Imagine you are preparing for a very important meeting at work, figuring out logistics in your head and making notes, when all of a sudden a co-worker calls out for something or your phone rings: it disrupts your focus. It breaks the continuity of the momentum. The flow of thoughts or the rhythm is disturbed. For many adults, it takes a long time to put things back in their mind and get back to task at hand with 100% commitment.
“The child whose attention has once been held by a chosen object, while he concentrates his whole self on the repetition of the exercise, is a delivered soul in the sense of the spiritual safety of which we speak. From this moment there is no need to worry about him – except to prepare an environment which satisfies his needs, and to remove obstacles which may bar his way to perfection.” (Dr. Maria Montessori,The Absorbent Mind)
What happens when we interrupt a child’s work? How do they feel? Does it interfere with their process of building their inpendence?
Children right from birth are experiencing most of the things for the first time and they need their space & time to explore them to internalize it, save them in their memory to build on for future learning. A young infant may look at a bird outside in the garden very intently and observe the finer details/color etc. In that scenario, what does interruption look like? Apart from the bird flying away from that spot, which could probably be the most common outcome, the interruption usually comes from the adult who is with the child and observing the bird too.
The adult curious to know what the child is learning from the bird, might start bombarding them with questions like Hi baby, what are you seeing? Are you watching a bird? Even make some noises like a bird and ask/state the color of the bird and on & on …..
The adult may think they are helping the child learn, but in this case with a young infant – the adult is “interrupting” the child’s learning by asking the questions.
If the child were able to focus on the bird without any interruptions from the adult, they would have created an imprint of the bird in their memory and built on it by learning more about it in future interactions.
Children are still developing and building their focus & concentration skills, they would experience the same kind of obstacles like an adult would, if they are interrupted. Building attention is a process, doesn’t happen overnight. When children are focussed on an activity, do provide them time to do so. Attention span in a young child may be small, but it is still important that it is not broken. When an infant is observing a bird or looking at designs on their hat or stroller, ‘watch them’ and wait until they look away from it on their own, to ask or say anything to them. Words can be extremely interrupting to their focus at that time if done before they look away from it.
When an older child is building with their blocks or figuring out the lock frame or puzzle, wait until they ask for help or move away from that activity to say anything. It is extremely critical to respect and protect those moments of concentration especially those that are independently chosen by the child. This will allow it to increase with time and consistency over the child’s growth process.
Similarly in a Montessori classroom, the adults observe the child and prepare the environment to suit their developmental needs to achieve their full potential. A prepared environment to foster independence without any or minimal interruptions goes a long way in helping a child build focus & concentration, eventually leading to self-actualization or normalization. That’s why Montessori guides do everything in their capability to protect and safeguard the work cycle which provides for enough uninterrupted time for a child to work with different materials, refine the skills based on their developmental needs, build concentration to aid in their overall growth.
How can adults help to promote concentration?
Adults knowingly or unknowingly are the primary cause of interruption for a child. Avoid rushing children or asking questions when they are focussing on something or even asking them if they need any help.
Model concentration and attentiveness.
Avoid technology or other distractions when playing with child.
Avoid multitasking as much as possible in front of children.
Quietly and gently touch a child on their shoulder/head/hand(something that you have discussed earlier) and wait for them to acknowledge if you have to interrupt for some reason.
Avoid calling out your child from another room or from across the room when they are engaged in an activity.
Practice technology free meal time
Give full attention to child when interacting with them
Prepare environment to ensure safety and success of the child and avoid using words like ‘be careful’, ‘watch what you are doing’ etc when the child is in the middle of the activity. This causes more interruption and break in concentration than anything else.
In summary, a prepared environment with almost no/minimal interruptions is the best way to help child realize their full potential and be successful in the classroom & in real life.
Also, remember even a young infant has the ability to build impressions in their brain from what they observe which could lead to them learning more about it, taking it up as a passion or even a profession. Nothing is too small or too short for the child at that time. The best thing we can do is to avoid or minimize interruptions.
“My aunt was a science teacher. Her son, my cousin would look at her books when he was a young child and was extremely fascinated by picture of trees. He would observe them repeatedly in his childhood and later learnt that they were called ‘sequoia” trees. Those images stayed in his mind well into adulthood and when he visited California recently, he visited “Sequoia National Park” to internalize that image from the book and match it with a real life experience.