Developing Concentration: Our Montessori Work Cycle

One of the most important goals of a Montessori education is helping children develop their ability to concentrate. I invite you to read the article below, excerpted from this month’s American Montessori Society newsletter for families, for an excellent overview of the importance of concentration and how our 3-hour morning work cycle in the Primary classroom helps your child develop this crucial skill.

Happy Weekend!
Elena, Jeanette, and Caitlin

Concentration is the Key
By Heather White
February 2023

The power of concentration is so immense that it establishes the basis for a child’s development, allowing even the youngest child to develop their character and social behavior. Through careful observation, Maria Montessori recognized the sacredness of this skill, stating, “Concentration is the key that opens up to the child the latent treasures within him.”

In an effort to allow children to unveil their inner treasures, Montessori carefully designed materials intended to awaken their attention and promote purposeful engagement. Each of these materials was designed to meet the child’s developmental needs and to encourage repetition. With clear and distinct steps and a built-in control of error, the child is able to navigate the challenges within the work independently as they utilize creativity and problem solving to figure out each material. Devised to promote focused attention, these activities fascinate the child, allowing them to become fully absorbed in the process of meaningful work, thus supporting the development of their concentration.

Through her observations, Montessori also discovered that young children have a desire to engage in the practical activities they see adults doing. They sought to not just imitate the work of adults, but to do meaningful practical work themselves. With this knowledge, she developed an area of the curriculum we now refer to as “Practical Life.” Activities such as sweeping, hand washing, pouring, and polishing provide purposeful work for the child that encourages them to become completely involved in the activity for its own sake.

These activities help develop the child’s coordination and independence while simultaneously building their attention to detail and supporting their ever-growing concentration. As Montessori has said, “A three-year-old educated according to Montessori pedagogy becomes master of his hand and undertakes with joy a variety of human activities. These activities allow him to develop the power of concentration.”

The Montessori classroom environment is designed to protect the child’s concentration. The ideal conditions are established to provide children with the time and means for deep engagement. The long periods of uninterrupted work time in the classroom allow students ample time to become fully engrossed in meaningful work, creating the conditions that support focused attention and intense concentration.

The Montessori teacher learns of the sacredness of the child’s concentration, understanding that “the birth of concentration in a child is as delicate a phenomenon as the bursting of a bud into bloom.” The teacher takes careful precaution not to disturb or distract a student who is focused and engaged in their work at all costs, not only as a way to show respect for the child and their work, but also to protect the ongoing process of developing concentration. For students who may be having a harder time discovering this purposeful work, the teacher connects the child to the materials, utilizing careful observation and awareness of each child’s individual needs and interests to help them discover activities that are engaging and meaningful.

Maria Montessori’s scientific observations have allowed her to reveal the importance of concentration in a child’s development. Her research emphasized that the child’s entire personality develops based on their ability to concentrate, unveiling the process whereby a child’s social-emotional nature is established as they become more in control of their mind and body. Given the appropriate environment and guidance, Montessori showcased how children are able to explore and investigate, teaching themselves and building their own unique mind.

She told us: “The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behavior. 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. Only he can organize his psychic life. None of us can do it for him. Indeed, it is just here that the importance of our schools really lies. They are places in which the child can find the kind of work that permits him to do this.

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