On a recent Saturday morning in New York, a group of students practiced making eye contact and smiling when they introduced themselves, learned how to make a phone call and worked on shaking hands properly with the help of Velcro gloves.
After, they sat down to a formal meal replete with china and crystal tableware, at which they were taught how to make a toast.
These were not newly minted MBA graduates preparing to enter the business world. They were 5-year-olds.
The two-hour workshop was one of 18 classes taught by Faye de Muyshondt, who founded Socialsklz four years ago to help youngsters learn manners.
She now teaches more than 100 children and teens every week in her center on the Upper West Side. She is opening a branch in Greenwich, Conn., next month and another in New Jersey soon after.
"We sign our kids up for soccer, tennis and Lego-building. But we never spend time on this skill set, and it's going to impact their lives more than anything," said de Muyshondt. "Parents are starting to realize that kids need to be taught these skills."
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Experts say that technologies such as texting have impaired children's ability to conduct polite conversations, and that the culture of helicopter parenting is producing an overindulged, inconsiderate generation who lack the wherewithal to behave appropriately.
A number of small businesses across the country instruct children in everything from using cutlery correctly to making friends. A new off-Broadway musical, "Piggy Nation," is aimed at teaching manners in an entertaining way.
Many etiquette instructors have backgrounds in education or public relations, which have helped them develop fun ways to teach reluctant tots to mind their p's and q's.
Rachel Isgar, the owner of Los Angeles-based Please Pass the Manners, used to be a math and phonics tutor.
On a whim, she offered a few etiquette courses, which sold out. She started a business focused solely on etiquette two years ago and now takes groups of up to 15 children to restaurants for lessons on civilized dining. The price for the 90-minute session is $50 a child, and the best-selling class is the one for 5- to 8-year-olds.