Concentration is a part of life.
Other Good Things
There’s a certain conception that remains prevalent in our society today about the ‘problem of concentration’. Or, in more contemporary terms, many people are concerned to address what they perceive to be an inability of children to remain attentive to tasks for an extended period of time.
Ironically, when we do observe children immersed in an activity, in what may seem like a lengthy engagement, we immediately think that something might also be awry. “Why are they so absorbed?”, we asked ourselves. “Don’t they want to play with their friends”, we wonder.
Ultimately, and in both different cases, the one where concentration doesn’t seem to be readily present, and the other, where it feels overly present, we rather hurriedly rush, singularly focused on a lone question: “Is there something wrong with my child?”
The focus, in this case, is placed solely on the child.
Montessori herself, before she discovered what would later become her method, describes the first time she observed a child totally absorbed by an activity. “This did not seem normal to me. It was normal but I had studied the psychology of those days which said that little children were incapable of concentrating.”
“This was the seed”, says Montessori.
“ “Concentration is a part of life. It is not the consequence of a method of education.” – Maria Montessori ”
Arising from this original, germinal insight, Montessori went on to redefine the role of the teacher, and essentially, that of the classroom, which she termed the prepared environment, in, as we will come to see, a rather novel way.
She offers two examples:
First, the teacher was to “lead the children to concentration”. Which, perhaps counter to our thoughts about traditional education, means not interrupting the students when they are focused, whether that means to praise them or correct them, but rather, allowing them the opportunity to explore the work on their own accord, discovering their own mistakes.
As Montessori describes, in a note to teachers, “If you interfere, a child’s interest finishes, the enchantment of correcting himself is broken. It is as though he says, “I was with myself inside. You called me and so it is finished. Now this material has no more importance for me’. A child does not need praise; praise breaks the enchantment.”
If you close your eyes for a moment and reflect upon your own childhood education, picturing the type of interactions you had with your teacher and your classmates, and the setting in which these relationships transpired, the entire mode of instruction is predicated on a model of interruption.
For instance, we only need remember the type of instructions, and questions, that we were offered while in school. “You will have ten minutes to complete the quiz. When you are finished, can you please raise your hand, and I will collect them.” Or, alternatively, and most alarmingly, “when you hear the bell ring, you must stop what you are doing and immediately proceed to the next class”.
Perhaps this is the reason why so many of us are enchanted by Montessori, and other, alternative forms of education that allow children to focus, and follow their interests, at their own pace, coupled with their own desire.
In the second instance, the role of the teacher, as Montessori elucidates, especially as it pertains to children, is “to help their development afterwards”. What this means, as we mentioned only in a cursory fashion, is that when the children have reached that moment of concentration, the apex of focus, nothing else matters. “This is the moment of conquest, the time when the child instructs himself according to the urge of nature.”
As teachers, then, it is our responsibility, not only to foster the opportunity for concentration to arise, but also, to protect it when it happens. One critical aspect of this, which we will now turn our attention towards, is the importance that the environment plays. Whether consciously or not, the environment directly informs the ways in which we learn. The environment is, at least in part, responsible for the behaviors that are exhibited.
Maria Montessori herself says, “Each child has his own special form of naughtiness, each child is different and so each child reacts differently.” The typical assumption, when we start to see a behavior manifest that is not characterized as appropriate for adults, is to blame the behavior of the child. What Montessori does, on the contrary, is turn her attention towards the environment.
By the environment, Montessori means something like, the setting, or atmosphere, or conditions in which children are capable of undergoing great transformation. “The child and his environment are in constant relation. The child feels the environment creating the law, a law so powerful that it contributes to the transformation of his own personality.”
What is causing this behavior to manifest? Is there a reason, outside of the child, that the child has tendencies to misbehave, or get distracted, or interrupt his or her friends? The teacher in the Montessori classroom always turns towards the environment, before they turn toward the child. “It is nature which brings the children to the point of concentration, not you,” relays Montessori.
The focus, in this case, is placed solely on the environment.
Written by:Bobby George