In Montessori there is this concept called normalization. Words that come to mind in describing a child that is normalized are:
- Deep concentration for extended periods
- Self- Aware
This quote from the North American Montessori Teacher’s Association explains normalization this way:
“Dr. Montessori observed that when children are allowed freedom in an environment suited to their needs, they blossom. After a period of intense concentration, and working with materials that fully engage their interest, children appear to be refreshed and contented. Through continued concentrated work of their own choice, children grow in inner discipline and peace. She called this process “normalization” and cited it as “the most important single result of our whole work”.”
Needless to say words like ‘calm”, “focused”, and “self-aware” are not usually used in reference to kids with ADHD, sensory issues, autism, etc. When Mr Rockstar was attending a Montessori preschool we had many conversations over the years about normalization and whether he was or wasn’t achieving this zen state. He never seemed to achieve normalization for more than a few days before it would fall apart. Also, it never seemed to happen at home. Once I started Montessori Homeschooling I longed for this chimera but it seemed hopelessly unattainable.
Well guess what!!! In the last couple weeks I have been bursting with happiness because my children, our little homeschool, has normalized. I say this not to brag, but more as encouragement. It is something I NEVER thought would happen. The kids are playing for extended times without bothering each other. I can actually sometimes get things done around the house while they play. They are engaging with the Montessori materials in our classroom independently (it seemed like forever the materials just sat unused). One evening last week they all just kept pulling out new “works” late into the evening. They are excited about learning.
So how did this finally happen? I have been slow to write this post because I thought surely I was only imagining that the kids had normalized. Or maybe we were just having a few good days? Maybe we are but we have had ~3 weeks of calm focused activity. I have been trying to figure out what changed? How did this finally happen?
The three main things I attribute it to are:
Remember the IPads went on vacation? It took about 2 weeks for the kids to finally stop whining but when they did they slowly began playing independently for longer stretches of time and with more concentration. Independent play helps build the child’s concentration muscle. I had tried removing electronic devices in the past and it always failed miserably.
In the past Mr Rockstar wasn’t capable of more than 2-3 minutes of unsupervised playtime. Even after a few days sans IPads it never got any better. Couple that with infant twins and sleep deprivation and this momma needed her sanity i.e. the IPads/cartoons.
This time Mr Rockstar is so much better at dealing with his own frustrations that he could handle building with legos and something breaking, or not being able to find the block he needed, or being ok with the creation not working as he envisioned it, etc. All of these things would have resulted in huge melt-downs for extended period of times with no talking him down (I remember him having a melt-down over just this and him getting so mad at me that I couldn’t find the missing lego pieces. There was no talking logic into him.).
The IPads and tv stayed on “vacation” for about 3 weeks. When I brought them back it was for very limited use. Once Mr Rockstar finishes his school he gets 30 minutes of cartoons or educational iPad. Throughout the week he can earn stars for completing chores, appropriate behavior, school work, etc. Each star is worth 5 minutes of Minecraft time on Saturday. This seems to be a nice balance of limiting the IPad but still using it for educational and motivational purposes since it is the biggest “currency” I have with Mr Rockstar for motivation.
2) Settling Down
We have been in “flux” for at least a year. A year ago we first started trying alternate ways to manage Mr Rockstar’s aggressive behavior. We tried essential oils, diet, medication (that was a rollercoaster but we did finally find something that has helped with the insomnia and aggression a LOT), etc. About the time Mr Rockstar started calming down and reaching a happier place we moved across country into a small rental house….and a few months after that we moved into a large house and had all the joys that come with unpacking, etc. We have finally been in our new house in Fort Wayne, IN long enough for it to begin feeling like home. We got Mr Rockstar back in therapy and that has been going on long enough to be part of our routine. We all have a handful of friends. Life feels settled.
3) Visual Schedule
In a Montessori environment, the children choose their own work and carry it out with calmness, purpose and deep concentration. The only problem is Mr Rockstar has NEVER been good at choosing his work even at the two Montessori schools he attended. It was another ongoing discussion we would have with his teachers along with the conversation about never normalizing. A couple months ago I saw these Montessori Visual Schedule Cards on Etsy. They were created for children with autism who struggle with choosing work in a Montessori environment. It suddenly clicked with me that YES this is what Mr Rockstar needs. If I just tell him what he needs to do each day for school he resists. He still needs the independence of a typical Montessori school. But asking him to go into the classroom and choose a work is sensory overload for him. These visual schedule cards allow me to break it down for him to a simpler step but leave the control in his hands.
I made them and put magnetic strip on the back so they can be displayed on the side of our fridge. After our morning walk to “school” (part of our old routine we still keep), I ask Mr Rockstar to choose 6 “works” off the fridge to plan his school work period for the morning.
At first I would choose one, then he would choose one, then I would choose one, etc, but soon I learned this was unnecessary. In Montessori they say children will choose work that they need to learn vs just choosing work that is easy for them. It turns out this is true! Mr Rockstar routinely chooses exactly what I think he needs to be working on. He also chooses a number of activities that are soothing or give him some needed repetitive practice.
Mr Rockstar completes his visual schedule with focus and purpose. Some days he takes breaks to play a bit. Other days he plows through and is done very quickly. Many days once he finishes his chosen works he gets so excited about what he is learning that he starts to spontaneously choose additional works.
I am not sure we will need the visual schedule forever but it has helped Mr Rockstar tremendously with getting started in the classroom each day. For now, Mr Rockstar is the only one who makes a visual schedule. Miss Tomboy and Miss Princess usually watch their brother and that tends to inspire them to find a “work” to do.
How has the beginning of the school year been for you and your kids?