When was the last time you received a handwritten letter? A handwritten thank you note or a birthday card with a note enclosed? The art of writing happy birthday letters to classmates and thank you notes to caring adults is still alive and well in Mountain Shadows’ Elementary classrooms.
Practiced as a grace and courtesy lesson, the handwritten letter cultivates gratitude and awareness for the writer, and contributions and strengths to the recipient. It reinforces values by a community member and appreciation.
In a Montessori classroom, “compliments” are written by classmates for classmates and presented in honor of one’s birthday.
“Not everyone is socially the same, but you can always find something nice to say about someone or recognize something that someone does well, “ explains Elementary II teacher Justin Garber.
Compliments are routine lessons in grammar, sentence structure, and word-building skills as students explore the use of a thesaurus. In the Elementary I classroom, the length of the compliment varies by grade. First-year students are asked to write 10 lines. Not 10 sentences, but 10 lines. Children progress to 15 lines as a second-year and 20 lines as third-year students. With 25 children in the classroom, compliments are written usually once a week, which really helps first-year students gain confidence in their writing and provides another avenue for teachers to meet children where they are and work on these skills.
A Montessori student herself, Elementary I teacher Ciara Wentworth remembers her childhood compliments fondly, “I saved them until I was 25! They meant so much to me.” Ciara shared that compliments mean as much to parents as they do students, “They tell me that they tear up when reading compliments. The beautiful handwriting and drawings are a unique window into how their child is perceived in class.”
While developing a young child’s writing skills, compliments are just one way that social and emotional skills are built in a Montessori Elementary classroom. At the end of each week classes form a compliment circle where students take turns acknowledging each other.
“In the end we are building a culture of caring. Gratitude is good for the spirit,” concluded Ciara.