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Normalization in the Montessori Classroom

What does this term “Normalization” mean?

E. M. Standing, in his book, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, states: "The crowning characteristic of a group of normalized children is joy. It pervades the little community like a perfume; and is as hard to describe as it is easy to perceive." Simply put, during normalization, the child is becoming his best possible self and doing so without effort and with complete joy.

Normalization is a term that can cause confusion and some concern among Montessori parents. It suggests that we are going to help children who are not “normal” to become “normal.” This is definitely not what Maria Montessori meant when her works were translated from Italian to English, in the lexicon of her time. Rather, Dr. Montessori's observations revealed that certain characteristics develop and are refined within the normalized child: love of work; concentration; self-discipline; and sociability. It’s the process through which young children learn to focus their intelligence, concentrate their energies for long periods, and take tremendous satisfaction from their work.

The Characteristics of Normalization

E.M. Standing described the following characteristics of normalization in the child between the age of three and six:

  • A love of order

  • A love of work

  • Profound spontaneous concentration

  • Attachment to reality

  • Love of silence and of working alone

  • Sublimation of the possessive instinct

  • Cooperation

  • Independence and initiative

  • Spontaneous self-discipline

  • Joy

  • The power to act from real choice and not just from idle curiosity

Standing further explains the child's work as "any activity which involves the child's whole personality, and has at its unconscious aim the construction of personality. It is definitely a form of self-expression, and brings the child a corresponding joy in the performance of it."

The child's work is qualitatively different from the adult's. The child works to develop self. The work is about the journey, not the product. When a child finishes a painting he'll most likely take it to the drying rack and forget about it. It's about the process, not the product. Adults work to change the environment. Children use the environment to change themselves.

Concentration is the key. When the children are concentrating, you can hear a pin drop. Their focus is so intense that they are unaware of what is going on around them. Dr. Montessori recalls a story of physically moving a child so deeply concentrating on the knobbed cylinders that he continued the activity undisturbed. We can equate the child's experience to that of an adult reading a good book, so engrossed that three hours and the surrounding world disappear.

How Parents can Support the Development of Normalization

  1. Establish a drop-off routine as early as possible.

    1. This is a good first step. Routines reinforce the young child's innate love of order. Not only does a child have an inner need for things to be kept in their place, he also has a need for routine.

    2. Oftentimes, parents find drop-off time more difficult than the children do. Having a set routine in place will help make the transition smooth for everyone and support the normalization process. Some of our Montessori teachers greet their children at the car door, allowing parents to leave immediately. Other teachers greet children at the playground gate, allowing a short outside time before the day begins.

    3. Whatever you choose, make sure to drop off at the designated area and at the designated time. This will make for an easy transition into the classroom, leaving the child feeling safe and secure.

  2. Arrive on time. Starting the day together, as a group, helps build a sense of community and helps children feel secure. Arriving on time also reinforces being respectful, polite, and considerate of others. If a child arrives at the classroom late, it is disruptive to the other children and teachers in the classroom, and it can also make it difficult for the late-arriving child to enter the classroom alone. Again, not disturbing a child's sense of order will help with normalization.

  3. Drive the same route to school every day ("We're getting close to your school... I see the tall coconut tree.").

  4. Say goodbye at the same place ("Let's have our big hug at the gate!").

  5. Pick up your child at the same time ("Mom will pick you up after you wake up from your nap!").

Kay Futrell, in her classic book, The Normalized Child, describes Dr. Montessori’s amazement when the 60 frightened and ill-disciplined inner-city children of her first Children’s House began to respond to the new environment. “What followed seemed incredible even to Dr. Montessori, for the deprived children blossomed under this freedom and the possibility of doing work suited to their needs. They revealed to her not only their enormous capacity for intellectual accomplishment but a strange character of sweetness and serenity. They displayed a truly uncorrupted spirit, scorning rewards and punishment, and finding joy in the prodigious work which involved them. They came from these labors refreshed, as from a creative experience, and as they worked, they grew in inner discipline and peace.”

Normalization is another word for what we call Montessori’s JOYFUL Scholars!

Credits: in part to Pamela Personette, M.Ed., Montessori Educational Consultant, Montessori Services. Originally published by Montessori Services in 2010.

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