“Wait while observing, that is the motto of the educator.” Dr. Maria Montessori
In Montessori education, the term “normalisation” has a specialised meaning. “Normal” does not refer to what is considered to be “typical” or “average” or even “usual”. “Normalisation” does not refer to a process of being forced to conform. Instead, Maria Montessori used the terms “normal” and “normalisation” to describe a unique process she observed in child development. Montessori observed that when children are allowed freedom in an environment suited to their needs, they blossom. After a period of intense concentration, working with materials that fully engage their interest, children appear to be refreshed and contented. Through continued concentrated work of their own choice, children grow in inner discipline and peace. She called this process “normalisation” and cited it as “the most important single result of our whole work”. NAMTA
Normalisation in Montessori language
Normalisation in Montessori language is when a child exhibits joyfulness when engaged in purposeful work and would rather choose it over pretend play.
When I read the article “Normalisation and Deviation”, the first thing that came to my mind was how the comments from others affect the child. When I was a child, I struggled the most with Mathematics. I couldn’t connect to it. My basics were not strong. People around me would comment, “She is not good at Mathematics”. It discouraged me from even trying to learn. During my school days, I struggled and just managed to pass Mathematics in the 10th standard (the equivalent of Secondary 4 in traditional Singapore schools). After that I decided that I was not going to take up the subject anymore. It just wasn’t my cup of tea! So, I chose Commerce because Mathematics was not included in that stream. When I was doing my degree, I decided to try the Charted Accountant exam. When the Mathematics paper came in again, I lost all my confidence and eventually dropped out from doing the course.
My father is a well-known short story writer in my mother-tongue. So from childhood, I started reading and it became a habit. Steadily, I started writing in my elementary age. As my confidence levels were very low and I rarely got acknowledgement or recognition from my parents, I wrote privately, and then, lost interest in that as well.
These are some of the barriers a child can face in his/her life. Adults are not intentionally doing it; but from the child’s perspective, it becomes a big challenge to overcome. For a child, getting the right exposure at the right time, will enable him/her to grow fantastically without any obstacles.
When my daughter joined a playgroup for the first time (which was not Montessori), we faced a lot of tantrums, whining, clinging and everything that we attributed to normal toddler development. At times, we were not able to handle it too. At that time, we let her watch TV. We were not able to find out the reason behind her behaviour. Then, we found a Montessori school, and then, learnt the need to satisfy the child’s needs based on her age and characteristics of that age group. We realised how happy the child will be once she is able to accomplish her tasks and fulfil her needs. From the school, we came to know the side effects of TV. These were becoming obstacles for my child to develop. When the barriers/obstacles were removed, she became normalised.
Normalisation is a process that will take time for each child at different levels. There are many things that encompass this process. It is just like making a good tasty curry. The ingredients should go in properly at the proper time. If the adult doesn’t know the actual time to mix it in, the taste of the curry will not be the same or as expected. This is exactly what happens with the child as well. When all their age-specific needs are met at age-specific times, they will become normalised after a few months.
Now as a guide, I am getting more opportunities to see the normalisation process. While working at school, I came across a very deviated child. He had a lot of obstacles in his life. He seemed to have been over-protected and not allowed the freedom to move and explore. He used to throw a lot of tantrums during school hours. All these were because he was always feeling incapable to do things like the others did. His hand-eye coordination, pincer-grip and everything needed to be helped with. For the first few months, I was not able to understand him. Slowly with the help of the other guides, I started to observe him. When he concentrated on some work, he would be calm and satisfied. The days he was unable to choose and concentrate on work, he would be at his peak of throwing tantrums. The best way for children to feel satisfaction is to let them do their own work like wearing clothes, wearing shoes, feed themselves, etc. Nowadays, he can do his own personal work. He has gained much more independence in taking care of himself and his things. This is giving him confidence and he is able to concentrate on his work. He is also much kinder and more willing to follow the ground rules of the environment.
As Maria Montessori wisely said, “Follow the child” then you will be able to help the child help himself/herself and the child will experience a brighter and happier childhood which will enable the child to grow beautifully into a well-adjusted adult.
Alaka is a guide in a Montessori school. Her daughter is in Lodestar Montessori School. She considers Montessori a game changer of life. She is living in Singapore with her husband and daughter.