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THE SECRET OF CHILDHOOD:

Normalization and Deviations


Lecture given by Dr. Rita Shaefer Zener, on the AMI 3-6 course
Nakhon Pathon, Thailand, April 2006
Permission given to Michael Olaf Company for reprinting
Introduction of the concept Normalization
At the beginning of her educational career in San Lorenzo, Rome, Dr. Montessori was moved many times
by what she observed the children doing. She wondered if their accomplishments were "the work of
angels". She would say to herself,
Introducerea conceptului de normalizare la nceputul carierei sale educaionale n San Lorenzo, Roma, Dr.
Montessori a fost miscata de multe ori de ce ea a observat ca fac copii. Ea a ntrebat dac realizrile lor au
fost "lucrarea ngerilor". Ea spune c ea,
I wont believe this time. I will wait until the next time to believe.
(The Secret of Childhood).
Nu cred c de aceast dat. Voi atepta pn la urmtoarea dat s crea.
(Secretul din copilrie).

After 40 years of work, spreading her scientific pedagogy around the world, Dr. Montessori was willing to
say that
Normalization is the single most important result of our work.
(The Absorbent Mind, p. 204).
She had given up all her other workmedicine, anthropology, psychology, and even prestigious positions
to lecture in Universitiesin order to concentrate on bringing this message to the people of the world.
Dup 40 de ani de munca, rspndirea ei pedagogie tiinifice din ntreaga lume, Dr. Montessori a fost
dispus s spun c normalizarea este singur cel mai important rezultat al muncii noastre.
(Mintea absorbant, p. 204).
Ea a dat tot ei alte locul de munc medicin, antropologie, psihologie, i chiar prestigiu pozitiile s
prelegerea n universiti-n scopul de a se concentra pe care aduce acest mesaj la oameni din lume.

The message is that there is much more to childhood than is currently recognized. She saw the normalized
child as a new level of humanity. Children all over the world and in all socioeconomic levels have exhibited
this new level of humanity. The normalized children possesses a unique character and personality not
recognized in young children.

Mesajul este c exist mult mai mult n copilrie dect este n prezent recunoscut. Ea a
vzut copilul normalizat ca un nou nivel de umanitate. Copii peste tot n lume i n toate
nivelurile socio-economice au expus acest nou nivel de umanitate. Copiii normalizati
posed un caracter unic i personalitate ce nu sunt recunoscute la copiii mici
Normalization is a technical word borrowed from the field of anthropology. It means becoming a
contributing member of society. Dr. Montessori used the termnormalization 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.
Normalizarea este un cuvnt o tehnic mprumutat din domeniul antropologiei. Aceasta nseamn a deveni
un membru contributor al societii. Dr. Montessori a folosit termnenul de normalizare pentru a distinge
unul dintre procesele pe care le-a vzut n munca ei cu copiii la San Lorenzo din Roma. Acest proces,
procesul de normalizare, apare atunci cnd dezvoltarea se desfoar n mod normal. Ea a folosit cuvntul
de normalizare, astfel nct oamenii sa creada c aceste caliti apartin tuturor copiilor si nu este ceva
special doar pentru ctiva.

When does normalization appear?/ Cand apare normalizarea?


Normalization appears through the repetition of a three step cycle. The building of character and the
formation of personality that we call normalization come about when children follow this cycle of work.
(1) Preparation for an activity which involves gathering together the material necessary to do the activity.
The movement and the thought involved in the preparation serves to call the attention of the mind to begin
to focus on the activity.
Normalizarea apare prin repetarea unui cicluin trei pasi. Construirea caracterului i formarea
personalitii pe care o numim normalizare apare cnd copiii parcur acest ciclu de lucru.
(1) pregtirea pentru o activitate presupune colectarea mpreun a materialelor necesare pentru a face
activitatea. Micarea i gndire implicate n pregtirea activitatii servete la atragerea ateniei in vederea
concentrarii asupra activitatii
(2) An activity which so engrosses the child that he reaches a deep level of concentration. This step is what
all educator and parents recognize as important for education.

2) o activitate care engrosses att copilului c el atinge un nivel profund de concentrare.


Acest pas este ceea ce toate educator i prinii recunosc ca important pentru educaie
(3) Rest, which is characterized by a general feeling of satisfaction and well-being. It is thought that at this
point some inner formation or integration of the person takes place.
In our Montessori groups, we see this third step as the time a child is putting away the materials, perhaps
talking with friends, and is exhibiting a aura of satisfaction with himself and the world. We recognize this
cycle as the normal work cycle in a Montessori environment.

A Philosophy of Normalization
Dr. Montessori explained the process of normalization philosophically as well as practically. She borrowed
the term, horme, from Sir Percy Nun, an English philosopher. Horme refers to life force energy. It can be
compared to the elan vital of Henri Bergson or the libido of Sigmund Freud or even to religious terms, the
Holy Spirit.
Horme is simply energy for life. It must stimulate and activate the individual because that is its nature.
When the child is surrounded by plenty of suitable means (work of development) for using this energy, then
her development proceeds normally.

Characteristics of Normalization
There are many personality types of course. However, when children enter the process of normalization the
same characteristics appear.
There are four characteristics that are a signal that the process of normalization is happening:
(1) Love of work
(2) Concentration
(3) Self-discipline
(4) Sociability.
All four characteristics must be present for us to say that a normalized type common to the whole of
mankind is appearingno matter how brief the appearance of the characteristics. The process is usually
invisible to us because the process of normalization is hidden by characteristics not proper to the child.
(The Absorbent Mind, p. 202)
Toate patru caracteristici trebuie s fie prezente pentru a ne spune c un tip normalizat comune pentru
ntreaga omenire este apare nu conteaz ct de scurt apariie a caracteristicilor. Procesul este, de obicei,
invizibil pentru noi pentru c procesul de normalizare este ascuns de caracteristici nu buna pentru copil.
(Absorbant mintea, p. 202

Love of Work.
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, p. 202)..
In the fall I like to observe new three-year-olds who were phased in during the month of September. Some
of them have six weeks or so in the group and have their little routines of the work that they love. Some

still have no clue about "their work". Kindly and experienced adults lead them into various activities. Some
of the activities evoke concentration but most of them do not. It usually isn'tt until the child has learned to
do several orderly activities that the missing element of choice will enter the childs work life.

Concentration
The second characteristic of the process ofnormalization is concentration. Concentration appears as
individual children in a group became absorbed in their workeach one in a different, freely chosen
activity.
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, p. 206).
We must continue to present the next appropriate challenge. The frequency of continual periods of intense
concentration will depend on the child and on the teachers' knowledge and attitudes about guiding the
process of normalization.

Self-discipline
The third characteristic of the process of normalizationis self-discipline. Self-discipline refers to
persevering and completing cycles of activity that are freely begun.
Dr. Montessori says: After concentration will come perseverance . . . It marks the beginning of yet another
stage in character formation . . . It is the ability to carry through what he has begun. The children in our
schools choose their work freely, and show this power unmistakably. They practice it daily for years.
(The Absorbent Mind p. 217)

Sociability
The fourth characteristic of the process of normalization is sociability. Sociability refers to 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.
There is only one specimen of each object, and if a piece is in use when another child wants it, the latterif
he is normalizedwill wait for it to be released. Important social qualities derive from this. The child
comes to see that he must respect the work of others, not because someone has said he must, but because
this is a reality that he meets in his daily experience.
(The Absorbent Mind, p. 223).
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.

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Introduction of the concept Deviations


At the same time that Montessori was distinguishing the process ofnormalization she distinguished another
process which she calleddeviations. She saw that the process of normalization and deviationsis going on all
of the time. It is what children are engaged in.
If you do not like the word deviations in referring to human beings, one option is to think of deviations as
defenses. We are all familiar with the idea of being defensive. Another option is to think of adeviation as
a detour. In Italian as in Spanish the word desviacionesrefers to a detour in the road. Deviations or detours
in development result from road blocks in the developmental process.
I like to think that hormic energy, or life force energy, runs through us like a crystal clear river. If the
energy runs smoothly without barriers and stays within its river banks, we see normalization. If this river,
this force is repressed and not allowed to flow in its normal channel, it will seek other ways to move.
The hormic energy may be damned up for a while producing an artificial passivity. Every now and then the
dam will let loose a big burst of energy. The emotion that comes with that burst of energy may cause
turbulence in the person's life. If energy is held in, The life force energy cannot be expressed in ways
appropriate to the situation.
On the other hand if the river banks are not well defined, the water can spread too thin over the countryside.
Just so, the hormic energy without any boundaries can spread out too thin and over too large an area of life.
If the child has insufficient order or limits in his life then there is not enough life force to carry out anything
much. The horme is dissipated.

The Process of Deviations


This process is not one big drama. It is the drama of everyday life. When the horme cant go in the normal
three step cycle for the building of a person then it moves into these other cycles that we call deviations or
detours. The child feels threatened and reacts to save herself. She has to defend herself.
A deviation is a defense created when development cannot proceed in a normal way. All children have
some deviations. If they are not straightened out, they will become worse in time. Dr. Montessori says that
the defects in adults can be traced back to a lack of development in the first years of life.
There are many Types of Deviations
Dr. Montessori has categorized deviations in several ways. It is interesting to see how she reaffirms their
presence while giving them different titles. There is overlapping between the various categories. However,
each order she places them in gives us much to think about.
(1) Deviations Fostered by Adults

By the time a child is three years old, deviations are so common that many of them are fostered by adults
and thought to be normal for children. For example: some adults find these characteristics desirable states
of being: over-affectionate attachment to persons, submissiveness, play, laziness, overeating, and instability
of attention.
By now the psychic energy is separated from the movements of the child from lack of purposeful activities
in the environment. This type of adult often abandons the child to her toys, the television, or the computer.
True, toys stimulate activity, but usually it is like a flash and once used then the toy no longer can give the
same attraction.
The childs immaturity in the real world and the excess of unused psychic energy combine to form an
unreal world where the child can alleviate her boredom and discomfort. She becomes like the adult who is
not content unless she is being entertained constantly. So easy it is to foster this deviation and heap toy after
toy upon the poor child while denying her part as a worker in the family.
For some children the way to feel safe is to hang onto an adult or an older child. She is the one whose
movements have been supplanted by others so many times that her drive to independence is thwarted. It is
as if she doesn'tt know herself apart from the other, even after the age when she should. This too is an easy
deviation for some to foster when that affection fills avoid in the other's life.
(2) Deviations Not Fostered by Adults
Some deviations, while thought to be normal, are not likely to be deliberately fostered. They are likely to be
corrected. Messiness, disobedience and quarreling are so common as to be though normal. The lazy child or
the inhibited child who outwardly appear to do little are constructing a thick inner wall of defense to keep
out the external world. We are all aware of adult negative reactions to these behaviors.

Deviations as Fugues
In The Secret of Childhood she talks about deviations as beingfugues and barriers. A fugue is a running
away, a taking refuge, often hiding away as one hides ones real energies behind a mask. These are the
children who are never still, but their movements are without purpose. They begin an action, leave it
unfinished, and hurry on to the next. They fancy toys only to throw them away. They become conditioned
to the need to be entertained.
Deviations as Barriers
A barrier is an inhibition which is strong enough to prevent the child from responding to her surroundings.
It shows itself as disobedience or obstinacy. Teachers may suspect the childs intelligence because this
deviations keeps away the things that would promote growth.
The most common of the barriers produce the following deviations: dependence, possessiveness, power
craving, inferiority complex, fear, lying, and psychosomatic illness.
Deviations Shown by the Strong and Weak
In The Absorbent Mind she talks about deviations shown by the strong, meaning those who resist and
overcome the obstacles they meet, and deviations shown by the weak, meaning those who succumb to
unfavorable conditions.
The Strong

Defects of the strong are capriciousness, tendencies to violence, fits of rage, insubordination and
aggression. They are also disobedient and "destructive", possessive, and unable to concentrate. They have
difficulty in coordinating their hands. They are generally noisy, unkind, and often greedy at the table.
The Weak
Defects of the weak are passiveness, indolence, crying, trying to get others to do things for them, wishing
to be entertained, and easily bored. They find the world frightening and cling to adults. They may refuse to
eat, have nightmares, fear the dark, and have psychosomatic illnesses.

The Role of the Adult


Observation
We realize that in the early years there will be many spontaneous expressions of normality even when the
environment is very bad or the obstacles very great. The vital energy returns to the surface again and again.
The child must continuously struggle alone because no one recognizes and assists his bid for life. The child
may become engulfed in her deviations.
Lay aside pride and anger
The child needs help, more than just physical care. She needs the adult who knows humility rather than
pride; patience instead of anger. Yet the common defects of the adult are pride and anger. The adult is easily
impatient when he is with a child. He doesn't understand how life needs to grow. He wants the child to
submit. He doesn't recognize goodness. He can't give confidence.
The educator has to rid himself of his anger before he can put the child's need first. He must:
(1) know himself
(2) educate himself in his work
(3) give appropriate help
All these disturbances came from a single cause, which was insufficient nourishment for the life of the
mind.
(Absorbent Mind, 182 in Cleo Press edition).
To give appropriate is two pronged:
1.
2.

Interrupt the deviated cycle whenever it appears because it isn't helping development.
Offer interesting activities to use up the psychic energy in a productive way.

Neither kindness nor severity help. It is the return to the normal work cycle that is self-healing.
The appearance of normalization is explosive. It must be protected. It happens in a single moment. In that
moment the deviations are gone, vanished. The child is as she is. That is the first observation task of the
adult. Learn to see, protect, and guide those moments. NEVER interrupt them while the concentration
lasts.

These normalizing events are triggered by a certain situation. It has been found a characteristic reaction of
children throughout the world. A return to a life of normality begins with just one event. Just as long ago
the defense mechanism began with one incidence and then proceeded to become a fixed response.
In the 3 to 6-year-age span, we are not talking so much about a personality change. At this tender age, the
personality is still in the soft, formative stage. During these years he must organize the embryonic
development of many parts that were developed separately. The new child is really a true personality being
allowed to develop normally.
Now we can begin our work. As these moments become more frequent and the concentration more lasting,
the child may give up using her old defenses. It is not by reason, nor by threat, nor by begging that she does
so. She just doesn't need them anymore because she has less to repress now.
Why is it apparently easier for some children than others? Apparently some have had to repress less, and
their normal responses are not so buried. Some have learned to accept reasonable limits to their behavior.
They have some control over their impulses.

But in all children, and in us, the life force is there to be found and used in a productive
way.
Le mot normalisation est un mot qui peut tre mal interprt dans notre monde actuel.
Nous avons toutes sortes de normes et une personne est dite "normale" si elle correspond
ces normes. Pour Maria Montessori, le mot normalisation ne correspond en rien des
normes fixes par la socit mais par la nature. Pour mieux en comprendre limportance
et limpact, voyons ce que Maria Montessori considrait comme normal.
2.1. La normalisation selon Maria Montessori
Dans la pdagogie Montessori, le mot normalisation a un sens bien prcis :
La normalisation est la possibilit dpanouir toutes les potentialits de ltre humain sans
obstacle. Maria Montessori croyait que chaque tre humain naissait avec les potentialits
ncessaires son dveloppement physique et mental. Si le dveloppement naturel de
lenfant peut suivre son cours sans obstacle, la normalisation sera possible et il deviendra
un adulte quilibr. Malheureusement, trop souvent, ltre humain rencontre des
obstacles au cours de son dveloppement (obstacles physique ou psychiques) et il sensuit
ce que Maria Montessori appelait dviation; lhorme a t dvi de sa trajectoire
naturelle. Si cette dviation ne dure quun petit moment, elle peut rapidement tre
ramene son cours normal. Par contre, plus cette force sloigne de son cours normal
plus long sera le trajet de retour la normalisation. Ainsi, en tant quducateur, nous
devons veiller retirer tout obstacle la normalisation. Lenvironnement doit tre pens
et conu pour lenfant, il doit pouvoir y agir librement et trouver les outils ncessaires
pour rpondre ses besoins intrieurs. Lducateur doit galement rendre cet
environnement vivant et attractif pour lenfant ; lenfant doit ressentir lenvie dentrer en
contact avec son environnement qui demeure la clef de la normalisation.
Remarque
Nous devons avoir confiance en lenfant et lui donner la possibilit de pouvoir diriger son
nergie vers un but quil a choisit.
.2. Les signes de la normalisation

l'enfant est calme, content et heureux;


l'enfant est engag dans toutes sortes dactivits constructives;
l'enfant est capable de choisir ses activits;
l'enfant peut se motiver pour rpter ses activits;
l'enfant atteint un haut niveau de concentration dans son travail;
l'enfant peut collaborer;
l'enfant est serviable;
l'enfant trouve de la joie dans tout ce qui l'entoure;
l'enfant n'a pas besoin de nous pour lui dire ce qu'il doit faire;
l'enfant est matre de lui-mme;
l'enfant est conscient de son environnement;
l'enfant est responsable de ses actions.
Remarque
Selon Maria Montessori, il est important dobserver les enfants dans un environnement
qui laisse agir la normalisation et damliorer les conditions de lenvironnement en vue
de ce rsultat.