The term normalisation is often met with confusion and concern from parents. However, the good news is normalisation is actually very positive in the context of Montessori education. Indeed, Maria Montessori believed so heavily in the benefits of the process that she is quoted as saying: “Normalisation is the single most important result of our work.”
What is Normalisation?
The term normalisation originally comes from the field of anthropology, where it means becoming a contributing member of society. Overtime, the concept of normalisation has come to be synonymous with the Montessori philosophy of education.
In Montessori education, normalisation describes the process where young children come to focus and concentrate on a task for a sustained period of time. This focused attention was previously thought to be impossible for children so young.
Montessori came across the normalisation process through her research. As a trained doctor, she was not primarily an educator, and did not set out to create an education system. Rather, she observed young children and allowed these observations to help her create materials which would naturally help children’s development.
By observing children using the sensorial materials she made, she noticed that when given an engaging and stimulating task, children could concentrate for extended periods of time. Also, the more they engaged in these activities, the calmer, happier and more self-disciplined they became.
The process in which a child organises their brain activity through concentration is normalisation. Essentially, normalisation occurs when development is proceeding normally.
When Does Normalisation Appear?
The formation of normalisation happens through the repetition of a three-step cycle identified by Maria Montessori, which is referred to as the Montessori work cycle.
The first step is the preparation for an activity, which includes collecting the materials required from the relevant areas of the classroom. During this time the child is preparing to begin the activity, and is calling the attention of the mind to begin to focus.
Next, the child engages in the activity, hopefully achieving a state of concentration. This step is important for the child’s education, as they explore, learn from, and master the activity. Montessori noted in her research that some children were so deeply engaged that she could pick them up, and transfer them to another chair without disturbing their work.
Finally, the third step is rest. Upon completing and packing away the work, the child feels a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This is the point that some inner formation or integration of the person takes place.
In all of this, it is important to note that joining a Montessori class does not mean your child will immediately begin this cycle of normalisation, or display similar tendencies. Each child develops at their own pace, and Montessori educators note that it can take months of regular engagement in the prepared Montessori environment to see normalisation occur in children.
What are the characteristics of normalisation?
As children continually engage in the Montessori work cycle, four characteristics emerge which show that normalisation is happening. They are as follows.
Love of work
“The first characteristic of the process of normalisation is love of work. Love of work includes the ability to choose work freely and to find serenity and joy in work.” – Maria Montessori
Young children thrive on consistency, and benefit greatly from engaging in a routine. During the Montessori work cycle, which was previous explained, children joyfully go about their work and feel a great sense of accomplishment upon completion.
“To help such development, it is not enough to provide objects chosen at random, but [the teachers] have to organise a world of ‘progressive interest’.” – Maria Montessori
During the work cycle, normalised children will be absorbed in their work – each one in a different, freely chosen activity. Teachers will continue to present the children with the next appropriate challenge or task to master, to ensure concentration continues.
“After concentration will come perseverance… It marks the beginning of yet another state in character formation… It is the ability to carry through what he has begun.” – Maria Montessori
Linked to concentration, self-discipline refers to the persevering nature of normalised children, who complete cycles of work they have begun.
“There is only one specimen of each object, and if a piece is in use when another child wants it, the latter – if he is normalised – will wait for it to be released. Important social qualities derive from this. The child comes to see that he must respect the work of others, not because someone has said he must, but because this is a reality that he meets in his daily experience.” – Maria Montessori
The final characteristic, sociability, refers to the child’s relationship with his or her class members, who, when normalised, will display social cohesion. Children display patience as they wait for the materials they want, they respect the work of others, and have harmonious relationships with all classmates.
Normalisation is not a radical or irrational process, and the process is not aimed at diminishing the personality of a child, or conforming them to a certain image.
Rather, normalisation is a natural process of development, with children learning in harmony with their surroundings. Normalised children often are socially and academically ahead of their peers, and the characteristic of normalisation prepare Montessori children for all of life’s challenges.