What Does the Montessori Term “Normalization” Mean?

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Parents are often concerned when they first hear the Montessori term “normalization.” It doesn’t sound like a good thing … more like something trying to make all children think and act the same.
What does the Montessori term "normalization" mean?

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In The Absorbent Mind,  Maria Montessori said, “Normalization is the single most important result of our work.” Taken out of context, that sounds even scarier.

The good news is that normalization is something very positive, and it often occurs spontaneously when children work with Montessori activities. If you’re wondering what normalization is, be sure to read  “The Secret of Childhood: Normalization and Deviations,” a lecture by Dr. Rita Schaefer Zener, in an AMI 3-6 course and published at Michael Olaf.

About the term itself, Dr. Schaefer Zener said:

Normalization is a technical word borrowed from the field of anthropology. It means becoming a contributing member of society. Dr. Montessori used the term normalization to distinguish one of the processes that she saw in her work with the children at San Lorenzo in Rome. This process, the process of normalization, occurs when development is proceeding normally. She used the word normalization so that people would think that these qualities belonged to all children and were not something special just for a few.

So, normalization isn’t something that’s done to the child. It’s something that spontaneously happens when children are given meaningful work to do – especially individualized work that’s freely chosen and uses child-size tools and activities that engage the child’s attention.

There are 4 characteristics of a normalized child:

  1. Love of work
  2. Concentration
  3. Self-discipline
  4. Sociability (or joyful work).

I think “sociability” is another term that is often misinterpreted along with the term “normalization.” Montessori education isn’t trying to turn introverted children into extroverts. Instead, according to Dr. Schaefer Zener, sociability means “patience in getting the materials one wants, respect for the work of others, help and sympathy for others, and harmonious working relationships among members of the group…Sociability also refers to the human response to turn to other people after finishing a job. If the work when well, then the social interactions are ‘colored’ by the emotional satisfaction of the job.”

As parents and teachers, we need to prepare an environment that is attractive and orderly and provides the necessary activities to help the child develop concentration and self-discipline. This most often comes from Montessori practical life activities and is the reason practical life activities are emphasized in Montessori education.

Some other helpful posts about normalization:

Normalization in the Montessori Environment from Montessori Print Shop (I love the emphasis that normalized children are joyful.)

Normalization: Part One – Discipline and Normalization: Part Two – Role of the Teacher from To the Lesson! (very helpful posts focusing on discipline and the role of the teacher)

Montessori Philosophy: Understanding Normalization and the Montessori Classroom, Why Aren’t My Students Normalized? Deviations in the Normalization Process, and Montessori Philosophy: The Three Stages of Normalization in the First Plane of Development from North American Montessori Center (thorough discussion of the normalization process)

Sterling Qualities of the ‘Normalized’ Montessori Child from Montessori for Everyone (lovely discussion of the positive qualities of a normalized child)

The Key to Montessori from Montessori at Home! (helpful post emphasizing concentration and normalization)

For more posts on Montessori principles, be sure to check out my Montessori Resources page! There’s even a 3-part series on the ABCs of Montessori!

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