Flow and Montessori

Csikszentmihalyi flow

A lot has been written about University of Chicago psychologist Csikszentmihalyi and the idea of flow.  He described flow as “the quality of experience as a function of the relationship between challenges and skills.,,When challenges and skills are matched at a high level, the resulting state is flow.”  Many have written about flow in sports; when things “come together and feel right”; in art, in writing, in playing music.

We can understand the above chart as: when skills are high and challenges are low we can be relaxed or even bored.  When challenges are high and skills are low, anxiety or worry can result.  When both skills and challenges are low, we are apathetic.  When challenges and skills are matched at a high level, the resulting state is flow.  We cannot live in flow!  Sometimes we have to struggle, and sometimes we need to rest, but flow is the reason that we achieve great things, and when we feel deeply satisfied.  It is what helps us get to new levels in our work and in our play.

We recognize flow when we master skills, from riding a bike to how to use a new piece of software, how to play a game (golf swing!), how to repair the vacuum, when we solve a math problem or make the perfect cake.  Some rules of flow are: the goals are clear, the feedback is immediate, skills match challenges, concentration is deep, problems are forgotten, control is possible, self-consciousness disappears, the sense of time is altered, and the experience becomes autotelic (fun for its own sake):)

I think that this is one way to describe what Montessori saw in children who were deeply concentrating on the materials.  I believe that this is what she wanted to provide for all children. One way we see this in the classroom we call normalization.  Montessori teachers argue whether a child is normalized or a classroom is normalized.  We know, however, when we see a child deeply engaged.  They often repeat the work over and over, and cannot be distracted from it.


Here is Jonah.:)  After counting Montessori math materials, and working with them for three years, when he started to count one of the chains, he ralized that it felt so easy, he should count all the chains.  From 1 set of 1, to 10 sets of 10.  And that he knew all the “5s” and all the “10s”.  And that he could recognize all the numbers.  And it felt really good.


Here is Melly,concentrating on leaping, and Lila, concentrating on very careful pouring.  We can see concentration and deep joy in many activities. Our jobs as teachers and parents are to set up the environment and teach skills so that each child can experience this and build on this feeling of flow when they encounter new challenges.


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