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Cultivating Grace and Courtesy in Children

This week, I spoke with a new parent who was interested to know three things about her son. How is he doing in his schoolwork? Does he seem happy? Is he polite and well behaved in class? This what we want for all our children, isn’t it? Minds engaged, hearts content, with actions that are honourable and true.

The engagement of our students’ minds has been the topic of many articles in this newsletter. Let’s turn to the subject of how we go about cultivating grace and courtesy in our students at St. Timothy’s. Being a daughter of a preacher, I have three points to suggest:

1. Anticipate the Situation: Wise parents of very young children get very good at this. They know only too well that many embarrassing meltdowns can be avoided with some planning ahead to avoid fatigue, hunger, and boredom. They cool children in what to expect in the grocery store (e.g., Today we will be buying only the three things on this list), at church, and at other special occasions. In the same way, the teachers at St. Timothy’s know that students need to be taught how to behave in a variety of situations. We teach them to address adults by name, with good eye contact, to shake hands with a firm grip, and to ask for what they need, clearly and without whining. They learn how to greet visitors to the school by standing up and saying halo, and how to be particularly thoughtful to seniors. We prepare them for the refreshment table after concerts, so that guests are not left with the leftovers after the vultures have landed.

2. Cultivate Attentiveness: My husband and I are impressed by the liturgical practice in the Orthodox Church of the priest singing the worlds, “Be attentive,” before the reading of the gospel. These words sum up so well the mindfulness that we hope to cultivate in our students. We remind them to slow down, to store their belongings with care, to step aside when an elderly adult is navigating the hall, to respectfully hold the door for others, and to avoid walking between two adults that are talking. Attentiveness takes practice.

3. Cultivate an Attitude of Honour and Interest: Students need to learn to see adults as worthy of their interest and to develop skills of good conversation. Before a visit to the seniors’ group at St. Maurice’s Church a couple years ago, our Grade 3-4 class spent some time discussing good topics of conversation. We quickly ruled out, “How old are you?” and “How much do you weigh?” and came up with a list of conversation openers such as the following: How long have you lived in Ottawa? Have you seen lots of changes over the years? What was Grade 3 like for you? Tell me about what kind of job you had. How did you get trained for it? What is your last name? Do you have family in Ottawa? What do you enjoy doing in your free time? What is your favourite holiday? It was delightful t see the happy interactions as students and seniors played games, laughed and conversed together.

As parents and teachers, we do our best to anticipate situations for which our children need preparation. We nurture them in being attentive, and then delight as we see them running to hold a door open for a visitor, or engage in mature conversations with an adult they are just getting to know.

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