By Margaret Frymire
In the home of Birmingham native Nancy Smith, area children are learning all the tricks and trades of proper etiquette. Etiquette Essentials, Birmingham’s newest manners school, is run by mother and daughter team Molly and Nancy Smith.
Nancy, a former interior designer, has long held proper etiquette to be among the most important things to teach one’s children. She and her husband Murray Smith, a Restoration Academy board member, have been involved in the school as both mentors and financial donors.
When visiting Restoration Academy for luncheons and other functions, Nancy was disappointed in the way the children greeted guests and conducted themselves at the table. She wanted to help the students have the tools to present themselves properly.
That’s where the idea for Etiquette Essentials was born.
Nancy searched for a curriculum from which to teach and finally found the American School of Protocol when she was flipping through a magazine. Nancy received her certification to teach children’s etiquette from the institution. Equipped to teach, Nancy started with the 32 juniors and seniors from Restoration Academy.
People began to hear about Nancy’s work with the school and asked if she would teach their children etiquette skills as well. Nancy’s daughter Molly, a longtime proponent of good manners and social conduct as well as the keeper of the etiquette book as a Kappa Delta at Lynchburg College, told her mother she would be interested in teaching the classes with her.
Molly also got her certification from the American School of Protocol, and the two began to teach classes at the end of this past summer.
“We’re trying to teach them how to be ladies and gentleman, how to be kind, gracious and considerate. It’s about putting others first. It’s not all about how to hold your fork right. It’s about being kind,” Nancy said.
In each session consisting of four classes, the students learn dining etiquette, including the correct use of a fork, and social manners. Nancy and Molly teach both boys and girls from grades 1-12.
Each class begins in the patio-parlor area of Nancy’s home, where the children learn about proper eye contact, shaking hands, conversation skills, proper introductions, thank-you notes and telephone etiquette.
“I learned that it’s important when you shake someone’s hand to look into their eyes,” student Lillie Young said,
In the last class, Nancy taught the students how to write thank-you notes.
“It’s like a visit on paper,” she explained to them.
The children listened attentively, raising their hands and conducting themselves with decorum. Nancy had the students work together to compose a hypothetical thank-you note for the gift of a One Direction CD.
During the dining portion of the session, the children learn the American and Continental styles of dining, resting and closing position of flatware, proper use of the napkin, how to seat a lady, how to pass table items and how to finish a meal.
During the lesson, students listened closely with smiles on their faces.
“I like to learn about how to use proper manners and about all the plates,” Stella Young said.
The Smiths use fresh flowers and full table settings when teaching the classes. Nancy said the best way to teach is by example, so she conducts the class by sitting and dining with the children as Molly walks about to instruct and assist.
The most important thing they teach the students is self-confidence, Nancy said.
We’re teaching them the rules of life,” she said. “It gives them a huge leg up. No matter where they go, they know the rules of the game.”
Molly added, “This is just as important if not more than the sports they play after school. They will use these skills for the rest of their life.”
The two teach mostly children, but Nancy is certified to teach adult classes for the corporate world as well. Nancy said she hopes to work with Alabama Power and other companies to teach corporate etiquette classes in the future.
Both she and Molly hope to expand their business, teaching more classes for both children and corporate clients out of their homes.