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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Lessons in good manners

By Rachel Humphreys
BBC News, Los Angeles

The after-school activities are under way at a typical elementary school on the outskirts of San Diego.

But for the first-graders of Heritage Elementary, today's lesson doesn't concern the vagaries of the baseball field or how to navigate the latest computer game, but how to eat soup correctly.

Teaching children to eat properly
Children are learning table manners
Old-fashioned charm schools may be the thing of a by-gone era but here in California, the latest trend for pre-teens is etiquette classes.

"Now, let me see you scoop," instructs tutor Maggie O'Farrill.

"Elbows in, you're doing great."

Words of encouragement to the 20 children who sit with formal place-settings laid out before them.

Ms O'Farrill, an etiquette consultant who specialises in teaching children aged six to 12, says the demand for the classes is on the increase.

Parents are rushing to sign their children up to learn such skills as basic table manners, how to make a good first impression, and the dos and don'ts of eating at a restaurant.

She believes the demand is a result of a fast-paced lifestyle with busy parents wanting well-behaved children, but not having the time to teach them the intricacies of good manners and etiquette at home.

"I just don't have time to teach him everything," says working mother Glory Capati.

"I rely on the teachers to help me mould my son and make him a better person."

Good behaviour

Principal Tim Suanico believes it is a sad reflection of our modern lives that it's now necessary to teach etiquette in school.

"Over generations, it's been less and less addressed within the American culture, and because of that it has got lost and hasn't been made a priority."

If I get invited to the White House, I won't spill anything on the president
Danny, aged nine

But he does see a glimmer of hope in this renewed interest in teaching children good manners.

"If it gets revived and brought to the conscious level of the younger parents, then we'll have children growing up who value manners. Maybe we'll see a change in direction for the better in our society."

Teacher Patricia Cano, who has seen first-hand the benefits of the etiquette classes in her first-graders, says: "One of the main things they learn is respect.

"They respect their personal space in the classroom and they just try to treat everyone nicely.

"I heard one of my students say 'Say it with a smile', and I just thought that was so beautiful."

The children are convinced about the significance of their newly acquired skills.

As Jericho, aged seven, is quick to point out: "It's important - so you can be responsible."

"It makes me feel special," adds Eddy, aged six.

But for Danny, aged nine, one thing is certain: "If I get invited to the White House, I won't spill anything on the president."

Country profile: United States of America
07 Apr 05 |  Country profiles

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