As a Montessori guide, I am fortunate to be able to witness many moments of children concentrating, deeply engaged in a work of their choice, working contentedly and quietly. Even though I have witnessed this countless times now, in all my years as a guide, it continues to be a wondrous and magical sight to behold. Every instance of a child concentrating is a precious and delicate event that lights up my heart and turns me into a protective mama bear. I am desperate to protect every child’s concentration. In this day and age with technology so prevalent and pervasive, it is becoming increasingly difficult for a child to stay engaged in anything other than an iPad or some smartphone. Our increasing reliance on technology to babysit children compromises on their ability to stay focused on a task and makes them dependent on flashing, moving images to keep them entertained and engaged. They are no longer satisfied to be given just a ball or a spoon to play with, they only want some cartoon or music videos playing on loop to entertain them.
So when I spot a child completely immersed in a work (that does not sing or move animatedly on a digital screen), my heart sings with joy and I instinctively create an invisible “shield” to protect that child’s concentration. I want so much for that child to experience that peace and calmness that comes with concentration, even if for only 30 seconds. Such serenity cannot be experienced with videos on YouTube or “brain” games on the smartphone. It can only be experienced when a child is placed in the right environment, with the right conditions, and given the opportunity to work on a piece of work freely chosen. Those 30 seconds will eventually grow into 60 seconds, then minutes, then perhaps a half hour. That child will also learn to regain that concentration in spite of interruptions, which is quite a feat for any child in the Casa. However long the duration, these moments of concentration are essential to the child’s overall development and lay the foundation of their learning.
With reference to a recent video we posted of an almost-4-year-old concentrating on a work from the Practical Life area, notice how he was so immersed in pouring! His surroundings were abuzz with children talking and things moving on and off the shelves and tables, and yet he remained undisturbed, unbothered by all that was going on around him. How is this possible?! A few factors contribute to this magic:
- The pouring work was a work this boy had chosen on his own, following his own inner directives and interests.
- He is well acquainted with the work cycle and rules of the environment, and knows he is able to work with any activity that he has been presented with for as long as he likes.
- The individual components of the work were child-sized which enabled him to do it all by himself.
- He has experienced little moments of concentration before with other activities in the environment; every experience builds on the previous, slowly lengthening over time.
I’d also like to point out he was not pouring the water exactly the way he had been shown how. But that’s okay! He was not misusing the materials, he was not harming himself or anyone while pouring, so he was well within the limits we establish in the environment. That is the beauty of a Montessori prepared environment, the children are given the freedom to explore and make discoveries for themselves, within the limits we set for them. These limits help to establish a happy and safe environment for everyone in it. The purposes of the pouring activity were still achieved by the child even though he did not pour the water from one container to the next in the exact same way he had been shown, and he derived enjoyment and satisfaction from completing the activity on his own terms and in his own time. And, he was able to return to the work at hand after pausing briefly to observe the two girls who showed up beside his table! He was so drawn to the work that he naturally wanted to continue it.
All in all, he poured for about four to five minutes. That may seem like a very short amount of time, but for a child his age, growing up in our technologically-dependent world, that is quite an accomplishment!