Your first grader is now able to hold a pencil, write simple sentences and follow more complex directions, so why not try teaching him how to butter his bread, write a simple thank you letter, and answer the phone?
If you think that's a stretch, manners expert Cindy Post Senning says think again. Post has her doctorate in education and, as the great-granddaughter of manners maven Emily Post, knows her Ps and Qs. She says that manners shouldn’t be an afterthought, but should follow a child's developmental time-line alongside academics.
Post co-authored a book with sister-in-law Peggy Post outlining this idea, called The Gift of Good Manners: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Respectful, Kind and Considerate Children (HarperResource, 2002). And she says first grade is an ideal time to start practicing etiquette in earnest. Here's how:
Teach Table Manners:
First graders are developing their manual dexterity. Put that opposable thumb to work by teaching your child to properly hold a knife and spoon (rather than spearing the potato like a caveman.) The grip needed to hold a pencil in school is similar to the grip needed for a fork. Though your child may prefer to scoop up her peas with a spoon, challenge her to use a fork instead.
Introduce the Thank-you Note:
Simple as these notes may be, getting your child to write even a few words of thanks is a great way to practice letter writing, and it also introduces your child to the concept of warm correspondence. Don't worry about neatness, spelling, or stationary. The focus now is on getting your child to understand that thanking his friend for the 3-D puzzle will really make him feel good. Post says the thank-you note doesn't need to be more than one line. For example:
Thank you for the cool 3-D puzzle.
Of course, don't just tell your kids how important a thank-you note is, show them. Parents should lead by example. Perhaps start a traditional letter writing night for the whole family the day after Christmas, or tell your children that they are not allowed to wear, use, or play with their gifts before a thank-you letter is in the mail. The point is “you want your kids to understand that you think it’s important,” Post says.
In first grade, children should be able to answer the phone with a friendly greeting and take messages using their budding writing skills. Post suggests turning this into a fun challenge. “Tell your child, ‘I think you’re old enough now to be able to take messages. Let's practice.’ Then, set up a practice session either with a toy phone or close relative,” Post says. Make it easy for your child, by keeping a notebook and pencil near the phone at all times.
Etiquette is like everything else in life—it takes practice, says Post. Encourage your child to this new-found muscle by making these activities a meaningful and fun part of your everyday family life.