“… the first essential for the child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy.” ~ Maria Montessori
Montessori observed that concentration is the key that allows the child to engage in an activity for long enough to develop some aspect of herself. Without concentration, it is difficult (or even impossible) to learn, to understand a difficult concept, to absorb information, or to persevere at an activity for long enough to develop a skill.
We know from research into the phenomenon of what scientists call “flow” that, in order to achieve excellence, to be innovative, or to be highly creative, a person must be deeply engaged in their work – they must concentrate on what they are working on.
Interestingly, the most successful adults work frequently in this “flow state,” which is characterized by deep concentration.
Montessori also points out something else that researchers have identified – spending time concentrating makes people happy. Just like the adult who frequently spends time in flow, children who concentrate are also happier, calmer, and more empathetic toward others.
Concentration is Learned
The ability to concentrate develops with practice, so one of the most important jobs of the Montessori guide is to help each child find activities that are both interesting and at the right level for the child. The right activities draw in the child and nurture the developing ability to concentrate. With practice, the child will maintain focus for longer and longer periods of time, working through increasingly difficult challenges.
You can help nurture your child’s growing concentration at home, too! Here are tips:
Notice What Fascinates Your Child
When a child is perfectly intrigued or challenged, he can remain with an activity for an extended period, whereas if an activity is too easy or too difficult, the child will quickly lose interest. Observe where your child directs his attention. Which materials or activities captivate him most? Which bore him easily? Whatever it is that increases your child’s level of concentration, encourage and offer more of that.
Introduce Activities with Multiple Steps
Activities with multiple steps can increase a child’s concentration. In the Montessori classroom, there are many activities that take many steps to complete, like setting the table or washing dishes. These activities involve careful sequencing, encouraging the child to pay close attention to what he is doing and to think about what comes next.
This kind of practical life activity is ideal for your child at home as well. Show your child a simple baking activity together first, then set up necessary measures and ingredients next time, allowing your child to do much of the process independently. Show your child the precise movements and steps needed to use a salad spinner, cherry pitter, strawberry huller, or waffle maker, then store the necessary tools and food items where your child can reach them whenever he would like. Your child will build concentration and feel the immense satisfaction of completing an activity and sharing the results of his work with other family members.
Know When to Stay Back
Maria Montessori noted that “even a look may be enough to interrupt a child or destroy an activity. The great principle that brings success to the teacher is this: As soon as concentration has begun, act as if the child does not exist.”
In order to develop the ability to concentrate, the young child needs plenty of time to engage independently with her work. If your child is focused, then avoid stepping in, making comments, or asking questions.
Teach by Teaching, Not by Correcting
Rather than interrupting your child to correct something they are doing, which can destroy both concentration and motivation, allow your child to finish, then find another time to show how to do the activity correctly. This way, your child has time to explore and to possibly discover or correct the error himself (building self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and grit), all while building the critical ability to concentrate through challenges to achieve a goal.
Create Physical Space for Uninterrupted Work Time
Build a cozy corner in your child’s bedroom or a reading nook to retreat to for uninterrupted work time. Consider including a mat that can roll up, a beanbag chair or cushion, a small portable kneeling desk, a notebook, pens and pencil crayons, a few books, and a few creative toys or activities.
Talk often about the space being used for independent work. If your child is distracted while working at the dining room table, for example, encourage him to use the private workspace before giving up on whatever he is doing.
Boredom is productive!
Consider having daily intentional quiet time, free from music, TV, or other devices. Eliminating background noise can increase concentration and give a child mental space to notice their own inner voice and initiate creative activities.
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