A Child’s Focus
It’s no accident that even the youngest Montessori students appear deeply focused on their work. Every Montessori classroom is designed to foster creativity, facilitate independence, and inspire children to navigate their own learning. The Montessori principle of focus is the idea that even very young children can focus on their work given the appropriate environment.
The Montessori Principle of Focus in Action
Pretend for a moment that you get the opportunity to observe a Montessori classroom in action. You quietly observe the children collaborating on different projects.
One group is building a large structure with a set of blocks. A few other children are creating words with a movable alphabet, and another child is busy with a set of counters that he has divided into groups of four. You notice yet another child curled up in the corner of the room, cozy with a picture book.
The teacher is navigating her way through the room, helping one child when he asks how to spell a word with his movable alphabet and giving nods of encouragement to another child. The children with the blocks ask her for a suggestion to help fortify their structure. She gives some helpful feedback, but only because the children wanted her advice. This is, of course, just another typical day inside one of the many Montessori classrooms across the world.
How Montessori Schools Foster Focus
Montessori schools are designed to help children build their concentration and ability to focus. The Montessori uninterrupted work period gives children uninterrupted blocks of time (typically 2 to 3 hours at a time) to focus on their work. This is unlike traditional schools, which shuffle children from one subject to another, giving them little time to deeply focus or engage with the material. Uninterrupted time, free from unnecessary adult intervention, is key to helping children develop focus.
Montessori education is also child-led, as the teacher (often referred to as a directress) prepares the environment and the child chooses which materials to work with. This is another aspect of the method that develops a child’s ability to focus. “In the case of the small child,” Dr. Montessori wrote, “we find that no child can concentrate on one object for a long time, unless the object itself spontaneously attracts the child’s attention.” A child can only focus on a material they’re interested in.
The Montessori teacher plays an important role in respecting a child’s focus. Teachers respond to children when they need help, of course, but don’t interrupt children when they’re engaged with their work. Even a well-intentioned “Great job!” or “What are you up to?” can break a child’s concentration.
As a Montessori parent, you can apply these principles in your home even if your child never steps foot in a Montessori school. Let your child choose which toys or materials they want to engage with. Give them plenty of unstructured time to play. Avoid overbooking their days with so many activities that they have no time to deeply concentrate on a task. When they’re concentrated on something, resist the urge to disrupt them with praise or complete the task for them.
Why Internal Motivation Matters
Internal motivation is another Montessori ideal that helps children develop their focus. For children and adults alike, it’s more satisfying to act on intrinsic motivation than extrinsic rewards. When internal motivation guides a child’s learning, the learning process almost seems effortless, and focusing becomes easy. For instance, if a child is interested in constellations, their intrinsic desire to recognize the different constellations is the compass that guides their learning.
On the flip side, when a child isn’t interested in what they’re learning, it will be difficult for them to stay focused and on task. This is a natural occurrence when a child memorizes something for external reward rather than for their natural passion for learning. It’s similar to cramming for an Algebra test in high school just to pass the test. Once the end goal is achieved — getting a B on the math test — then what’s the motivation for retaining the knowledge of finding the variable for x?
Adults often use candy, stickers, and other rewards to motivate children to focus. But do rewards really benefit the child? Maria Montessori understood the value of a holistic approach to education. She believed that when a child is curious about something that interests them, the work itself becomes the reward. External rewards may sabotage this process by turning learning into a checklist item that a child must complete as quickly as possible to get a sticker.
How to Adjust Your Environment to Promote the Montessori Principle of Focus at Home
Preparing your home environment is the first step to help your child focus on their work. Your environment must be a place that has a calming effect on the child. Minimize unnecessary distractions and create designated spaces for your child to work. It helps if your home is clutter-free and easy for your child to navigate. Make your child’s work area a “yes space.” That way, you don’t have to interrupt your child’s learning with corrections like “Don’t touch that” or “Be careful.”
It’s also important that your child knows where to find everything. It’s difficult for a child to be independent if they constantly ask you to find something for them. It helps when every item has a designated place, either in a basket or on a shelf.
Children also need to have a clear idea of how to use each item in the environment. Aside from understanding how each item functions, you need to make sure that the activities are appropriate for their skill level. Activities shouldn’t be too easy or too difficult. You’re looking for the sweet spot that will hold your child’s interest and keep them focused. The goal is to help them feel self-confident enough to work independently.
Focus is one of the greatest gifts parents and teachers can give their children. That is especially true now, considering our fast-paced world of constant entertainment and shortening attention spans. The Montessori principle of Focus is also one of the most important benefits of Montessori education. Whether your child attends a Montessori school or not, applying the principles we’ve discussed here can help your child develop the ability to focus, a skill that will help them throughout their life.