Learning Guide 36 – 40 Months

Learning Guide 36 – 40 Months

By Olynda Smith


A World Of Discovery

As your toddler moves into early childhood you may be amazed at how much they have grown.  They are entering a new time - one full of opportunities and growth.  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!”


The world is waiting to be discovered by your child! 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


This is a wonderful and critical time in your child's life to consciously support them in their development of concentration.  In Montessori classrooms, the development of concentration is seen as a major element of the work that children do during early childhood.  Our work is merely to support their work.  


“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.  This ability to concentrate lays the foundation for their capacity for mindfulness.   


Given the right support, your child will naturally build their own ability to concentrate!  We just have to create the right environment for that to happen.


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.  Children this age are mostly still engaging in “parallel play,” - playing next to rather than with someone.  Tuck your phone away, and give yourself time to fully enjoy the moment as you play next to your child.   


Voluntary 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 little song is not supporting your child’s concentration at all.  


There are many names for what Montessori called concentration, one is “voluntary 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 at all.  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.  This is true for adults, and it is doubly true for children of this age because they have an absorbent mind.


Absorbent Mind

Dr. Maria Montessori thought of the time between birth and six years old as the time when children have an “absorbent mind.”  She described this absorbent mind as learning in a different way than older children or adults learn.  Young children seem to absorb what is around them in a deep way - as such, they are deeply affected by their environment.  What children “absorb” in early childhood will stay with them throughout their lives unless very deep work is done to shift the habits they have acquired during this powerful time.  Even though your child seems so small, they are doing incredibly important work.  And you are doing the incredibly important work of supporting them.  

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