I recently had a conversation with a friend about the importance of concentration. While I know so well the importance, I struggled with verbalizing it in a way that satisfied me so I decided to refresh my memory by writing a post. I have chosen to use the words of Maria Montessori and Mihaly Csikzentmihaly with a few additions from me.
What is Concentration?
It is the action or power of focusing all of one’s attention. It can also be described as close attention, close thought or attentiveness
Researcher Mihaly Csikzentmihaly has found concentration to be one of the characteristics of life’s most meaningful and satisfying moments (flow).
Why is it important for the child to concentrate?
“The child who concentrates is immensely happy”
“An interesting piece of work freely chosen which has the virtue of inducing concentration… adds to the child’s energies and mental capacities, and leads him to self mastery”
“Without concentration, it is the objects about him that possess the child. He feels the call of each, and goes from one to another. But once his attention has be focused, he becomes his own master and can exert control over his world.”
“After concentration will come perseverance. This repetition, which begins after the first concentration… marks the beginning of yet another stage in human character formation”
Ability to carry through whatever he has begun
“The first essential to the child’s development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behavior.”
“Just as in using a compass, the fixing of the point enables us to draw a circle , so in the child’s formation, the fixing of his attention (concentration) is basic to all that comes afterwards”
How can we help the child concentrate?
“…He needs things to concentrate upon. This shows the importance of his surroundings, for no one acting from outside can cause him to concentrate. Only him can organize his psychic life.”
“For this we must provide ‘motives of activity’ so well adapted to the child’s interests that they provoke his deep attention”
“An interesting piece of work freely chosen which has the virtue of inducing concentration… adds to the child’s energies and mental capacities, and leads him to self mastery.“
Other requirements for flow identified by Csikzentmihaly include interest and a feeling of control. These to me are exactly the same as Montessori’s indication that concentration requires an interesting piece of work freely chosen by the child. This is another reason why I love the idea of using shelves
“It is not enough to provide objects at random, we have to organize a world of progressive interest”
Another characteristic proposed by Csikzentmihaly is that the challenge is matched to skill. The skill should be stretched to it’s limit to meet the challenging goal. Again, I see a parallel to Montessori’s words. The objects have to continue to progress to continue to challenge the child and help him continue developing.
“Praise, help or even a look, may be enough to interrupt him, or destroy the activity. It seems a strange thing to say, but this can happen even if the child merely becomes aware of being watched. After all, we too sometimes feel unable to go on working if someone comes to see what we are doing. The great principle which brings success to the teacher is this: as soon as concentration has begun, act as if the children do not exist. Naturally, one can see what he is doing with a glance but without him being aware of it.”
Csikzentmihaly found that activities with forthcoming and immediate feedback are required for flow. Does this not sound like control of error? One thing that makes it easier to not interrupt the child to make sure that the activities that we provide have an inbuilt control of error. This means that when the child does something wrong, there should be an indicator that he can see for himself
What does concentration look like?
“Concentration is different from occupation. The essential thing is for the task to arouse such interest that it engages the child’s whole personality.”
I really like this quote. My son is always occupied but not always concentrating, You can see the difference, the intense focus that one activity that engages him entirely for some time. Battery operated toys that have buttons for the child to press, may occupy the child but they rarely, if ever, lead to concentration.
“No one says it must fix in the same way or on the same things but unless it does fixate, formation cannot begin.”
When you have observed of worked with older children in a Montessori classroom or have observed a child watching a Mobile, you have the impression that concentration looks like at least 30 minutes of intense focus. A long process with lots of repetition. Even if you have not observed a class, as adults we associate concentration with sitting still.
And then you observe your infant or toddler and wonder why they do not concentrate but don’t they? No one says it must fix in the same way. My son concentrates. It looks completely different from my expectations of concentration but once you put aside your preconceived notions, you see it.
He chooses an object… usually one he is still struggling with. He may start out standing, and then he sits, he may even then lie down, and roll over, kneel down, and turn this way and then that way… all the time trying to figure it out and then repeating and repeating. Concentration. Then he’s done! he drops it and happily moves on to the next thing. It might have been 20 minutes or only 10 or 5 or even 2 but in those two minutes, he concentrated, he was in control of his world, he was experiencing flow, organizing his psychic life and building character!
Just to summarize,
Concentration helps build character, causes happiness and leads to learning.
Concentration requires a prepared environment with interesting activities with built in control of error, freedom/choice and, no interruptions
Concentration looks different with every child and sometimes with different activities. It may last very long or be very short. The biggest indicators are focus, active engagement and repetition
Please contribute to the conversation.
Live a Good Life
*All quotes are by Maria Montessori from the Absorbent Mind