Describe the difference between the pre-normalised and normalised child.

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“Only  normalized children aided by their environment show in their subsequent development those wonderful powers that we describe: spontaneous discipline, continuous and happy work, social sentiments of help and sympathy for others’’  ( CMS Vol. 1, The Absorbent Mind, pg 188)

Discuss this statement and describe the difference between the pre-normalised and normalised child.

Normalisation is a technical word borrowed from the field of Anthropology. It means becoming a contributing member of the society. Normalisation describes the process that occurs in the Montessori classroom, where young children are allowed to work freely in a prepared environment and they learn to focus and concentrate for sustained periods of time, while deriving self-satisfaction from their work. Dr Montessori first observed normalisation in children during her educational career in the Casa Dei Bambini, San Lorenzo in Rome. She observed that when children are allowed freedom in an environment suited to their needs, they blossom. After a period of intense concentration, and 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 described normalization as “the single most important result of our work’’ (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 18, Pg. 186). Maria Montessori saw the normalised child as a new level of humanity. She used the word normalization so that people would realise that these qualities belonged to all children and were not something special just for a few.

The normalised child possesses a unique character and personality not recognized in young children. For Normalisation to occur child development must proceed normally. It must begin right after birth with the non-physical growth of the child’s mind, intellect, personality, temperament, spirit and soul.”The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth. From this almost mystic affirmation there comes what may seem a strange conclusion: that education must start from birth”. (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 1, Pg. 4). Dr Montessori described this formative phase of intellectual development or a period of mental construction of the child that starts developing right after birth until the age of six as the Spiritual embryo. She compared the process of psychological and spiritual development to the physical unfolding of the human organism. Just as the material body first takes shape as a self-forming embryo, requiring during its formation the protection and nurturance of the womb that envelopes it, the human soul first appears in the newborn child in an embryonic form that requires nourishment from a psychic womb-the protective environment of loving, caring parents and a spiritually responsive education. “Man seems to have two embryonic periods. One is prenatal, like that of the animals; the other is postnatal and only man has this’’. (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 7, Pg.55). Animals immediately after birth start to walk, eat on their own and behave like their parents. This is because they are guided by predetermined instincts common alone to animals. The man on the other hand is not guided by predetermined instincts but predetermined patterns of psychic unfolding (Spiritual Embryo) and has a prolonged infancy in order to become independent. "The very fact that a child is not subject to fixed and pre-determined guiding instincts is an indication of its innate liberty and freedom of action”.  (The Secret of Childhood, Chapter 6, Pg. 31). The Spiritual Embryonic period is provided with certain aids to development given by nature. These aids are called non-conscious powers because the child is not conscious of them. They are the Absorbent mind and Sensitive periods.

The Absorbent mind is an internal aid that the child uses to reconstruct himself by absorbing impressions and expressions from his environment. "Adults admire the environment; they can remember it and things about it; but the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear." (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 7, pg 56)

Montessori saw the absorbent mind in two phases. During the first phase, from birth to three years old, the young child unknowingly or unconsciously lays a foundation for his personality. She called it the period of unconscious creation or the unconscious absorbent mind. The unconscious absorbent mind helps the child absorb whatever he comes in contact with in his environment, storing it in his Mneme “the vital kind of memory which does not consciously remember, but absorbs images into the individuals very life” (The Absorbent mind, Chapter 4, Pg. 56). It can be compared to a sponge which will absorb milk if it is put into milk, water if it comes in contact with water and dirty water if it comes in contact with. The unconscious absorbent mind absorbs everything without differentiating whatever it comes in contact with it. From birth I noticed how my babies would stare intently at my face as I carried them. They would stare at my lips as I spoke or sang. Now I realize that they were doing much more than just staring; they were absorbing information and impressions which at a later stage they would use as an aid to normal development. The child absorbs the language and other minute aspects of culture just by living there or just by being there. The child absorbs the elements whatever available in his environment and makes it into a part of his personality. "Every personal trait absorbed by the child becomes fixed forever, and even if reason later disclaims it, something of it remains in the subconscious mind. For nothing that is formed in infancy can ever be wholly eradicated." (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 7, Pg 60).  The child's work during this period is to become independent from the adult for his basic human functions. He learns to speak, to walk, to gain control of his hands and to master his bodily functions. If we are to help the child at this stage we must ensure that his tiny absorbent mind finds nutrients in its surroundings- beauty, order, peace, love, joy and harmony and not violence, profanity, discord or parental neglect and argumentation. This perhaps is the reason why children brought up by violent and uncaring parents turn out to be so themselves.

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By about three years old, he moves into the next phase of the absorbent mind, which Montessori called the period of conscious work or the conscious absorbent mind. At this time the child has developed will and has memory. Triggered by the senses and given the right materials to work with, the subconscious retrieves stored information and impressions from the Mneme and brings them to the surface for refinement with his hands. When this is done it is said that the child has created his intelligence. It is only when the child engages in constructive work that his intelligence is ...

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