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June 05, 2008

Becoming Miss Manners

As a teacher, there are certain nuances that bother the “adults” in your life.  For example, I have a hard time when the people around me are not able to communicate with each other, or when someone is being disrespectful.  So, I often will put on my teacher hat; remind them to use words that are “helpful, not hurtful,” and to take a deep breath before making any rash decisions.  I think it bothers my mom the most.  Of course, I learned all I know about respect and manners from her.  While I think I'm paying her a compliment, I know she doesn’t like hearing from her daughter, “Mom, please use your manners!”
These sorts of everyday interactions with people are what make early childhood education and parent education so special.  The social and emotional pieces of life are no longer only modeled within our family units.  A lot of this learning goes on at school where, in order to get safely and calmly through our day, we MUST develop this skill set.  What people sometimes forget is that a child is not born knowing these skills – they are not innate.  Instead, they require direct instruction - a literal step by step process for how to handle social situations -  modeling, and an opportunity to practice.
In our classroom setting, we use the following method to master a social skill like manners:
Direct Instruction: Read a book about manners, talk about what words are
"manner" words (i.e. please, thank you, and excuse me), and talk about when we use them.
Modeling: Use real life students, teachers or parents as examples to show
how we use manners in our day to day life.  It is also important to highlight the language you are
using so that children hear the options they have.  For example, “If I want her toy I can say…”
Opportunity for practice: This one is the hardest!  You have to let children get
to a point in their play or interactions where they can practice these skills.  This means you might
have to sit back and let an argument or a rude behavior take place so they can practice how to
deal with it. 
My curriculum is largely based on opportunities for practice in natural social settings.  I strongly believe that our society depends on it.  So, although my family and friends kindly request that I avoid treating them like my pre-kindergarten students, I don’t think I will ever tire from modeling respect for others! 


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