Not long ago, a mother wrote: ?My daughter attends a Montessori school. She loves school and tells me about all the wonderful things she does. I just have one question, could someone please explain the term Normalization?
Normalization is a term that causes a great deal of confusion and some concern among many new Montessori parents. Normalization is a terrible choice of words. It suggests that we are going to help children who are not normal to become "normal." This is not what Dr. Montessori meant to suggest at all. Normalization is just Montessori-talk that describes the process that takes place every year in tens and tens of thousands of Montessori classrooms around the world, in which young children, who typically have a short attention span, learn to focus their intelligence, concentrate their energies for long periods, and take tremendous satisfaction from their work.
Another mother put it this way: "My child just does not act the same now that he?s been in Montessori a while. He is usually happy, laughing, and running from one thing to another. In Montessori he looks interested, sometimes puzzled, and often completely absorbed. I think of normalization as a kind of satisfaction that he seems to take from what he calls hard work.?
In his book, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, 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
- Independence and initiative
- Spontaneous self-discipline
- The power to act from real choice and not just from idle curiosity
?Ours was a house for children, rather than a real school. We had prepared a place for children where a diffused culture could be assimilated, without any need for direct instruction...Yet these children learned to read and write before they were five, and no one had given them any lessons. At that time it seemed miraculous that children of four and a half should be able to write, and that they should have learned without the feeling of having been taught.
We puzzled over it for a long time. Only after repeated experiments did we conclude with certainty that all children are endowed with this capacity to 'absorb' culture. If this were true - we then argued - if culture can be acquired without effort, let us provide the children with other elements of culture. And then we saw them 'absorb' far more than reading and writing: botany, zoology, mathematics, geography, and all with the same ease, spontaneously and without getting tired.
And so we discovered that education is not something, which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process, which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher's task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.
My experiments, conducted in many different countries, have now been going on for forty years (ed. now ninety-two years), and as the children grew up parents kept asking me to extend my methods to the later ages. We then found that individual activity is the one factor that stimulates and produces development, and that this is not truer for the little ones of preschool age than it is for the junior, middle, and upper school children."
The Absorbent Mind, 1947
Kay Futrell in her classic little book, The Normalized Child, describes Dr. Montessori?s amazement when the 60 frighten 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 their 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.
The sight of these children who displayed the truly ?normal? characteristics of childhood, was the force which motivated Montessori for the remainder of her life. This secret of childhood she pursued with all the vitality of the genius who found her ?raison d?etre,? and from her tireless observations and efforts, evolved her perception of the child?s psychic personality.
As she traveled from country to country, lecturing, training teachers, helping to establish school after school, this same phenomenon was observed wherever conditions promoting its growth were perfectly realized.
This normalized child is the image which Montessori teachers keep uppermost in their minds. This is what we are striving for, what we hope will achieve. However, this child will only appear only if we conscientiously prepare ourselves and our classrooms and if we can build on the proper preparation in the child?s home.?
Normalization is another word for what we call Montessori?s Joyful Scholars.