by Olynda Smith, AMS Certified Montessori Teacher and Simplicity Parenting Family Life Coach
Our ability to concentrate lays the foundation for our learning, success and wellness. The first six years of life are vital for the development of this skill. For these reasons, Montessorians consider development of concentration one of the essential components of early childhood.
You can do so much to support your child as they grow their ability to focus at home.
One easy way to help your child in their development of concentration is to notice when your child is in a moment of deep focus, and give them space to continue to concentrate. Ideally when you notice the magic of concentration happening you fade into the background - even a word, a look or snapping a quick picture can break their stride. The longer you let them focus on their work without interruption, the more “stamina” they have for concentrating.
The first step is learning to recognize what concentration looks like for them!
Here are some signs that your young child or toddler is in a moment of concentration:
Working with purpose
Is your little one super busy? Do they seem to be on a mission? Perhaps they are moving all their toy cars from one side of the room to under the couch and then back again. Perhaps they are stacking the stamp ink pads to make a tower or intently working to place a ring on a hook. Maybe your toddler is immersed in the details of every bug on the walk you are taking. These are all wonderful examples of a child in deep concentration.
Every-time little ones are working with purpose and/or curiosity they are concentrating. Sometimes this will last 30 seconds, sometimes they may be engaged in their work for 20 minutes. Sometimes you will understand what they are involved in, sometimes you will not. If they are “all in” to whatever they are doing, they are concentrating. And anytime they are concentrating that is amazing work for them.
Concentration has a settled quality to it. A settled child will not be frantic or scattered, but instead they will be working in a content and “gathered” way. For each child this will look a little bit different. True, some children do have a need to throw and to discover by demolition. In order for that kind of work to be a sign of concentration these activities will be controlled, deliberate and never borne out of negative emotions such as frustration or anger. In some ways this is a “you’ll know it when you see it” quality. When your child is working in a settled way, there is a quality of calm even if they are excited, chattering away or are very busy.
“The first essential for a child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy.” M. Montessori
When we think of signs of adult concentration, happiness rarely figures into the equation. Yet, it is the key to recognizing a child in deep concentration. This is not the “running through Disneyland” kind of happiness. It is simply a sustained sense of delight and joy. When you see a child humming along as they pour water from container to container you are witnessing this immense happiness that Montessori speaks about. A slight smile, a satisfied look at all the angles of the structure they just built, the joy of digging a huge hole in the backyard, or a delight in showing you what they have done are all signs of this happiness.
This is a multi-year project!
Remember, building concentration is a long process. Your child will be developing concentration for many, many years! Their progress will naturally ebb and flow, and it will likely not take a direct path.
No encouragement necessary
As parents and caregivers, we may feel the need to “encourage” children to concentrate by structuring that focus for them, or in some other way trying to “make them” concentrate. While usually borne out of a wish to support our children, this kind of “encouragement” will usually have the opposite of the intended effect.
Just make space for it
The more you recognize the signs that your child is concentrating, and make space for it, the more your child’s capacity to focus and be happily immersed in their work will grow.