In Montessori education, the term “normalization” has a specialized meaning. “Normal” does not refer to what is considered to be “typical” or “average” or even “usual”. “Normalization” does not refer to a process of being forced to conform. Instead, Maria Montessori used the terms “normal” and “normalization” to describe a unique process she observed in child development. Normalization refers to the focus, concentration and independence of the child, by his own choice. It means the child has acquired the internal freedom to initiate work, be independent, and adhere (by choice) to the rules of the environment. DR Maria Montessori’s main discovery was the reality of a child’s true nature WHICH IS the NORMALIZED CHILD. She described the process of normalization as the fundamental changes in children. Each small child undergoes an adaptation process when he or she first joins any new group of children. When a child just joins a new group until he undergoes adaptation stage, he or she is unable to act independently. It is after the child has normalized that he demonstrates qualities which proves his readiness for intellectual work. Normalization describes the process that occurs in the Montessori prepared environment.
Dr Maria Montessori says the society groups children into three categories; those who are models of good, albeit passive behaviour; those whose character or behaviour needs to be corrected; and those who are thought to be superior to others–these type of children are always noisy, ‘exuberant’, their parents often think they are brilliant, even though others may not find them agreeable around them. Such behaviour may be commonly understood as negative (a timid child, a destructive child, etc.) or positive (a passive, quiet child). Both positive and negative deviations disappear once the child begins to concentrate on a piece of work freely chosen. Every child needs a stimulating environment to grow and without freedom of movement within this environment the child will be deviated. Dr Maria Montessori noticed that in most cases deviations are cause by adults.
Deviation occurs when obstacles are placed in the child’s environment, when the child is denied harmonious work of his body and mind . Dr. Montessori classified deviations in two categories: deliberate (adult-fostered) and non-deliberate (those not fostered by adults). Deliberate deviations are caused by the lack of purposeful activities in the home and/or school environment. These children feel the need to be constantly entertained. They
are continually bouncing between toys, TV, and computer time to alleviate boredom, but nothing holds their interest for very long. These children may also have the tendency to cling to a parent or older sibling well beyond the developmental plane of letting go. This is because their independence has been denied and they are unable to recognize themselves as a separate person.
There are several deviations that are not fostered by adults and are often seen as “normal” stages of development. Dr. Montessori referred to these as deviations as fugues and barriers (The Secret of Childhood) and deviations that are demonstrated by the strong and the weak (The Absorbent Mind). Children often enter the Montessori environment ready to struggle or “fight”. In the Discovery of the Child, Dr. Montessori states “…every defect of character is due to some wrong treatment sustained by the child during his early years”.
It is the duty of the Montessori teacher to remove any obstacles (including herself) which impede the development of the child. With careful observations, “earnest words”, spontaneous work, commitment to the Montessori philosophy and principles, the Montessori teacher is able to successfully redirect and refocus student behaviour. Dr Maria Montessori says that all these character or behaviour, good or bad disappears “as soon as the children becomes absorbed in a piece of work that attracts him.” (Montessori, pg. 201). The child has no desire to be good or bad, he only wants to be busy working with something that brings him joy. Dr Montessori described the normalized child as “one who is precociously intelligent, who has learned to overcome himself and to live peace and who prefers a disciplined task to futile idleness”(Maria Montessori, the secret of childhood).
A pre-normalized child does not have the joy normalized children have . a pre- normalized child coming into the Montessori environment has a chaotic impression from surrounding environment, he has a low self-esteem. He would abandon his work without completion. He shows discipline only when an adult is around and it does not last. Normalization come about through “concentration” on a piece of work. When the child engages with the Montessori materials in total concentration for long periods of time, a transformation occurs.
This transformation is what Dr. Maria Montessori calls “normalization”. It is a process that occurs over a period of time, usually three or four years and it requires the child’s total engagement with the Montessori materials. The process of normalization is a journey. It begins when a child is introduced to activities like the practical life materials. The materials help the child to develop his motor skills , acquire a sense of order , and begin the process of extending their ability, and desire for concentrated work.
For normalization to occur, child development must proceed from birth with the non-physical growth of the child’s mind , intellect, personality, temperament, spirit and soul. E.M Standing, author of Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, lists these as the characteristics of “normalization”: love of order, love of work, spontaneous concentration, attachment to reality, love of silence and of working alone, sublimation of the possessive instinct, power to act from real choice, obedience, independence and initiative, spontaneous self-discipline, and joy. Montessori believed that these are truly “normal” characteristics of childhood, which emerge when children’s developmental needs are met.
Maria Montessori observed that when children are allowed the freedom in an environment suited to their needs they blossom. She believes that if a child is placed in a carefully prepared environment, she would learn to live in harmony with her surroundings. It is up to the Montessori teacher to prepare that environment so that the child is free to develop her personality and her mind from the opportunities that are present to her in the prepared environment .
The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say “the children are working as if I do not exist” Maria Montessori.
This according to Dr Maria Montessori is “the most important single result of our whole work”
(The Absorbent mind, 1949).
Discipline Montessori tells us comes spontaneously from freedom. When given the freedom to pursue his own interest, he develops deep concentration and self-discipline. Work that is driven from within and not urged upon him by teachers or parents becomes the child’s passion.
Normalization begins when the children freely choose their work, concentrate, and are working blissfully on their own as members of a respectful, peaceful community
As a Montessorian, you strive to provide an enriched, stimulating environment which fosters order, coordination, concentration, and independence – an environment within which the child is an active explorer and learner and can develop self-direction and a true love of learning. Your role is to nurture the growth of the child cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically.
The goal of any Montessori teacher should be to recognize each child’s nature and allow it to grow. As the child chooses his work and becomes absorbed in meaningful work, he soon begins working with continued concentration and inner satisfaction. It will take time and much effort on the part of the Directress (teacher) to ensure a suitable environment is prepared for the children. It is only through the prepared environment that the children will flourish and the process of normalization will begin.
To help children overcome the pre-normalized stage and help them along the line of normalization, Dr M. Montessori stated that first, the Montessori teacher must practice patience rather anger. An adult who is impatient or angry cannot build confidence or independence in a child. She recommended interrupting the misbehaviour because it is an obstacle to development and to offer interesting and purposeful activities to re-channel that energy in a productive way.
A Montessori teacher should encourage normalization by taking care to prepare the environment to ensure it is neat, orderly, enriched and beautiful. She should be diligent with re directing those who are having difficult time remaining focussed. A good Montessori teacher should have an enriched practical life area. Children who are very young (three years old or just under 3) or who are new to the Montessori classroom are said to be in the first stage of normalization. So, too, are children who habitually disturb the work and concentration of others. These children are not ready for the freedom and responsibility granted to others in the Montessori classroom.
They are given limited choices and may be kept near a Montessori teacher, or are invited to work in a specific area of the Montessori classroom with a teacher checking on them frequently throughout the day. Children in the first stage enjoy the practical life skills area of the Montessori classroom. Here, children practice developing motor skills while increasing their level of concentration. Practical life activities are structured so that children are able to see the results of their work quickly. They take pride in their accomplishments and enjoy working.
Learning care of self and care of the environment, will assist the children as they venture to other parts of the classroom. Montessori practical life activities are the framework to a normalized environment. She should work hard to guide children towards purposeful activities that appeal their individual needs and interest. Learning to re direct behaviour takes time and practice; it does not happen overnight. Dr Maria Montessori observed that “The teacher…has many difficult functions…She must acquire a precise knowledge of the techniques…for dealing with the child.” (Discovery of the Child) There may be a period of trial and error as you practice different techniques for guiding appropriate behaviour. Remember, the children need emotional care as well as physical care. The teacher who is patient yet firm and slow to anger will inspire goodness and confidence in the children.
“…defects in character, disappear of themselves…One does not need to threaten or cajole, but only to ‘normalizing the conditions’ under which the child lives.” (Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child)
The Montessori teacher should never shout, never lose her temper, never smack, shake or push a child or even speak crossly. She should be pleasant and polite, firm without anger and be able to deal with a misdemeanour with sympathy and assistance rather than with punishment. All children should be shown respect, never humiliated or laughed at, and their remarks should be listened to seriously and answered thoughtfully and courteously.
She should set the tone by emphasizing grace and courtesy in the Montessori community, be patient and confident with the notion that her Montessori environment will one day be a peaceful community. A community where children love order, love work, have spontaneous concentration and attachment to reality. A community where children love silence and working alone, where children have power to act from real choice, obedience, independent and initiative with spontaneous self-discipline and joy.
Montessori, M., The Absorbent Mind, wilder publication,2009.
Montessori, M., The Absorbent Mind, Theosophical press, 1964.
Standing , E.M., Maria Montessori, Her Life and work, Plume new, 1998.