“(Normalization) is the most important single result of our whole work.”
Dr. Maria Montessori (The Absorbent Mind, 1949)
Normalization is one of the hallmark concepts of the Montessori method. It described the learning processes of a student who had successfully found an environment that fulfilled their needs, facilitated interest and concentration, which inevitably promoted growth, discipline, and peace. Dr. Montessori stressed that normalization was achievable by anyone, and it was not something that only gifted students experienced. It was an achieved state that enabled the student to be at their best.
According to E.M. Standing (Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, 1957), there are ten characteristics of normalization:
Love of order
Love of work
Attachment to reality
Love of silence and of working alone
Sublimation of the possessive instinct
Power to act from real choice
Obedience, independence and initiative
Frankly, I’m not sure if normalization can happen in the Montessori PE classroom, at least not in the traditional Montessori sense. While Montessori PE mirrors concepts from the classroom, the gym and classroom environments are significantly different. However, I (and maybe you as well) have occasionally seen students display similar characteristics to those listed above in physical education class. But is that normalization?
I believe that the way “normalization” is used to describe beneficial characteristics in the Montessori classroom, “flow state,” or “being in the zone,” describes a similar set of characteristics in the PE class. Coined by Jeanne Nakamura and Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, flow state is “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.” They identified that to achieve true flow state; usually independent characteristics must be experienced in full combination.
Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
Merging of action and awareness
A loss of reflective self-consciousness
A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered
Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience
It is interesting to notice the striking similarities between normalization and flow state.
Love of work = Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience
Spontaneous concentration = Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
Attachment to reality = Merging of action and awareness
Joy = A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered (while not completely the same, it is easy to lose track of time doing something that you love to do)
Power to act from real choice = A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
With normalization and flow state being so similar, a hypothesis of Montessori Physical Education is when PE and the Montessori curriculum are integrated; this increases the chance that the student will experience some type of enhanced concentrative state and apply that to the concepts being taught in the lesson. Again, this is only a hypothesis, but it may be that certain learning types may be more prone to experiencing enhanced concentration through certain modes of learning. If this were true, then a kinesthetic learner would have a better chance of experiencing enhanced concentration through a flow state because of the physical activity demand. This may make the child more receptive to concepts presented in the Montessori Physical Education curriculum Volume 1 ©. Their normalization state, or flow state, was activated through physical activity, and they are primed for absorption. These are questions and concepts that I plan to investigate further in the future.
It is interesting, as an adult, to self-audit the feelings of a flow state at work versus athletic or physical endeavors. The feeling of losing oneself in work or exercise has a metaphysical, almost mystical quality all its own. It is hard to achieve, but when it happens, it has a unique and unforgettable energy which one will try to replicate as often as possible (if they are determined).
Dr. Maria Montessori (The Absorbent Mind, 1949) may have described the transcendental experience of normalization (and flow state) best with this quote,
“(On Normalization)…An interesting piece of work, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue, adds to the child's energies and mental capacities, and leads him to self-mastery . . .. One is tempted to say that the children are performing spiritual exercises, having found the path of self-perfectionment and of ascent to the inner heights of the soul.”