by Alex Dillon, Montessori Teacher, Cycle 1 (3-6 year olds)
In our Montessori classrooms we place a great deal of importance on preparing the classroom environment for the children. This includes considering the role we play as adults and our interaction with the children. Let's take concentration for example, and fostering concentration in young children.
Concentration gives us peace and enables us to be fully present with our tasks at hand. If we think for a moment about what we need to concentrate, it's such things as
- unlimited time to focus on the task at hand
- a quiet space free from interruptions
- a period at the end for reflection or consolidation
This is also what young children need in order to develop the skill of concentration and it is what we promote in our Montessori class environment. As the adults in the room, it requires our understanding, patience and time to give children the gift of experiencing lengthy periods of concentration.
Next time you see your child sitting quietly, with limited body movement, absorbed in a task, (usually involving the use of the hands) with eyes focused, do not interrupt but stand back and watch them. You are witnessing the true nature of the child. Dr Maria Montessori believed that concentration is as natural for the child’s intellect, all hindrances removed, as it is for the heart to beat, yet we adults often place obstacles in the child’s way with time restraints, the desire to ‘help’ and see what’s going on, to praise or correct. This interference breaks concentration and robs the child of valuable learning experiences. So maybe try this out at home! Stop and watch and leave them be.
The importance of concentration cannot be underestimated. There is a close connection between concentration (being able to focus attention) and self-regulation. Children who are better at self-regulating, display more positive social behaviour.
So how do we, and how can you at home, aid a child in concentration.
- Respect: Start with an understanding of the needs of the child. Respect the child's ability and need to discover things for themselves. Just as we value our own 'work', the 'work' of the child is equally important.
- Time: Provide time in the day that is not rushed or time pressured. In the Montessori classroom it's called the extended, uninterrupted 3 hour work cycle.
- Observe, wait and learn. Observation is a powerful tool and we use it to watch what a child is doing before we consider interrupting. The basic rule of thumb is that if a child is engaged in what they are doing, don't interrupt them.
- Environment: A peaceful space, free of distractions (such as the TV) is conducive to concentration. At home, setting up a quiet corner can work well.
- Order & opportunity: Our Montessori classrooms are orderly and tidy with a place for everything. Various activities are set up around the room providing opportunities for the children to help themselves. This can be done at home very easily too.
Adopting these practices at home also provides some predictability or continuity between home and school for the child and together we can best support their development.