The Importance of Concentration

By Michael Draper —Physics Teacher

An important concept in Montessori philosophy is the role of concentration in the development of the child:

“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 child from outside can cause him to concentrate. Only he can organize his psychic life.”  (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, 1949 translated 2007, p.202).

“Without concentration it is the objects about him which possess the child. He feels the call of each, and goes from one to another. But once his attention has been focused, he becomes his own master and can exert control over his world.” (ibid p.197-198).

She goes further to say that the process of concentration is restorative to a child’s overall wellbeing (“As soon as the ability of fixing the mind on real things is acquired, the mind will return to its state of health, and begin again to function normally.” ibid p.243). I have seen this ‘miracle’ in action both with my students and with my own children – when they become engrossed in work, any listlessness or contrariness falls away and their vitality and joy is apparent.

Maria Montessori observed that ‘occupation’ in tasks was not sufficient and that true ‘concentration’ was required for healthy development (“because if the children go indifferently from one thing to another, even if they use them all properly, this is not enough to remove their defects.” ibid p.188). She also identified the consequences of interrupting the pattern of concentrated engagement for a child (“If his cycle of activity be interrupted, the results are a deviation of personality, aimlessness and loss of interest.” ibid p.146), and gives explicit instructions to teachers “not to interrupt the child” when they are concentrating on their work (ibid p. 248-9 and 182 respectively).

The purpose of a Montessori school, therefore, is not to keep children busy, but to provide an environment where ākonga engage in interesting work.  Once engaged, it is our job as teachers to enable ākonga to pursue their work free from interruption.  (As a Montessori teacher, one of my challenges is to hold off from automatically assisting my students and instead wait for when my involvement will support their concentration rather than interrupt it.)  This need for concentration also explains why we limit the number of transitions in the school day to give ākonga more time to focus on their own work.

Maria Montessori’s specific advice to parents? “Their children need to work at an interesting occupation: they should not be helped unnecessarily, nor interrupted, once they have begun to do something intelligent.” (ibid p.182).

Maria Montessori wrote these observations in the 1940s, when electronics technology was in its infancy. If she were working now, I wonder what her advice would be regarding children and concentration in our Information Age?

The Planes of Development

By Kala Reyes — Rewarewa Head Teacher – Preschool

Dr Montessori believed that education must begin at birth. In her observations, she detailed four distinct planes of development from birth up to the age of 24. Each plane has specific characteristics that corresponds to the child’s developmental needs. Ideally, if these needs are met, there should be a seamless transition from one plane to the next; whereby the first plane prepares the child for the next and the second plane completes the first.

The First Plane: 0 to 6 years

The most striking characteristic of the child at this period is his absorbent mind. With this kind of mind, the child absorbs and adapts to the culture of his environment, and acquires a mother tongue in all its completeness and complexities. The child is a sensorial learner and builds his intellect by exploring a prepared environment that functions as ‘keys to the world.’ Human tendencies (orientation, order, exploration, etc.) and sensitive periods (language, movement, refinement of the senses, etc.) guide the child in his learning. The foundation for future learning is established in this plane.

The Second Plane: 6 to 12 years

Dr Montessori called this period the “age of instruction” — a fitting phrase since the child wants to know the hows and whys of things, the cause and effect, and the relationship between objects. The child moves from the sensorial to the abstract. Social connections become important; friendships are formed and the child is able to work cooperatively within a team setting. This plane recognises the child’s need for a wider environment, the use of a reasoning mind, and the development of moral sense. The materials in the Montessori primary environment are now the ‘keys to the universe’ and part of what Dr Montessori called Cosmic Education that highlights the interconnection of everything in the world.

The Third Plane: 12 years to 18 years

The adolescent at 12-15 is both sensitive and vulnerable. There is a need for him to belong and feel valued by his peers. It is not unusual to hear phrases such as “nobody understands me” or “leave me alone.” At 15-18, they seek to understand their place in society and how to contribute. The express themselves creatively, learning becomes practical and experiential, and they start developing political ideas. As Dr Montessori said, “these children want to make a direct contribution to society and have it recognized”.

The Fourth Plane: 18 years to 24 years

In this plane, young adults develop a true sense of who they are as individuals. They are ready to make their own decisions, to take their place in the world, and to establish social and economic independence. They may choose to study further, to travel, or to find employment as the need to become financially independent grows. They might be living away from home for the first time and use this time to focus on a career path.

Montessori education encourages the development of the whole child in all these stages; and one of our roles as guides is to prepare an environment rich with learning experiences suited to the children’s age and natural inclinations. It is a privilege to be part of children’s self-construction towards the adults they will one day become.