Describe the difference between the pre-normalised and normalised child.
“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 created. As adults we must ensure that we provide such work for the child at this stage because “the hands are the pathway to human intelligence”. (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 3, Pg 23)
Another internal aid to normal child development is the sensitive period. This is a period in the life of the child when he is attracted to and focuses his attention on a certain aspect of his environment to the exclusion of others. It is also a time when the child reveals an intense and extraordinary interest in an object. This is when we see a child repeatedly doing an activity with passion and conviction per se, and it seems like nothing can deter him from accomplishing that task until he is satisfied. The three year old girl in Casa Dei Bambini that was engrossed in the knobbed cylinders was going through a sensitive period. She remained engrossed in the activity despite all the distractions going on around her. The sensitive period is a time of intense concentration and mental activity on developing a particular skill at that particular time, age / phase in growth. It is driven unconsciously by an inner force that the best way an adult can support this passion is to prepare the environment and encourage this special time of learning without interfering in the construction process. It is transitory in nature and Maria Montessori describes it as a window of opportunity.
There are six sensitive periods and during each of these periods with the aid of the nebulae which are the potentials in every child to learn a new skill, the child learns different skills effortlessly.“The child has a creative aptitude, a potential energy that will enable it to build up a mental world from the world about it. He makes numerous acquisitions during the sensitive periods, which put him in relation to the other world in an exceptionally intense manner”. (The Secret of Childhood, Chapter 3, Pg 33). From birth to age six, the child will pass through six significant sensitive periods; those for order (1-2yrs), small objects (1-2yrs), co-ordination of movement (2&1/2-4yrs), social aspect of life (2-5yrs), refinement of the five senses (2-5yrs) and language (0-6yrs). Adults must observe without interfering, the behavior and activities of the child to discover what sensitive periods he is in to ensure that he is surrounded by the appropriate materials in a prepared environment. “There is an interchange between the individual, the spiritual embryo and its environment. It is through the environment that the individual is molded and brought to perfection” (The Secret of Childhood, Chapter 6, Pg 35). It is the adult who must prepare the environment. He must take this as an important and sensitive task because it is the environment that provides the child with what to concentrate on to learn a particular skill effortlessly during any of the sensitive periods. It is also the same environment that provides impressions and information for his mind to absorb during the phase of the unconscious absorbent mind (0-3yrs). The adult must be very careful because “the unconscious mind though it seems to feel nothing and remember nothing does something worse, for impressions made at this level are handed over to the Mneme. They become graven on the personality itself. This is the greatest danger of mankind. The child who is not protected with a view to his normal formation will later avenge himself on society by means of the adult who formed him”. (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 7, Page 71).
Montessori’s idea of the prepared environment was that everything the child came in contact with would facilitate and maximize independent learning and exploration. “The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult”. (Maria Montessori: Her Life and Works, Chapter 16, Pg. 265). She devised the “prepared environment” to allow children to develop at their own speed. “The behavior of every individual is a product of his environmental influence” (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 8, Pg. 81). To achieve this, Dr. Montessori designed many materials to be worked on individually. The Montessori learning environment is much different than the traditional model. Instead of information passing from the teacher to the child, the teacher is skilled in putting the child in touch with the environment, and helping him learn to make intelligent choices and to carry out research in a prepared environment. The teacher then protects the child's concentration from interruption. This fosters a love of lifetime learning in the child.
While preparing the environment, the knowledgeable and sensitive adult must ensure that it is composed of six essential components. These are Freedom, Structure and Order, Reality and Nature, Beauty and Atmosphere, Montessori Materials and Development of community life.
Montessori believed that a child must be free to explore and follow his own natural impulses, thus developing his potential, increasing his knowledge of the world around him and allowing him to reveal himself. Within the prepared environment, the child must experience freedom of movement, freedom from competition, freedom from pressure, freedom to love and be loved, freedom of speech, freedom from danger, freedom to grow by using the Montessori materials and freedom to work at his own pace. These freedoms ultimately lead to a greater freedom: freedom of choice. “Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur”. (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 8, Pg. 82). The freedom given in a Montessori environment is referred to as freedom within limits. The child may not abuse the materials, disturb other children or be disorderly or unruly. He must show respect for the prepared environment, other children and for himself.
Structure and Order in the Montessori classroom helps to reflect the sense of structure and order in the universe. It makes it easier for the child to make sense of the external world. By using the Montessori classroom environment as a microcosm of the universe, the child begins to internalize the order surrounding him, thus making sense of the world in which he lives. Montessori stated that there is a sensitive period for order which occurs between the ages of one and two years of age. This is when the child begins to draw conclusions of the world around him. If there is not order to his environment, the child’s sense of reason may be off since he will not be able to validate his findings. This does not mean that routines in the classroom cannot change. However, it does mean that change should be carefully considered. Is this change for the good of the child? If yes, then it should be done carefully and its after-effects should be observed to ensure that it is of benefit to the child. To ensure order in a Montessori environment, the materials are grouped into five curriculum areas; Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics and Cultural. The adult ensures that there is consistency in presentation of activities, everything material has its place and it is returned back to its place after use.
Montessori had a deep respect and reverence for nature. Children live in a world of fantasy and she believed that bringing nature close to them would inspire them in the right direction. She continually suggested that Montessori teachers take the children out into nature, rather than keeping them confined in the classroom. This is why natural materials are preferred in the prepared environment. Real wood, reeds, bamboo, metal, cotton, and glass are preferred to synthetics or plastics. In a prepared environment, furniture like chairs and shelves should be child-size so that the child is not dependent on the adult for his movement. Rakes, hoes, brooms and dustpans should all fit children’s hands and height so that the work is made easier, thus ensuring proper use and completion of the work without frustration.
Montessori environments should be beautiful. It should be a simple and cool place. Uncluttered and well-maintained, it should reflect peace and tranquillity. It should be well decorated with colourful materials. The environment should invite the learner to come in and work. This atmosphere is easily seen by the attitude of those working there, both child and adult.
Through freedom of movement and interaction, and through the Montessori exercise for care of the environment and self, the child is helped towards social awareness. He learns to encourage and develop a sense of compassion and empathy for others. As he develops, he becomes more socially aware, preparing to work and play in groups. This social interaction is supported throughout the environment and is encouraged with the nature of multi-age classroom settings.
Montessori materials are the materials that will engage the hands for the child to create his intelligence during the conscious absorbent mind and for his psychic and mental development. The materials that we choose for the environment will act as keys to the child’s development and we need to prepare the environment with this in mind. The keys we choose will be directed by the child’s essential developmental needs at each age range. A sparse environment of carefully chosen materials calls the child to work, concentration, and joy. A crowded or chaotic environment can cause stress and can dissipate a child's energy. Too many materials or inappropriate materials can be worse than too few. Each material promotes auto education as it contains a control of error. It progresses from simple to complex and each has a definite purpose. The concept that the child is to learn is isolated in a single piece of material and each material prepares the child indirectly for learning.
The child must be allowed freedom to choose and work with the material at his own pace without interference from the teacher. Only then will his work be termed ‘constructive’. It is through this freely chosen constructive work that the child develops concentration, good work habits and personality. ‘The environment we have prepared for the child is designed to stimulate spontaneous activity (while as a rule we wish to stimulate only activities we want children to learn); as a result we discovered some children’s characteristics which we didn’t expect to find in a child such as concentration, self discipline and a love of work’ (Montessori for the new millennium, Chapter 2, pg 18).
Concentration develops when an activity is freely chosen by the child. If the child is repeatedly able to experience periods of spontaneous concentration on a piece of work freely chosen, it will lead to prolonged attention. “If the object meets the inner needs of the child and is something that will satisfy them, it rouses the child to prolonged activity. He masters it and uses it over and over again” (The Discovery of the Child, Chapter 7, Pg.108).Once these two come into play the child will experience an internal co-ordination of his mind (the centre) and body (the periphery). At the centre, the child increases his mental power by seeking out sensations and movement which take place at the periphery which is that part of the child’s personality that comes in contact with his environment. Maria Montessori believed that it is through the interaction of the centre and the periphery that the mind develops and works effectively. The mind and the body; should work in unison; mind guiding actions and actions serving the orders of the mind. “Inner forces affect his choices, and if someone usurps the function of this guide, the child is prevented from developing either his will of his concentration”. (The Absorbent mind, Chapter 22, Pg. 204). When his mind and body work together he will begin to display the characteristics of normal development.
Normalization appears when children follow the cycle of work. Firstly the child should prepare for an activity, which involves gathering the material necessary to do the activity. The movement and the thought involved in the preparation serves to call the attention of the mind and begin to focus on the activity. Secondly the activity which holds the attention of the child helps him to reach a deep level of concentration. Lastly it is the feeling of satisfaction and well-being when the activity is completed. Even the materials kept back in its right place or perhaps talking with friend’s exhibits the aura of satisfaction with himself and the world
“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, Chapter 22, Pg. 202) Work in this sense means any activity which involves the child's whole personality, and has as its unconscious aim the construction of personality. It is definitely a form of self-expression, and brings the child a corresponding joy in the performance of it.The normalised child thoroughly enjoys choosing his exercises throughout the day. Because he has been given choice he has the feeling of being respected, which in turn gives him the desire to want to choose his tasks and perform them well. He is able to express himself to a certain extent with these activities. The pre-normalised child is inactive, lazy and fearful to explore. He would rather choose toys which have no constructive aim. He complains of being Idle and bored.
A normalised child will love and respect order in his environment. He is very sensitive towards order within the environment and he desires to preserve it. He uses the order in his environment to order himself and his mind. “Above all it is to be noted that the child has a passionate love for order and work, and possesses intellectual qualities superior by far to what might have been expected”. (Peace and Education, Chapter Pg. 38). The pre-normalised child lacks care of self and the environment, he is clumsy in his environment and untidy. “He has no love for his environment because it feels it to contain too many difficulties” (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 8, Pg. 84).
“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration” (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 22, Pg. 202). Concentration appears as the child becomes absorbed in his work. By choosing his tasks, the child will concentrate on doing them properly while learning everything possible from them. I’ve witnessed to the concentration that my 4 year old niece had for folding her little brothers’ nappies. The pile of nappies was two times bigger than her, I thought, she would be bored and leave, but for my amazement even after 45 minutes I could see that she has folded all nappies very neatly and have kept one on top of another and was ready to be placed in the drawers. While the child concentrates, he is busy ‘growing’ and his intelligence is constructed through the outside world. “The objects are a help to the child himself. He chooses what he wants for his own use, and works with it according to his own needs, tendencies and special interests. In this way the objects become a means of growth” (The Discovery of the Child, Chapter 6, Pg 103 ). A normalized child will often choose a number of tasks during the day, experiencing joy in doing them. While he concentrates he is busy growing and his intelligence is constructed through the outside world. “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, Chapter 27, Pg. 256). The pre-normalised child shows distract and restless behaviour. Even though he is strong in one area he does not concentrate on his work.
The mind of the normalised child is constructed through reality not a fantasy world filled with make-believe characters or situations “…it may be said that in order to develop the imagination it is necessary for everyone first of all to put himself in contact with reality.” (The Advanced Montessori Method: Vol. 1, Pg 250). He finds the foundation for this in the outside world through his senses and movement, and later by the reason and imagination. The information he receives is worked upon, assimilated and raised to the order if intelligence. The pre-normalised child always fantasizes; he entangles himself in aimless and uncontrolled wonderings, which do not produce tangible results. He tends to lie; he is able to create extraordinary stories to shock or interest the adult. Also in order to please the adult or even when he is afraid to speak his own mind this child is most likely to lie.
A normalised child loves occasional silence. It does not mean that he loves to work in physical isolation but rather in psychological isolation which is as a result of concentration. During this time the he will be consolidating his thoughts and “order his mind” so to speak. The child develops a love of silence because he is able to concentrate on his work. He does not interrupt his peers with loud talking or noise. A pre-normalised child is noisy and has no respect for the work of others. He always wants to be helped to work.
To have everything for themselves is no longer the child’s main aim. He no longer has the possessive instinct. He willingly shares materials, and takes turns so that everyone may work with it. “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” (Absorbent Mind, Chapter 22, pg 203). He shows patience in getting materials. His attitude is that of love not possessiveness. Normally an intense interest in something will make the child want or possess it. Now the mere knowledge of the materials interests the child. Instead of the instinct of possession we now see three things: to know, to love, and to serve. Due to lack of stimuli the pre-normalised child develops “possessiveness is common which leads to selfishness and envy”. (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 18, Pg180). He is disobedient and may result to stealing to get what he wants
A normalised child is motivated in his actions by real choice and not just curiosity. He is familiar with the exercises and situations he is choosing, therefore it is not merely for exploration. A pre-normalised child is motivated by curiosity and only wants to explore.
The normalized child is remarkably obedient. He starts as a novice in this virtue and goes through progressive degrees of obedience, the last being that in which they are not only obedient, but will to be obedient. To carry out the command of another has now become a form of self expression, just because it involves the joyful exercise of a newly developed faculty; the will. A pre-normalised child is selfish and would only be obedient from fear.
The aim of the Montessori system is to lead the child towards independence. The normalised child acquires as much independence as is possible for him to acquire at each stage of development. There is no place for competition instead the children help one another. The older ones show a deep interest in the progress of younger ones. The pre-normalised child is usually aggressive and would not want to help. He would rather cling to adults. He has a passive nature.
Spontaneous and self discipline marks the beginning of yet another stage in character formation in a normalised child. Self discipline refers to persevering and completing cycles of activity that are freely begun. He has the ability to carry through what he has begun. The normalised child shows amazing self discipline that the directress does not need to be there all the time. This discipline is one of the fruits of freedom. “Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined”. (The Montessori Method, Chapter 5, Pg. 86). A pre-normalised child has a low self-esteem. He would abandon his work without completion. He shows some discipline only when an adult is around and it does not last.
The crowning characteristic of a normalized child is joy. It is as hard to describe as it is easy to perceive. This joy which shines in the child's face and indeed in his whole demeanor is something more than pleasure or the happiness of being entertained. It is a deep and mysterious emotion. It is in fact the joy that nature always grants as the accompaniment to the right use of his faculties. It is the joy which comes with acting in obedience to the laws of our nature. “The child’s life is one in which work- the doing of one’s duty- begets joy and happiness” (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 4, Pg 28). A pre-normalized child does not have this joy.
It is important and essential that we focus more on the psychic development of the child. This will allow him to build a strong personality while his true nature emerges. Not only the education of the intellect but also education through senses, practical life and social responsibilities has to be a component of the child’s education. The adult has to play a major role in preparing the environment, offering purposeful activity and much freedom that stimulates and aids the self-construction of the child, which leads him towards perfect harmony with his environment. Only then will he show “the wonderful powers that we describe” which when cultivated early in life will carry a child far in the future.
Dr Roland Wentworth, Montessori for the New Millennium, Lawrence associates Publishers, United Kingdom, 1999
E. Mortimer Standing, Maria Montessori; Her Life & Work, Plume, New York City, 1998
Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, Fides publishers, Switzerland, 1966
Maria Montessori, Peace & Education, Oxford: Clio, 1992
Robert Bentley, The Advanced Montessori method: Spontaneous Activity in Education, Cambridge publishers, Mass, 1965
Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company, The Netherlands, 2010
Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company, The Netherlands, 2009