Monday, August 15, 2011

Normalization: Part One - Discipline

Recently, Montessori Print Shop Blog wrote about normalization in the Montessori classroom.  I feel it is a critical topic to discuss for two main reasons.  First, understanding what 'normalization' means not only aids a Montessori teacher's understanding of her role within the classroom, but it is also important to share insight into the term to educate parents and those wanting to learn more about Montessori philosophy.  Honestly, I usually do not use the term 'normalization' in casual conversation among the parents of my students- if one is unfamiliar with the term in a Montessori context, it has tendencies to promote concern rather than comfort.  For this reason, I wanted to take the opportunity to provide details of this defining aspect of a Montessori education.

During my training, one assignment was to write a paper entitled, "Discipline."  Without a doubt, this topic has direct correlations to the attainment of normalization in the classroom.  Likewise, the idea of normalization parallels any discussion of "Role of the Teacher" - another title of a paper we were assigned during training.  This first post discusses in detail the different levels of discipline which lead to normalization while the second post will describe what a teacher does to facilitate it.  What better time to reflect on the subject as we approach the beginning of the school year?


“Let us remember that inner discipline is something to come, and not something already present.  Our task is to show the way to discipline” (The Absorbent Mind, 26, pg. 240).  Discipline in the Montessori setting should be regarded as a point of arrival for the child.  Rather than equating discipline to the breaking of the will, our goal is to assist in the development and strengthening of the child’s will and sense of self.  A Montessori classroom offers numerous opportunities for the child to develop his will, and therefore, facilitate the emergence of discipline.  A key component to this concept is the role of the teacher.  Through careful observation, she is able to determine which lessons to present to each child.  Once the child has been presented lessons, he will then be able to make choices within the classroom.  These choices in turn, ultimately lead the child to self-discipline and the development of the will.
Montessori indicated that there are three distinct Stages of Discipline, or Levels of Obedience referring to them as The Call, Apparent Order, and Discipline.  Behaviors of disorder manifest themselves in the children during the stage of The Call.  Montessori also described this first level of obedience as having impulsive traits.  That is, the child is able to obey only because his desires match the adult’s direction. Of paramount importance during this phase is the teacher’s duty to present herself in a more traditional manner.  She therefore, becomes the center of the classroom and not only must care for the total environment but also intervene to prevent disorder.   Likewise, this is a time for the teacher’s ‘call’ to the materials.  She must present as many lessons as possible in order to assist the children in their choices.    Eventually, this will lead to the second stage of discipline.
The Second level of Obedience is also known as a stage of discipline called Apparent Order.  The level of discipline attained at this phase is characterized by the child’s requirement of needing the presence of an adult in order to maintain discipline.  The child is capable of doing all that is asked of him, however, his follow through is not intrinsic.  “The appearance of discipline which may be obtained is actually very fragile, and the teacher, who is constantly warding off a disorder which she feels to be ‘in the air,’ is kept in a state of tension” (The Absorbent Mind, 26, pg. 246).  A deeper undercurrent of discipline can be attained with the teacher’s response of presenting more lessons during the Second Level of Obedience.  Furthermore, she must act at a “gatekeeper” and entice the children to the materials so that the child’s inner needs will be nourished.  The teacher’s skills of intervention of disturbing activities must also remain in the forefront as children progress through this stage of discipline. This will eventually lead the way to the emergence of the final phase of discipline.
Montessori’s observations and recordings gave evidence to the fact that discipline is achieved when the child was intellectually nourished.  The normal state of childhood is therefore the third stage of discipline, when Montessori coined the term, ‘Normalized Child.”  Montessori referred to this term to describe the characteristics of the third level of obedience, that is, the true nature of childhood.  She maintained that children whose needs are met and are able to develop freely, will not exhibit typical patterns of childhood behavior including tantrums, crying, or possessiveness.  Rather, the normalized child will show a love of work and order, a love of silence and working alone.  He will also show tendencies to work well in a group with a sense of community and be able to show profound concentration, independence, and obedience.  Furthermore, a child who shows the true nature of childhood is rooted with an attachment to reality.  Likewise, he submits to the possessive will because he now knows about the world around him.  Most importantly, if the “child’s true personality is allowed to construct itself normally,” we find he is filled with a sense of joy, and only then, will we see the child for who he truly is.
 Throughout all levels of discipline, the teacher must also keep to the principle of freedom within limits.  The children are free to choose the materials with which they want to work for as long as they wish, as long as they have had a lesson.  The children must also respect the work of others and cannot disrupt others in deep concentration.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to assure that this idea manifests itself in the classroom.  Likewise, the teacher should be versed in the art of knowing when to intervene and when not to intervene.  If a child is concentrating on a task and is not bothering others or not using the materials inappropriately, the teacher should not intervene.  If, however, the teacher observes incidents which are dangerous, destructive, or disrespectful, she must intervene at once.  Once the teacher identifies the level of obedience within her children, she will then be able to respond in the appropriate manner.  Undoubtedly, this will facilitate our single, most important task as Montessori educators – the emergence of the Normalized Child. 


Coming up next:  Normalization - Part Two:  Role of the Teacher


  1. Thank you for your detailed explanation ;-) I can't wait to read the second part ;-)


  2. I'm glad you find it helpful, Ewa. Thanks for leaving a comment! Sasha

  3. Very well written! Thank you for the link-up. I will definitely add this post to our write up so that others will benefit from it as well.

  4. Hi Sasha,

    I fell in love with your blog! I hope you do not mind if I stay here for longer:) Thank you for that post (both of them).


  5. Thanks so much for the kind words - I'm glad you find my posts helfpul! Sasha

  6. At what approximate age should a child be expected to achieve the third order (Discipline)?