Cultivating Concentration

Cultivating Concentration

A teacher once recounted to me that a friend asked her “What in the world can you teach a three-year-old?” To which she replied “Anything and everything!”

There are a few skills that will be very valuable to your child as they embark on making new discoveries of the world around them.  One central skill is the ability to concentrate.  

Cultivating concentration

“The first [thing] essential for a child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy.” Maria Montessori

Building concentration is like building muscle.  When your child was a baby learning to walk, they had to really work to be able to hold their own weight, balance and move in any direction without falling.  Now that is, likely, second nature to them.  Being able to walk has opened up a world of possibilities that they could not access if they didn’t know how to walk.  

This is how it is with concentration.  Your child will need to practice concentrating to “exercise” their ability to give something their full attention.  Once they are used to concentrating it will become second nature to them.  This ability to concentrate is essential to their ability to learn, supports their creative pursuits and gives them the ability to give their attention to others in a way that builds positive relationships.

Given the right support, your child will naturally build their own ability to concentrate! Here are a few ways you can support your child:

  • Keep your environment simple.  Make the “playspace”  uncluttered, with 10 or fewer activities available at a time.  This might mean you have a closet somewhere that is jam-packed.  


  • Give them time.  Keep your schedules simple as well. Ideally, your child will have large chunks of time with nothing planned and nowhere to go.  This unstructured time is when kids engage in the kind of self-directed activities that help them develop concentration. 


  • When you see your child is in deep concentration, do not disturb them. Even a word of praise can shift their attention and break their developing concentration. Consider giving them a little more time with whatever they are concentrating on before calling them to dinner or to get ready to leave the house.   


  • Model deep concentration near them. Tuck your phone away, and give yourself time to fully enjoy the moment as you play next to your child.   


Active attention

It is important to note that while your child may seem like they are having a moment of full concentration while watching a video or doing something on an app, they are not.  In fact, anything that is giving your child mechanical feedback of a voice, flashing light or a little song is not supporting your child’s concentration.  

There are many names for what Montessori called concentration, one is “active attention.” In Parenting in the Age of Attention Snatchers, Lucy Jo Palladino explains that screens engage our “involuntary attention.”  They basically attract our attention with no effort required of us.  When we engage in activities that use involuntary attention, we do not develop our ability to concentrate. The more we allow our attention to be pulled this way and that way by strong stimuli, the harder it is for us to pay attention to something on purpose.  


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