Concentration in the First Plane: 3-6
"Never interrupt a child at work."
So says one of the most often-repeated reminders to Montessori teachers in the Early Childhood classrooms. These classrooms are designed to capture the child's attention, to direct it to meaningful, authentic work, and to allow it to develop, bit by bit, over time, as children become fully absorbed in the activities they choose. How is it that we so often see third-year students engaged in lessons that might take an hour or even two to complete? Because of what happens in the first and second year.
Unlike the Infant and Toddler classrooms, you won't see as much monologuing in the Early Childhood environments. You will see teachers engaged in conversations with children, modeling language and attentiveness. You'll also see teachers offering thousands of lessons specific to nomenclature and vocabulary, taking advantage of the explosion of language that often happens in the first year of this cycle. But the constant narration of a teacher observing a child's work is replaced by a persistent adult quiet... patience... waiting.
Instead, you'll find an entire area of the classroom filled with materials that are enticing to the child and that include, as one of their primary goals. the development of the child's concentration. The Practical Life materials all share four common objectives, developing children's concentration, their coordination, their independence and their sense of order. The initial materials isolate particular skills: tonging, spooning, using a sponge, pouring, etc. More complicated materials build upon those skills and apply them toward multi-step processes: cutting fruit, washing furniture, watering plants. With each advancement, the child's existing attention span is extended, bit by bit, like a muscle becoming stronger. In the meantime, the materials themselves include qualities that are particularly enticing to children, like the sound of water pouring or the way light reflects on a polished silver spoon. These enchantments catch children's attention and engagement. And because these materials support children's ability to care for themselves, an intrinsic motivator, children are eager to master each of the steps as they grow in their own agency and as contributors to the classroom.
But what about that rule again, "Never interrupt a child at work?" That's a firmly protected boundary, not just because it demonstrates respect for the child's work, but because we want these moments of concentration to expand, and we understand that won't happen as efficiently if we keep getting in the way. Children's ability to concentrate, and their motivation to expand that ability, are natural to their development. We don't want to teach them out of the skill by interrupting them whenever they demonstrate it. Instead, we wait until a child has completed their work and, while we're waiting, we observe.
It's within these protections and supported by the design of the materials that you see children deeply engaged in their work, thoughtful and attentive, and seemingly more at peace than you may expect. When children's concentration is an explicit goal of the environment, you'll see it supported in material design, teacher language, and classroom norms. And when children's concentration is prepared for so pervasively in the classroom, you'll see it evident more often.