A classic fairy tale emerges as etiquette coach Lori Rogers shows the proper position of silverware on a table: Princess Spoonella is being protected by a knife guard, kept far away from Prince Fork on Napkin Island.
The 4- and 5-year-old students at Davenport Preschool in Towson catch on quickly and are rewarded for their place settings with crackers and juice boxes from Rogers, also known as Molly Manners Maryland.
“And what would you say if your mom gives you a plate of stinky green beans?” Rogers asks one little girl with long brown hair.
“Thank you, but I don’t like green beans,” she says sweetly, earning herself a Goldfish-cracker reward.
Even as social-media flippancy dominates our popular culture, and as schools forgo social-skills instruction to squeeze in more academics, etiquette experts such as Rogers are sought out by educators and parents — perhaps fresh from trying to supervise an 8-year-old writing a thank-you note or a 4-year-old at a white-tablecloth restaurant.
“I think manners are incredibly important, especially today,” says Liz Harlan, Davenport’s director.
Part of a larger unit on community, the etiquette lesson follows a story about the Golden Rule. “It ties in perfectly,” says Harlan.
There is a range of options when it comes to getting manners training: from day camps, after-school programs and private lessons. The Etiquette School of Maryland in Columbia, The International School of Protocol in Towson, and Manners for Life, Etiquette for Success in Annapolis are among the local specialty schools that teach children, teenagers (and more than a few adults) the basics of table manners, making introductions, giving and receiving gifts and more.
“These are really life skills,” says Patricia Minor, director of the Etiquette School of Maryland.
Rogers, who has an 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son, opened the Maryland Molly Manners location last year. Although she’d been in sales for a real estate developer, she says she’s long been passionate about manners.
“It’s always resonated with me,” says Rogers, a former nanny.
The idea is to teach children to use kind voices, to put down their electronics to greet people, to take off their shoes and to inquire about rules when they go to a friend’s house, says Rogers.
She tries to make the subject fun, such as playing “Bad Attitude Bingo” to teach appropriate responses. And she introduces the equivalent of superheroes, a band of door-opening, compliment-wielding characters with names such as Friendly Freddy, Helpful Heidi and Patient Patty.
Rogers offers her classes at local schools, the Towson Y and at Abrakadoodle in Cockeysville. She and the other manners coaches also offer private and group sessions to Scout troops and others.
While manners coaches can prepare students for a formal White House dinner, they more often cover table manners, including how to excuse oneself from the table, and the appropriate responses in social situations — in interacting with both adults and peers.
Proficiency varies by age and child, but toddlers can be taught to use polite words such as “excuse me,” “please” and “thank you,” the experts agree.
By age 4, some children are ready to learn how to make eye contact and shake hands, says Carol Haislip, one of the directors at the International School of Protocol in Towson.
“The earlier you instill the skills, the more it becomes a natural thing,” Haislip says.
Preschoolers can have fun learning proper table manners. And by elementary school, children can master thank-you-note writing, being a good host and a good guest, and making a proper introduction, the experts agree.
Teenagers will learn how to make a good impression in summer job interviews and how to gracefully handle leadership roles.