“We ask for obedience from children, and the children ask for the moon.”
These are curious days, when we are neither where we have been nor where we are going, comfortable in this in-between space because we’ve been here so long, anxious still about when what we used to know will be what we do again. The early moments of patience (or impatience) with the children as they transitioned to a new way of doing things have given way to a more routine impatience (or patience) with them now that we are not so focused on the newness of the crises at hand.
We might be trying to establish norms again. We might have realized that we’re likely going to be in this space long enough that it’s time to try to regulate it. We may be looking again for new indications of normalization in the children.
Remember: while we, as teachers and parents, may like to think about the process of normalization on a predictable timeline, none of us steps into the same river twice. Each child’s experience is different. Not only from year to year, but from day to day. When you add more people in the same space, more opportunities for interruption and conflicting agendas, more schedules to coordinate and human needs to meet, it becomes even more complicated. The dynamic, human messiness of an environment with four (or twelve or twenty five or forty!) people in it each day interrupts our adult-driven plans and demands, instead, that we pay closer attention to the signals the children are giving us.
If your environment remains chaotic, step away from the adult-centric perspective that there is some new intervention to implement or new system to install. Remember the qualities of the "normalized child" we learned back in training:
- A love of order
- A love of work
- Spontaneous concentration
- Attachment to reality
- A love silence and of working alone
- The sublimation of the possessive instinct
- The power to act from real choice
- Independence and initiative
- Spontaneous self-discipline
Physician, heal thyself. Are you demonstrating a love of order in yourself? A love of work? Concentration? Reality? A love of silence and working alone? Are you working against the possessive instinct and toward real choice? Are you obedient, not to some external power, but to the responsibility you share with your community? Are you showing initiative? Self-discipline? Joy?
If your environment has not yet settled, settle yourself. There is no strict timeline for normalization, and our panicked efforts to move it along more quickly by changing our daily routines or implementing new systems, by trying new behavioral rules or dramatically moving around the furniture in the room... these efforts, well-intended, disrupt the predictability and constancy of the prepared environment. Slow down. Settle down. Trust that the children need the same responses, every day, every time, to believe that the environment is reliable. Trust that the child who is challenging your timeline is following an intrinsic one with far more relevance than yours will have. Remember that the normalized child may choose to be obedient to you, but the path to normalization comes from following the child. And the child, in turn, is becoming more and more like you, like the “things he loves” every day. Who are you asking them to become?
Our timelines for when our environments will be normalized distracts from our intent to support the normalized child. The solution is not in new systems, but in the careful, daily, reliable observation of the child, to understand the obstacles we may have unintentionally created, to understand the opportunities to seize his or her interest and celebrate what is distinct and unique and, therefore, unpredictable in his or her nature.
Slow down. It'll come. Observe. Observe. Observe. Take only those actions your observations have suggested. Then observe some more. It'll come. The modeling is yours. The timeline is entirely the child’s.
* A response to Chapter 23 Discipline in a Children’s House in The Discovery of the Child M. Montessori