I discovered normalization not long after my son was 18 months old. It’s a concept championed by Maria Montessori.
Maria Montessori defined normalization as the process that occurs when a child’s development is proceeding normally. When a child shows signs of normalization, that child loves to do activities; the child exhibits concentration and self-discipline; the child is sociable.
In Montessori schools, it’s often advised that the teachers interfere less with the child’s play. This is to ensure that the child proceed with tasks by themselves in order for them to listen to their own inner voices as far as development is concerned. The teachers introduced higher levels of work to the children when the previous tasks were completed by themselves. If the children did not complete those tasks, new work was not introduced.
Around 18 months, when we were really working on trying to get more independent play time into his schedule, I struggled to balance leaving him alone to play and also introducing him to higher levels of play. It’s a delicate balance that most Montessori teachers encounter as well.
When he was younger, he played alone well and all the time. Now that he’s older, he seemed to want to involve me constantly in his activities. He would bring a ball and throw it for me to catch. He would put stuffed animals in my lap and attempt to feed it. He even went so far as to intentionally hide toys so they are missing, or throw toys out of reach so that I would get them for him.
Why did he act this way? Everyone who I consulted about this told me it was normal attention seeking behavior from a toddler. I’m sure it was partially. But, I couldn’t help to question whether there was something more there. So, I kept track on when this occurred. He usually played well for the first few minutes at home. Then, he would start involving me. If I sat silently in the play area and just watched him, he showed no sign of involving me in play at all. It’s only when he’s done with play in his own way.
Since we didn’t do Montessori trays for his free play activities, we simply had toys out for him to work with. It was hard to know when he has exhausted his own play and I need to introduce something new.
After a while, I started to follow my own intuition, I started playing with him whenever he asked me to. I started showing him new games with old toys or tried to use that time to move him onto new activities or toys. This worked amazingly. With intermittent input from me, he was able to move on in his normalization process to play with toys at new levels that brought more contentment and joy. Whenever he looked “bored” with his toys, it’s really when he wanted me to act as a teacher to introduce new material or new ways of playing.
After I started to help him along as he went about his free play sessions, he is able to do more independent play by himself with the same toys. His play sessions became more of a learning opportunity for him.
Through this experience, I’ve learned that asking a child to do independent play is not simply to leave him alone in a room. Rather, it is to sit by him and see what he needs to elaborate on his independent play and help him along his normalization process.
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