Like many other fields, Montessori education has a jargon of its own. The term “normalized” is perhaps the most misunderstood. A normalized child is not the same as a “normal” child but many parents upon hearing that their child is, or is not yet, normalized hear the word “normal” and react accordingly.
According to Montessori principles, a normalized child is following a natural and normal path of development. This child is typically well-balanced, curious, self-motivated, and outspoken. This child has a sense of who he or she is and knows what he or she likes and doesn’t like. This child is also comfortable speaking up for themselves and this sometimes comes across as bold, stubborn, or naughty. A normalized child is not particularly compliant but will “obey” as long as the task is not especially at odds with the child’s current mind set or activity.
10 Traits of the Normalized Child
A recent article in “Tomorrow’s Child” magazine outlined ten characteristics of a normalized child and we would like to discuss these traits. They are; a Love of Order, a Love of Work, Deep Concentration, an Attachment to Reality, a Love of Silence and Working Alone, a Transformation of the Possessive Instinct, The Power to Act from Real Choice, Listening and Following the Adult (Obedience), Independence, and Spontaneous Self-Discipline.
Love of Order
What do these traits look like? The first is a love of order. Young children depend on order and routine to organize their day, to predict what will happen next, and to feel a sense of control over their own circumstances. They are not ruled by the clock as adults and older children are. The child internalizes whatever is typical in their day. They understand that they should eat breakfast after getting up or brush their teeth before going to bed. At school, they know to sit on the red line and then they will recite the sound cards before going “to work.” Lunch follows morning recess and then it’s time for a nap. If this routine is altered, the child may well be confused or even upset. If you oversleep and breakfast doesn’t happen until after the child gets dressed and you drive to Dunkin’ your child’s whole day has been disrupted. If we have a fire drill before lunch, the child may be nervous that lunch isn’t happening today!
Of course, every routine will be interrupted at times and plans must be changed. A wise parent doesn’t have to be locked into an unbreakable routine, but it’s helpful to be aware of the discomfort your child might feel. When something is changed, you can talk to your child and be sensitive to the frustration, confusion, and discomfort that the change may trigger for him or her. It is also vitally important that you establish a consistent routine with clearly defined tasks such as bath or bed time.
A secure child is a happy child. The child who knows where toys belong, which drawer has socks or shirts, and where to hang a coat or store mittens feels in control of his or her environment and will be much more willing to maintain the routine and order you have established in your home.
Love of Work
The next characteristic is a love of work. To be clear, “work” is not the same as a “chore.” In school, we refer to the materials and activities as “work.” They are typically enjoyable, perhaps even fascinating, for your child. The child has a sense that this work is important and valued. The child also has freedom of choice in selecting his or her work. The child who successfully completes some work feels confident, valued, and important. Children love meaningful work. Sadly, picking up your toys is rarely seen as meaningful to a child but stirring the cake batter, or setting the table is. Your child wants to contribute to the family and feels valued when he or she knows they are helping. Find the time to include your children in household tasks and let them work alongside of you and you will have a happy, confident, normalized child. Even picking up toys is tolerable if you both work at it rather than just demanding your child do it while you walk away.
We call interesting, enjoyable activities in school “work” because we want your child to grow up thinking of work as pleasant and satisfying. Every time you complain about going to work you are undoing this valuable programming. If you “celebrate” those occasions when your child may not have any homework, you are telling your child that school work is not fun or valued. There may be a time, later, when chemistry lab reports or term papers are not particularly “fun” but let’s not spoil what “works” well now.
Deep concentration is a skill that will serve your child throughout life. It is extremely important that you recognize and protect the early stages of concentration in your child. At school, we have a rule of thumb which reminds us to NEVER interrupt a child who is engaged and concentrating. If your child is happily stacking blocks or working a puzzle, your well-intentioned comment, “Wow, you really built a tall tower,” or “I like the way you finished that puzzle,” breaks that fragile concentration. In fact, just walking into the room or watching your child may interrupt his or her engagement. You will know when you have done this because suddenly the child wants you to play and his or her interest swings from concentration to interacting with you. This is not to say playing with your child is a bad thing of course, it’s simply about finding the right balance. The child who is comfortable amusing himself or working on a task alone is confident, comfortable, and better equipped to take on new challenges than the one who constantly needs to be entertained or played with.
This obviously is related to the child’s love of silence and working alone. Most children, and adults, today are surrounded by constant noise and sound. The TV is always on as background noise. We use head phones while we jog or do the laundry. If our children are quiet, we assume they are up to something. Silence is missing from our lives to the extent that if we find ourselves in a quiet place, many of us feel uncomfortable and seek music and other background noise.
Silence is source of self-reflection. If we can’t stand the silence we probably also don’t feel comfortable with our own inner voices. Children need to discover their inner voices and they need to be put in touch with their inner thoughts, feelings, and instincts if they are ever going to be self-motivated, curious, and complete. Children love silence but we need to remember to provide it often so they are comfortable with it. In school we play the “silence game.” It may only last a minute or two but children always come out of the silence refreshed and perhaps even recharged.
Attachment to Reality
I’ll finish this month with an attachment to reality. Our children are so immersed in super heroes, Barbies, cartoons, Princesses and other fantasy attachments they have forgotten how to be real. Almost all of their “play” is imitative of the media characters they are so inundated with. It seems innocent enough, but it’s not about what they are playing but in what they are not playing. They are no longer pretending to be mommies or daddies, or teachers, or truck drivers. They are not imagining themselves as firefighters or bankers. They are busy being super heroes. I assure you, none of them will grow up to be Batman. This valuable childhood time of imagining themselves as “real” human beings has been lost.
Let’s pique their interest in real heroes and innovators, like George Washington, Clara Barton, Sally Ride, or even Mark Zuckerberg. Let them imagine a future that is possible. This vital connection with reality can have a major positive impact.
Surround your children with reality. Books about animals, countries, and real people are well accepted and inspire your child to learn more. Dressing up as doctors, bankers, police officers, and astronauts is just as much fun as being Batman, and even more empowering and enriching.
Next month we’ll consider the next five traits of a normalized child.