Practice Makes Perfect!

Ten-year-old Gina has a little trouble with her mascara, above, and applies just a hint of blush to her cheek, right, during a junior class held at Bergner's. In addition to personal grooming, students receive helpful suggestions on poise, personality, voice & table etiquette.

Little Misses Learn Some Manners
By Elise Zwicky of the Journal Star

Pekin - Nine-year-old Amanda and 10-year-old Natalie put their heads together and giggled as they tried to figure out on which side of the plate to set a fork. Who knew etiquette class could be so much fun?

"I didn't know what to expect when my mom asked me if I wanted to take a class about manners, " admitted Natalie. "The most fun has been learning the pivots and setting the table."

Amanda and Natalie are two of 14 girls who recently spent four weeks learning social and dining skills at the Pekin YWCA under the direction of Robin Thompson, the owner of a successful charm school.

"What I try to instill in these girls are values that will last a life time," said Robin. "These are skills for life."

Robin has been teaching manners in Illinois for 16 years, but this is the first time the class has been offered at the Pekin YWCA. Class participants ranged in age from 6 to 13, with most being 8 to 12 years old.

"That's the perfect age because they're going from being a young child into the preteen years, and that's a difficult translation," Robin said. "They aren't little girls anymore, but they aren't women either. The teen years are very challenging. So I want to give them the confidence they need not to just get through those years, but to enjoy them and have a good time."
They're charming
Above, Ana 10, practices the correct procedure for passing a dish to Gina, seated. In addition to the 8 to 11 year olds, the school offers advanced teen courses for 12 to 18..

Robin Thompson (below) shows 10-year-old Bridget the proper technique for applying lipstick.

The title of the class - "Be The Best You Can Be" - emphasizes Robin's point to the girls that each one is unique.

"We make no comparisons," she said. "I really want them to have self-confidence and learn to like themselves. But I also want them to act out of consideration for other people by stopping and thinking how their actions can affect others because sometimes they tend to think the world revolves around them."

The class covers a variety of topics, including poise and posture, personal grooming, manners in public and at home, shyness and how to make friends.

A recent table manners lesson offered tips on what to do when you have to burp at the table (cover your mouth to hide it as much as possible and say, "excuse me") and how to act if you get a dirty dish (quietly ask your hostess for a new one).

Robin acknowledges that much of what she teaches are things kids hear every day at home. "These girls will come into class, and I'll tell them all the same things their parents tell them, like sit up straight and put your shoulders back, smile and be friendly and don't be shy," she said. "But they tend to listen to me, a total stranger, over their moms and dads. Children just tend to forget their parents were young once."

At least one parent agreed with Robin. "I was hoping she would learn how to be a young lady and use manners and be polite," Lynnette said of her 7-year-old daughter, Beth. "All those things children tend to believe more when they hear it from a teacher rather than a parent." Although Lynette's second-grade daughter is one of the youngest in the class, said the lessons seemed to be sinking in with her.

"I was thinking along the lines that the younger the better, rather than waiting until the bad habits are really set in place," she said. "I certainly didn't enroll her in the class to become a beauty queen or anything like that. I just wanted her to learn etiquette and manners."

The class does offer modeling tips, but Robin emphasized she is not trying to groom the girls to be models. "If they want to do it, I'll show them how to go about it. But I don't encourage it," she said. "What I want to do is help their values for life, not just a couple years on the runway. To me, if you're well-mannered, if you treat other people with respect and you're nice, that's the big success."

The girls did have a chance to model, as well as show off their social and dining skills, at a charm school graduation luncheon. "It's mainly just a time for the girls to go with their family and be well-behaved," Robin said. "They don't have to dress in gloves and frilly dresses. I asked them to model their favorite outfits or something they feel good in."

Robin said some of her best moments are when parents tell her they've seen a change in their daughters about manners."

"One thing I want to emphasize is they don't come to class because there's something wrong with them," Robin said. "They're coming because they realize you can never stop improving."

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