Okay, we are on a roll here. But concentration, the ability, the habit, the expectation, is, in my opinion, the most important thing that we can model and foster in children to allow success. Who do you not want to be able to concentrate? Your car mechanic? Your dentist? Your brain surgeon? The person cooking your food?
How can we help? 1) Babies can concentrate, if we don’t interrupt them. Before you touch or speak to your baby, look to see what he/she is doing. Maybe she has just discovered the shadow of a tree on the wall. Maybe he is staring at his hand. Allow this to continue until it stops, if you can. Even the fact of stating the name of something can interrupt a child. Montessori said that children learned through experiences in the environment. These discoveries are most powerful when the child is allowed to make them on their own. Later, they can get more data.
Young children can only learn in one modality (sense) at a time, so talking to them while they are looking at something means that they will have to stop looking to listen, or stop listening to continue to look. Watching a snake move and feeling it gently, without words, is a powerful experience. Let the child have that, then have a conversation. Of course, there are times when me need to interrupt. Acknowledge that and be respectful.
(Sometimes people come into my school and they don’t yet know how to notice that many of the children are “doing something”; concentrating. Perhaps no one respected their concentration when they were children. So they walk up to a child and begin to talk. I see it being like a room full of office workers, each writing, talking on the phone, or working on a computer, and I go up to each of them and begin to talk. They each look puzzled and annoyed.)
2) Children can entertain themselves. I have talked about babies; of course older children can, too. Many children have learned that if they move thier lips, someone will listen and respond, and they will not have to entertain themselves, concentrate, or even observe what is happening. Talking then becomes a way to get undivided attention until the adult gets angry, then it is negative attention. Very young children can be taught to make meaningful conversation, and not just talk for attention and distraction.
There is a huge transition (one of many) for toddlers: they start to talk, and we respond. How delightful and wonderful! We are thrilled to respond, and they are thrilled to be understood. This is very important, and goes on for many months. And then; we should stop! Stop talking and listening? No! But stop talking with no meaning, and stop listening to no meaning. You will start to notice when you get annoyed: “Dog! Dog! Dog ! DoGGGG!” At this point, you can respond, not to the individual words, but to the enthusiasm: “You are excited! It is fun to be able to talk!” Now you are teaching how to be a human, how to talk and how to stop talking. You will not talk when something needs to be happening, and you will explain that : “I cannot talk to you, I can listen when you have gotten your shoes on.” Smile and continue not to talk! “I do not want to talk now, you threw your shoe at me.” Shrug, stop talking or walk away. Silly talk, when it gets annoying: “I see you want to engage with me; should we read a book or go outside?” Practice appropriate conversation: how to ask someone to play, how to tell someone to stop (hitting, throwing sand, pushing), how to ask for help, how to interrupt, how to thank Gramma for a present (even, or especially, if you didn’t like it!) Do not respond to rhetorical questions:”What are you doing?” when they know the answer. You can even say: “I see you want to talk to me; after you get dressed, we can talk about what we are going to do today.”
3) Pretend play can be a barrier to concentration. As with everything, there is a good time and a not-helpful time. When you are putting your shoes on, it is not a helpful time to be a snake. “I need you to be a boy, now, and use your hands.” It is not harmful to ask children to attend to something in a real way at times. It is restful to go into imagination and it is important to know when to come out of it.
Screen time can really allow children to obsess with fantasy play, which is not even of their own creation. How long does it serve a child to live in some adult’s idea of what children might like? Some children cannot easily come out of fantasy play and :”be real”, and they might need some clear help with this.
It is okay to teach children “the way” to do something. This is how children have learned skills since the earliest times. Using a teapot as a hammer is not “creative”, it is ineffective or destructive. Children LOVE to use tools, so give them real ones. Get rid of the play kitchen and let them help prepare food. They can slice things, at first with a butter knife. They can learn to pour and stir and be delighted with those skills. Show them what you love to do, and take the time to teach them to do it with you. Then you can have real conversations about real things.
Enjoy your children!