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Teaching Kids Good Manners: The Manners Lady

Monday, 02 February 2004 12:00 AM

In a “me-first” world, where many children emulate crude characters from television shows like “The Simpsons” and “South Park,” the vivacious and charismatic Judi Vankevich, is leading a grassroots movement to once again make politeness and common courtesy a staple of society.

“Mind your manners” is not just a phrase that she tells her three kids. Instead, the model-turned-children’s entertainer helps elementary school students learn manners, and use them in everyday situations.

Many adoring children and appreciative parents know the former college basketball player as “The Manner’s Lady.” She has even trademarked the title.

Brimming with enthusiasm and energy that even surpasses the youngsters she entertains, Vankevich is spreading the word about good manners with several tools, including

These are just some of the ways Vankevich is leading a personal crusade to encourage kids to good manners. She says the key is to demonstrate an “attitude of gratitude,” live by the "Golden Rule" and strive to always respect others.

Parents bemoaning ill-mannered children is nothing new. But many sociology experts believe that manners are on the decline, losing favor to a world more concerned with digital cable, lifelike computer games and the Internet than politeness.

Technology is not only making communication faster, it's changing the way the world communicates. As a result, many experts say, today's children - the first raised online - are missing manners.

"The tenor of the times has dictated to parents that manners are not as important as they used to be," said Frank Vitro, a psychology professor at Texas Woman's University and an expert in children's social skills. "Parents are more focused on fostering assertiveness and self-confidence in children. That's a very important dimension that needs to be nurtured in a child, but certainly not at the expense of also developing proper social skills and proper etiquette and manners."

The decline of good manners and common courtesy, Vankevich believes, started in the turbulent ‘60s and continued into the rebellious ‘70s. “Children of the ‘60s and ‘70s are the parents of the ‘80s, ‘90s and today,” Vankevich explained. “Good manners are not passed from one generation to the next like they once were.

“I don’t think children mean to be rude,” Vankevich said. “Most of them want to do the right thing. They just need to be shown how.”

Raised in Canada and one of five children in her family, Vankevich was a Parisian model after graduating from high school, played basketball at Trinity Western University in British Columbia and earned a master’s degree in law and government from Regent University in Virginia Beach.

Married to a filmmaker husband, she opened a modeling school when they lived in Virginia Beach. It was then that the idea for educating children about manners was born.

“I was teaching … teenagers at the modeling school,” Vankevich explained. “One day I was talking to (former Miss America and 700 Club co-host) Terry Meeuwsen, and she suggested that I teach manners and character to children.”

The Manners Lady empire started in 1995, when Vankevich taught manners to her daughter Alexi, and held meetings for children and parents in her living room. It wasn’t long before word spread and she was asked to address school assemblies in the area.

Now living with her family in British Columbia, Vankevich visits schools across the United States and Canada performing her interactive concert, Being Cool with the Golden Rule, which is often followed by Manners Club party for families later that night or the three-session Manners Club course, where children learn “the value of living with respect, by the Golden Rule and living with a “thankful heart” through role playing exercises and music.

Her CD, titled “Everybody Needs Good Manners,” features catchy and rhythmic rock and rap tunes like the Golden Rule Rap, Goodness Gracious Gratitude, Bad Manners Monsters, Obey Your Mom and Dad, and R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Conversation and stories, such as Princess Spoon instructing listeners how to set the table, is sprinkled in.

In 2002, the CD earned the Covenant Award for the Best Children’s Album and Best Children’s Song of the Year from the Canadian Gospel Music Association. The songs are not gospel music, but they promote principles that people of all faiths embrace, such as the Golden Rule – treating others as you would like to be treated.

“Good manners help everyone get along better, whether it means saying, ‘Thank you’ when someone does something for you, saying, ‘Please’ when you ask for a bottle of ketchup at the table, or teaching your children to say, ‘I’m sorry’ when they do something unkind,” Vankevich added. “And good manners give our children the social skills they need to lead productive and happy lives as adults.”

The Manners Lady Show includes songs from Vankevich’s CD and role playing skits featuring students in the audience. For example, at one concert, 7-year-old Jacqueline Dugas introduced her mother to Britney Spears.

"Mom, this is Britney Spears," the little girl said, her cheeks smeared with blue sparkles and her hair pulled into pigtails. "Um, Britney, this is my mom."

Spears (played by Jacqueline's best friend, Alexi) sticks out her hand as a group of neighborhood kids intently watch the mock introduction.

"Nothing is more attractive than someone with good manners," says Jacqueline's mother, Caroline Dugas. Watching Vankevich in action, she says she might enroll her two daughters in the class full time.

"It does seem like manners have gone by the wayside, replaced by computer skills," Ms. Dugas said. "Kids today talk back to you, won't sit still, and just don't listen. It's like they won't behave unless they know they are going to be entertained or rewarded."

Stacy Calton knows first-hand about the lack of manners exhibited by many children today. The 28-year-old Calton is a music teacher at Utica Elementary School in Utica, Ohio.

“I remember what it was like when I was in elementary school. We were expected to treat parents, teachers and other elders with respect,” Calton said. “That is not how it is now. In the six years that I’ve been a teacher, it has gotten worse. That is why Judi’s program is so important and so greatly needed.”

Calton has played Vankevich’s CD and taught her songs in her K-6 music classes.

“As a music teacher, I want my students to look at the message of the songs as well as the rhythm and the beat,” Calton said. “Judi’s songs are good tunes with good messages.”

“Honor” is a key word in Vankevich’s message – on her CD and during her performance. Honor your parents by coming when they call you – or “right away without delay,” as one of her songs suggests. Honor your friends by looking them in the eye when you thank them for the birthday gift – and have an “attitude of gratitude.”

Gratitude and thankfulness are among the traits Vankevich learned from her parents when she was growing up. On her CD and during her concerts, she tells the story of when she was in high school and abruptly asked her father for money as she was rushing out the door.

“When my five children were going to high school, it seemed they always needed $5 for this and another $5 for that,” recalled Burt Johnston, Vankevich’s father. “I remember one day she was in a hurry and said she needed some money. I told her that I would do anything for her, and I would give her the money, but reminded her to ask in a gracious way and show that she appreciates it.”

The brief moment is forever etched in Vankevich’s mind.

“Those are words that I have never forgotten,” Vankevich said. “And it is one of the most important things anyone can remember – be grateful and thankful for what you have and what others do for you.”

Respecting parents, family members, elders and authority figures; shaking hands firmly and looking the person in the eye; and making others feel important by including them and being kind to them are among the lessons that Vankevich teaches. The Good Manner’s Pledge, which is listed on her Web site, also promotes saying sorry and asking for forgiveness when you do something wrong, respecting other people’s property, and making a habit of saying, ‘Please,’ ‘Thank you,’ and You’re welcome.’”

Additional books and CDs, more tours at schools in the United States and Canada, and a television show are all part of Vankevich’s plans to expand the number of children she reaches with her message of good manners. It is both a career and a labor of love.

“I thought I would change the world through politics after getting my degree in law and government,” Vankevich said. “Now I see that I can influence society by reaching the next generation and helping them learn skills and develop traits that will make them better people, and the world a nicer place.”

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In a "me-first" world, where many children emulate crude characters from television shows like "The Simpsons" and "South Park," the vivacious and charismatic Judi Vankevich, is leading a grassroots movement to once again make politeness and common courtesy a staple of...
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Monday, 02 February 2004 12:00 AM
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