How do children learn to concentrate? To answer this, think of when you have seen a young child completely absorbed in an activity. It might be pouring water back and forth from one container to another or building a sandcastle. These activities are purposeful and require all of the child’s attention. Providing the child with the freedom to engage in and stay with such activities supports the child’s development of the ability to concentrate.
In a Montessori classroom, there are dozens of purposeful activities that call to the child in such a way. For the youngest children, the button frame or pouring rice may be the activities that hold the attention the longest. As the child grows and becomes more capable of complex activities, it might be polishing, sewing on a button or care of plants.
What is the purpose of these activities? It is not the end result – having a polished dish or a perfectly sewn-on button. Through undertaking these activities, the child develops control and coordination of movement. Working through the many steps of polishing or sewing on a button calls on the child to determine which is the next logical step in the process. The child is the one who decides when the process is complete and returns the activity to the shelf.
In order to entice this wonderful focus in the child, the classroom is filled with beautiful, well-organized materials. The activities on the shelf should call to the child, the materials should be finely crafted and attractively arranged, and the activities should have an end result that the child can work towards (a button attached to a fabric square, or a shiny spoon, strips of cut paper).
Apart from the materials themselves, the other unique aspect of the Montessori approach compared to the pre-school or kindergarten approach is that Montessori allows for endless time – the child is free to repeat as much as he or she wishes. Sometimes I hear, “I want to do it again!” or look up to see that a child has cut 20 serpentine strips in a row. When I see this, I smile to myself and look forward to all of the interesting work that lies ahead of us.