Let’s Talk Normalisation

Afbeelding voor Let’s Talk Normalisation
In The Absorbent Mind (2007, p. 186), Montessori describes 'normalisation' as: "...the most important single result of our whole work." She describes how 'normalisation' is achieved when the child transitions from having "defects of character" (p. 183), where the hand and mind wanders and the body moves "clumsily" (p. 185), to being disciplined, happy and focused in their work (p. 188). This 'normalisation' is achieved, according to Montessori, through "'concentration' on a piece of work" (p. 188).

In a recent webinar exploring The Favourable Environment, a group discussion led participants to consider whether we need to review our understanding of ‘normalisation’. The general interpretation tends to be quite academic, and typically aims for a static end-result by the end of the absorbent mind stage where the child is able to concentrate and work joyously and independently, throughout the work cycle, with the materials and activities provided in the prepared environment. This often leads to ‘normalisation’ being used as an assessment tool, rather than a process and a dynamic state like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘flow’.

When we take such a view of ‘normalisation’, are we considering all the child’s needs? Are we mindful of the child’s ebbs and flows, the circle of life that impacts their emotional state? Bronfenbrenner‘s work reminds us that the child does not exist in isolation but, instead, forms part of a complex web of relationships affecting their development.

And if we focus solely on concentration through interaction with the individual materials on the shelves, are we allowing room for the importance of the collaborative, social and emotional work that takes place through play and games which might, at first glance, seem to lack focus to us as adults, but are equally important in the holistic development of the child?

Teacher Tom writes that “Our responsibility is not to make children ponder at their desks, but rather to free them to think, which is to say, to provide them with a safe-enough “garden” full of people, things, and ideas that they are free to manipulate and explore, to respond to them when they need us or ask us questions, but to otherwise get out of their way so they can actually think.” Which reminds us of Montessori’s words that we must have faith in the child and follow them as our leader, rather than Montessori herself.

Barbara Isaacs, President of Montessori Europe, challenges us to consider many other aspects of ‘normalisation’ in this blog post. And if you would like to explore this topic further, you might also be interested in the following resources.

Mine Conkbayir – Self Regulation
David Kahn – Montessori and Optimal Experience Research
Siren Films – Insight into Self Regulation
Alfie Kohn – Why Self Discipline is Overrated
Harvard Center on the Developing Child – How Children and Adults can Build Core Capabilities for Life