When a little boy with dirty feet climbed up and stood on a newly upholstered chair at her wedding shop over 20 years ago, “Miss Mary” McKinnon decided it was time.
“I just realized that children weren’t being taught how to act properly,” she said. “And I thought ‘I’m going to start a manners class.’”
Miss Mary’s Manners, Etiquette Classes for the Young was born and is still going strong with many of her first students now married and beginning their own families.
Miss Mary enjoys substitute teaching in the area’s elementary schools. “Teachers know when they call me, they’ll get some kind of manners class along with everything else. When I can plan my day, I usually do a tea party with the students. They learn how to pass things and use proper manners. Before I leave there they are saying ‘yes ma’am’ to me,” she said.
Between substituting, holding special classes and teaching her own classes, she has gathered countless stories of children learning good manners and then taking them home to their families. From the father whose child taught him to sit up straight at the dinner table to the family whose kindergartner reminded them it’s polite to wait until mom is seated at the table before they begin to eat, Miss Mary’s Manners have impacted many area families.
“Parents learn a lot too. They always come back and say they are so glad their child took the class,” she said. “Manners are a way children show respect for their elders.”
Miss Mary’s Manners involves five sessions at her home. “Each time we set the table and have a tea party. They learn how to set the table correctly, how to pass things and how to act at the table,” she said. When the five sessions are finished, she takes the children to a local restaurant for a celebration.
But the lessons aren’t just for table etiquette. Miss Mary said before the tea party even begins they learn how to answer the phone correctly, how to write thank you notes, how to say “I’m sorry” and party etiquette such as being certain to thank the host. They also have lessons titled “Don’t drink from the fingerbowl,” “Soup should be seen and not heard,” and “You can’t wear your sweats to Sunday school.”
But the most important lesson Miss Mary teaches is the Golden Rule. “When children ask why they have to act a certain way, I tell them it’s because it’s the nice thing to do,” she said. “Manners are how you feel in your heart towards other people.”
Miss Mary’s Manners is for all children from kindergarten through high school. Miss Mary said elementary age children seem to be the most responsive. And while the idea of a tea party might sound more interesting to young ladies, Miss Mary’s Manners welcomes young men as well.
“I encourage boys to come because they need manners just as much as girls do. They need to know how to open doors and pull chairs out,” she said. “They need to learn how to be gentlemen.”
New classes will be held on June 9, 10, 12, 16 and 17 from 3 to 5 p.m. for ages 6 to 9. Classes for ages 10 to 13 will be July 14, 15, 17, 21 and 22 from 3 to 5 p.m.
Class sizes are eight to 10 children, and Miss Mary encourages the children to bring a friend as they seem to have more fun when they’ve got a buddy with them.
For more information or to register, call Mary McKinnon at 865-983-3740.