Aiding Your Child’s Concentration, Sense of Order, Independence, Emotional Development and Inner Discipline
CONCENTRATION: The Hand and The Mind in Purposeful Activity
One of the most calming activities for a child is concentration. This does not include passive, non-participatory concentration such as watching television or videos. The action must be something which is controlled by the child so she can repeat it as often as necessary, and it must challenge her body as well as her mind.
The choice of purposeful activity is not as important as the level of concentration brought forth. Deep concentration can occur while digging in the sand, washing carrots, stringing beads, coloring, or doing a puzzle. The Montessori Adult gives lessons which are well thought out, logical and clear; she creates an environment which fosters work, and she is always on the lookout for a child beginning to concentrate. When this happens she protects the child from interruption because she understands the place of this experience in creating balance and happiness in the child.
The availability of a special little table at home, which is always cleared off and ready for work, can help the child focus on her work and stick to it until she is finished. It is a natural consequence that, if the work is not put away, the space will not be available for the next activity.
An apron, used for cooking, cleaning, woodworking, gardening, etc., sometimes helps the child concentrate by marking the beginning and the end of a task. It also elevates the importance of the work in the child’s eyes. When a child’s work is seen as important to the family, so is the child. In addition, the apron should be made so that the child can put it on and fasten it by himself; then he can work whenever he wants to. A hook at the child’s level for hanging it on the wall keeps it always ready.
ORDER: A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place
Order is the basis for all creativity, all communication, all self-realization. All nature is dependent upon it, and every child is born with the tendency toward order.
The Montessori environment is based on a natural sequence and order of matters relating to the child’s own life (eg. practical life), refinement of his senses (sensorial), the expansion of his spoken language and construction of his written and read language, and the growth of his mathematical mind. We have a specific place for every single object in the classroom. Further, either the teacher or the materials themselves give the child an orderly sequence guideline for each task she performs; not out of any rigid idea that this is the only way, but that is the way that works.
At home, you can aid your child by preparing a specific place for his things and the opportunity to care for them himself to the extent that he is able. For example, in the kitchen you can keep some dishes in low cupboards or on low shelves, and child-size cleaning tools (sponge, drying cloth, dustpan and broom) all within reach for the child. Dangerous cleaning supplies of course are kept out of reach, so that she can work independent of the adult from beginning to end.
In the child’s bedroom it is helpful to have shelves rather than a box for toys and treasures; low closet bars so he can hang up his own clothes; and designated areas in his chest for placing the clothes that he folds and puts away. Assist the child in his desire to help at home by providing the logical tools for any task and by showing (rather than telling) the steps necessary to do the job, remembering to be consistent in showing the same sequence each time. Often this is obvious when you stop to think about it. For example, in setting the table, placemat before silver; making beds, sheets before blankets; pet feeding, clean dish before filling it; looking at a book right side up and from the beginning; showing how to play a game, etc. But some jobs need a self imposed starting place as to where to begin – dusting a room, raking leaves, sorting laundry, putting away groceries, and doing creative projects or making presents.
Dr. Montessori’s observations of the young child revealed a great deal about his need for order. For this reason there is great emphasis on preparing an orderly environment for the child to ensure his success in school and at home.
FUNCTIONAL INDEPENDENCE: The Child’s Purpose
The child’s reasons for, and methods of, working are different from ours. We adults will usually choose to carry out a task in the most efficient and quickest way. A child, on the other hand, is working to master the activity and to practice and perfect her abilities. She may scrub a table for hours, but only when she feels the urge. She may sweep the floor every morning for two weeks and not again for a month – because she will be occupied with mastering something else. If we expect her to keep carrying out every new activity every day, there would be no time for sleep.
There are many physical, emotional and mental values in work. Through these activities the child learns to be independent. There can be no intelligent choice or responsibility at any age without independence in thought and action. She learns to concentrate, to control muscles, to focus, to analyze logical steps and complete a cycle of activity.
It is precisely because of the valuable work in practical life that children in Montessori homes and schools are able to concentrate, make intelligent decisions and master the beginnings of other areas of study such as math, language, the arts and the sciences. But the purpose of this work is the inner satisfaction, and the support of the optimum development of the child. Following a successful, complete cycle of family work, a child becomes calm and satisfied and, because of this inner peace, full of love for the environment and for others.
EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: The Parent – Child Relationship
The young child is a very sensitive being, and, therefore, is often able to read the adult’s mind and emotion, and will carry out research to find out exactly what the parent is trying to communicate, especially when given double messages – for example when an angry parent is trying to appear cheerful. These types of messages can be very confusing for the child, and because of this, it is important to demonstrate to the child a more authentic self. This will provide more effective tools for the child, who is learning all about human emotions and ways to express things like anger and frustration. However, he needs positive ways to learn how to handle intense emotions. Things such as taking a walk, scrubbing a floor, hitting a pillow, breathing exercises, counting to ten, or pounding clay are all more effective ways to deal with emotions than walking away from someone who is trying to talk to you, yelling at the person, or in an extreme situation, hitting them.
When the adult models positive alternatives to handling intense emotions, it provides the child with more effective ways to communicate feelings as well as help him build more meaningful relationships with others in the future. However, if the adult yells at or hits the child (spanking included), it teaches the child that it is okay to overpower others and act in aggressive ways toward people we care about. Always remember, the young child is not just watching and learning, they are literally incarnating themselves based upon everything they see, hear, feel and sense.
One final note regarding healthy emotional development and the child. Clinical research validates the importance of the parent’s mental health and the positive outcome it provides for the child’s emotional health. For that reason it is essential that the parent make sure that there is a healthy balance of work, play, and intimate time with people that are close to you (spouse, relatives, friends), so that when there is finally time to be with the child, the parent can truly be 100% “there” (body, mind and heart) for the child.
DEVELOPMENT OF DISCIPLINE: The Child’s Research & Offering Choices
Some people call the search for limits “testing”, but there are negative connotations to this work. When a child is trying to learn the rules and procedures of the society in which she lives this is a very positive undertaking. Just like when the child attempts to decipher the adult’s communication of emotions, when the child “tests” the adult’s authority, he is actually carrying out important research.
A good example is the question “What is the meaning of the work ‘No’?” To explain this further, let’s examine a typical scenario between a parent and young child. The child has just spied a ceramic figurine on the living room table and is reaching for it. As she reaches for it, she looks expectantly at the mother, obviously for some kind of response. The mother says, “No, don’t touch it.” The child stops, lowers her hand and then reaches again, at the same time looking at her mother. This happens several times with no resolution.
During this communication, and confusion, it is apparent that the child did not fully understand the parent’s expectation nor the meaning of the work “No.” Because the parent only provide a boundary without giving an alternate behavior, the child’s response to the parent’s limit setting was inappropriate. However, if the parent had said, “No,” and then gently and calmly moved the child (ex. took the child’s hand) to a more appropriate activity (a pile of building blocks), it would have given more clarity to the adult’s communication. Here appears to be the perfect example of “Actions speak louder than words” when it comes to communicating with a young child. Again, by “showing” the child, rather than telling, the child more clearly understood what the adult expected the child to do.
Another way to show respect for the child, and at the same time create a desired behavior, is to offer choices. For example, a mother and small child are having a verbal battle because that child won’t let the mother put on her shoe. Another typical scenario, but why is this happening? Quite simply, the normal healthy child, who is beginning to be able to function independently on many physical and mental levels is not interested in being told what to do, but very interested in being given choices. What would have been more effective would be to say to the child, “Do you want to put your shoes on yourself, or do you want me to help you put your shoes on?” To explain further, let us say that you are in a situation where certain action is necessary – such as your child has been playing for quite some time on top of the playground equipment at the park, and it is now time to go home. The least effective approach would be to say, “Get down from there right now!” This only embarrasses the child, and will most likely cause him to refuse to comply just to save face. However, if you were to say, “Do you need help getting down or can you do it by yourself?”, you will probably get a more favorable response as well as greater compliance from the child. Even in casual every day situations giving choices makes the child feel that you respect her opinion, and helps ensure a more peaceful family atmosphere.
Resource: Michael Olaf Montessori