Tuesday February 5, 2012

PUTNEY - Nancy Brooks takes very seriously her responsibilities as a parent.

She has worked hard to ensure her sons - 10 and 11 years old - always play well with others, respect their elders and, of course, use proper manners while eating. She never thought there was any sort of a problem, until her family went out to dinner one night and she saw her boys enjoying their salads ... with their fingers.

That's when she thought to talk with other adults with children at The Grammar School and see if any could relate to her situation. Brooks discovered some other parents had had similar experiences and she decided to spearhead a children's table manners luncheon administered by etiquette expert Cindy Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington.

"I noticed we could use some backup as far as teaching our children about table manners and etiquette," Brooks told the Reformer. The luncheon, sponsored by The Grammar School, is slated to last from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Putney Inn on Saturday, Feb. 9. The workshop is open to children ages 8 to 13 and the fee of $48 per child will include a four-course lunch, tip sheets and booklets on table manners.

Each child will also receive an Emily Post Certificate of Completion.

Named after Emily Post, Senning's late great-grandmother and an author of etiquette books, the institute conducts seminars and trainings and actively partners with businesses and nonprofit organizations to make knowledge of etiquette and manners more accessible.


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Though she retired a year ago, she still partakes in the children and adult programs because she created them.

Senning said she will dedicate 20 to 30 minutes to teaching the children the importance of premeal etiquette, such as washing their hands, placing a napkin on their laps and waiting for the host or hostess before digging in.

Though she does not yet know what is on the menu, Senning said she hopes the meal will include chicken nuggets because they are easy to cut with a knife. She told the Reformer she will instruct the children on the proper way to hold utensils, cut their food and drink their beverages.

"All the table manners you know ... generate out of two things," she said. "The first is to help prevent grossing people out and the other is to keep from embarrassing yourself."

Dining is often a social event and Senning said there are ways to make sure you don't feel foolish. She said it is helpful to remember that your bread and butter plate is always to your left while your glass or cup will be placed at your right. Senning said it is also important to remember not to use your fork like a shovel.

"I often say to think of your utensils as tools," she told the Reformer. "If you use them properly they will do their jobs better for you."

But Senning was quick to stress that a slip-up in table manners is not the worst thing in the world.

"Emily Post would always say, 'It doesn't matter which fork you're eating with - as long as you're eating with a fork,'" she said. "If you use the wrong fork, it's no big whoop."

Senning said some people develop their best friendships over a meal and basic manners are a key to building strong, lasting relationships.

Brooks also said learning proper dining etiquette can also have a ripple effect and teach children how to make respectful eye contact, shake hands firmly and remember to say "Please" and "Thank you."

There will be a table manners quiz, tips on how to eat tricky foods and suggestions on how to be a good guest and host at the luncheon.

A one-hour parents presentation is scheduled for after the children's program at no extra cost to participating families. During the presentation, parents will learn specific tips for encouraging manners with their children. The cost is $10 to parents whose children are not participating in the luncheon. A children's activity with supervision will be provided during this time, according to a statement.

Space is limited and registration is open to the public. A snow date has been scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 10. To enroll in the children's or parent's workshops, submit name(s) and a check payable to "The Grammar School" with "Manners" in the notation line to The Grammar School, 69 Hickory Ridge Road South, Putney, VT, 05346.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-2542311. You can follow him@dpoli_reformer.