopted to model gratitude for your children have ended up with the same benefit to you.