Normalization is a term that is often misunderstood outside of Montessori circles. A normalized child is not one who is ‘typical’ or who has ‘conformed’. A normalized child is one who has spontaneous concentration, an attachment to reality, self-discipline, and who finds joy and contentment in their work. Dr. Montessori observed that when children are allowed freedom in a carefully prepared environment, which meets all of the developmental needs of the child, they blossom and begin to manifest these characteristics.
After a period of concentration working with the Montessori materials (that fully capture their interest), children appear to be refreshed and contented, rather than tired. Through continued concentrated work of their own choice, children develop an inner discipline and sense of peace. She called this process “normalization” and cited it as “the most important single result of our whole work”. (The Absorbent Mind, p. 204).
Normalization refers to the focus, concentration and independence of the child in a Montessori classroom. As a guide (Montessori term for teacher), our job is to carefully prepare the environment for the children: hands–on child-size materials that isolate a specific concept for the child’s age of learning, child-sized furniture, a trained Guide, and a 3 hour uninterrupted work cycle, etc, so the children can concentrate and work with the materials developing the characteristics noted above.
When young children first come into the Montessori classroom, they are introduced to the Practical Life area. These purposeful and meaningful exercises help develop their fine motor skills, sense of order, and starts developing their concentration with longer more detailed activities. There can never be too much time in this area of the classroom.
Normalization occurs during the first plane of development (ages 0-6). Dr. Montessori stated that there are four characteristics that show normalization is progressing:
Love of work: “The first characteristic of the process of normalization is love of work. Love of work includes the ability to choose work freely and to find serenity and joy in work” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 202)
Concentration: “To help such development, it is not enough to provide objects chosen at random, but we [teachers] have to organize a world of ‘progressive interest” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 206).
Self Discipline: Dr. Montessori says: After concentration will come perseverance . . . It marks the beginning of yet another stage in character formation . . . It is the ability to carry through what he has begun. The children in our schools choose their work freely, and show this power unmistakably. They practice it daily for years. (The Absorbent Mind, p. 217)
Sociability: 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 normalized—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. (The Absorbent Mind, p. 223).