More on Flow, or, What Montessori Described as “Normalization”

In order that attention may be fixed, the child himself must act, otherwise it is the teacher who is moving and the child’s attention remains motionless.” For Montessori the “fixing of attention” is dependent on the child finding “some spontaneous work of his own intelligence”. This is the role of the materials in the Montessori environment…(Maria Montessori, “Fixing attention and the child’s psychic development”, California Lectures, 235; Sharon Caldwell, The uninterrupted work cycle as a critical component of a Montessori prepared environment, 4.)

I have been thinking a lot about how to describe Montessori’s odd term: “normalization”.  I have compared it to “flow”, as adults can identify with this feeling.  In the classroom, we are taught to wait for that “one thing” that attracts the child. ( By “wait”, I don’t mean we ignore the child; we continue to offer lessons, and, of course, observing other children is the best inspiration!) That “thing” is usually something which requires focus and concentration.  It is not necessarily anything that looks “academic”, although it is a key factor in being successful in “academic” work.  It can be when a child watches a raindrop flow down a window pane, and meet up with other drops.  It usually involves repetition, but all motivation is coming from the child, as when they climb, over and over, on the “red swing” outside, and attempt to stay on and to swing.  It may appear to have no purpose, as when I taught myself to throw a spiral with a football as a kid, although I have never played football for a minute in my life.  However, I practiced for days and weeks, and got great satisfaction from feeling and seeing a good throw.

As parents, your job is to allow “do nothing” time, when a child may be bored!  This is fertile ground for finding “that thing” which attracts them into effort.  It will not, generally, come from your suggestion or help.  In fact, your help may be a huge impediment!  This is when “benign neglect” may be the best gift to kids.  If you are too busy to help, they may be attracted to notice a caterpillar, follow the cat, watch the leaves fall, notice light reflected from water, and that will be the beginning of normalization, and your job is not to interrupt it, not even with vocabulary or appreciation!DSCF1933

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