Concentration is a key aspect of learning, no matter what your age. Whatever you’re learning to do, the ability to concentrate is critical. When your child really pays attention to what they’re doing, you’ll find that they will master the skill far more quickly. The ability to focus allows new pathways to be created in the brain far faster than when they’re distracted.
Concentration is a skill which can be improved and built on over time with practice, and this is something that you can support your child to develop. The Montessori approach provides the perfect environment for your child’s concentration to develop.
In this article, we’ll discover how the Montessori philosophy supports and fosters a child’s concentration, as well as practical ways in which you can help your child to build their concentration.
What is concentration?
Concentration is a deep and engaged state of mind. When you’re really concentrating, your heart rate slows down and your brain becomes active in measurable ways as it processes information. In this state of mind, you feel calm, in control and powerful as you really focus on the task in hand.
When someone is intensely interested in what they’re doing, they may be able to shut out all external stimuli and focus solely on their task. This is full concentration.
However, there is also another state of concentration that you should be aware of. This involves being acutely aware of your surroundings but still being able to focus your mind. You know what’s going on around you but it doesn’t impact on your concentration. This is known as being mindful.
Both types of concentration are extremely useful in different types of situation. When walking a tightrope, you’d require full concentration, not allowing yourself to be distracted by your surroundings. However, when you’re driving a car, you need to be mindful, being aware of your surroundings whilst focusing on driving your vehicle.
What does Maria Montessori say about concentration?
Maria Montessori recognised the importance of concentration as the foundation for developing all other skills. That’s why Dr Montessori built her educational approach around building concentration before all else.
In ‘The Absorbent Mind’, Maria Montessori wrote: “The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behaviour. He must find out how to concentrate, and for this he needs things to concentrate upon. This shows the importance of his surroundings, for no one acting on the outside can cause him to concentrate.”
Dr Montessori strongly believed that the development of concentration relied on meeting the interests of the child. In other words, if you offer your child an activity that they aren’t interested in, you’re likely to attract little more than a fleeting bout of concentration. To secure your child’s full attention, you should present them with materials which meet their developmental needs and fit their interests.
Maria Montessori studied each child’s interests, enabling her to offer activities which attracted their attention so strongly that they began to develop enhanced concentration. This could then be transferred to other activities as their abilities increased, enhancing their learning capabilities. These children also surprised their caregivers with their advanced levels of self-control which developed as a result of their enhanced concentration.
When do children develop concentration?
Your child’s ability to concentrate begins to develop from birth. You’ll notice in newborn babies that when they’re interested in something, they’ll focus on it for a long period of time, as their brain takes the time to process it. When they’re no longer interested, their period of concentration will end and they’ll look away.
Your child’s ability to concentrate will continue to develop from this point, with their concentration span gradually increasing as they get older. However, there are things that you can do at home to foster concentration in your child and enhance their ability to focus.
How to help your child to develop concentration
The Montessori approach is a great way to encourage your child to develop concentration. Through Montessori, concentration is fostered in three ways: by offering a prepared environment, by preparing interesting materials with varying levels of difficulty and by removing distractions.
A central aspect of Montessori education is offering a prepared environment. This is a space which facilitates the child’s ability to engage. The prepared environment should support the child’s power of concentration by being centred around their interests. When your child plays purposefully with prepared materials, their attention will be clear and focused as they master new skills.
The prepared environment should incorporate interesting materials which engage their five senses. Activities should be difficult enough that your child is challenged and their attention maintained, but not so difficult that they become frustrated and lose interest.
Until the age of around three years, your child will naturally be attracted to activities and materials which optimise their development, teaching them what they need to learn at that point in time. They’re likely to ignore activities which are too simple or too challenging for them, preferring activities which are slightly above their current level of competence.
It’s also important to remove any obstacles that might distract or disrupt your child, making it more difficult for them to concentrate. This means turning off the television and keeping the room as quiet as possible.
Avoiding distractions also includes avoiding interrupting your child’s state of concentration. This includes well-intentioned interruptions such as applauding your child or high-fiving them. Remind yourself to stay quiet to allow your child to concentrate on their work and focus on the learning process.
When your child completes an activity, you can invite them to repeat it. Try saying “let’s try this again” or “would you like to do this again?”. This will help to increase their attention span whilst enhancing their development.
Activities to build your child’s concentration
Almost any activity can be used to build your child’s concentration. The key aspects are ensuring that it’s the right level of difficulty, setting your child up for success and minimising any distractions. However, there are a few activities and materials which are particularly useful for building concentration.
Practical life activities are particularly effective at promoting concentration as they allow the child to fix their attention on a repetitive process or movement. Your child understands the goal of the process, whether it’s an activity they see adults performing regularly or a self-care activity.
For example, your toddler may enjoy cleaning the table over and over again. Although the primary purpose of the activity is to clean the table, to your child it will be so much more. They are imitating an activity that they regularly watch adults performing and enjoy engaging their full attention on a process that they are able to complete independently and fully understand.
You can adapt practical life activities to enable your child to complete them successfully. This could include investing in a learning tower or step stool or adapting equipment to make it suitable for smaller hands.
Simple wooden toys are also perfect materials for building concentration. Their simplistic design means that your child is not distracted by noises, lights or colours and they are able to really focus on the activity on offer.
For younger babies, wooden toys such as a cylinder puzzle or vertical ring stacker are ideal for encouraging concentration whilst promoting other areas of their development such as hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
As your child grows older, you may find they enjoy more complex toys such as a spiral tracing board or a pre-writing tracing board which offer several levels of difficulty. These toys are ideal for toddlers who are beginning to develop more advanced hand-eye coordination and will thrive on the challenges that they offer.
Children will realise their natural abilities when they are able to concentrate on their activities. As your child develops concentration, not only will their successes increase but they will also become more aware of and empathetic towards those around them.
There are many activities that you can do at home to encourage your child to develop their concentration. By offering a prepared environment which is matched to your child’s abilities and limiting distractions, you are providing your child with the optimum environment for increasing their concentration.