1. Make Sure the Child is Getting Enough Sleep: Most people don’t realize how much sleep babies and children need to support their growth and development. According to WebMD, children from 1 to 12 months need 14 to 15 hours of sleep, while 1-3 year olds need 12 – 14 hours and 3-6 year olds need 10. This sounds right to me because I have never put my son on a schedule. I simply followed his signals and he sleeps an average of 14 to 15 hours a day including naps. As much as you can, guard their sleep. Watch for signs that they are tired and help them wind down and sleep. Once asleep, avoid waking them up. According to research children who do not get enough sleep can show symptoms similar to those of ADHD. My child is very cranky when he hasn’t gotten enough sleep and would find it hard to concentrate even if all the other conditions are perfect. I have also noticed that he has long periods of concentration after right after his morning nap. In the beginning, he spent a lot of time working on movement after his naps. Now he goes to his shelf and works for at least and hour and usually has some periods of concentration during that time.
2. Good Nutrition and Hydration: This is another basic need that can affect the child’s ability to concentrate. Children need balanced meals that include carbs, protein, fat, fruits and vegetables. They do not need processed foods and sugars. Even as an adult, it is hard to concentrate when you are hungry or have had too much sugar. Limit drinks to water and squeezed juice. I really recommend teaching the child how to get water when he is thirsty as soon as possible. See suggestions here. Research has also shown that food additives and artificial coloring can cause hyperactive behavior so again, a balanced diet consisting of natural/whole foods is best to support concentration.
3. Prepare an Orderly environment: Order on the outside leads to order on the inside. Children NEED order. This means an uncluttered environment, a place for everything and everything in its place. Order makes it possible for the child to make a choice. It also makes it possible to focus. If you have hoarding tendencies like me, try to limit your clutter to one room or storage area that the child doesn’t spend time in.
4. Allow the Child Experience Peace and Quiet: What is the noise level of your home? Are there times of the day when the child can experience peace and quiet? A time when no one is talking on the phone, the radio is not on, neither is the TV. Pots are not clanging. Everything is quiet and still. I find these are the best times for concentration. I try to make sure we have lots of times like this daily when the only sounds I can hear is the unavoidable fan whirring and his voice as he hums while he works. Even an hour of this daily is good for the soul (of both adult and child).
5. No Passive Entertainment: A lot of parents/caregivers feel they need to constantly entertain the child. This is really exhausting for the adult and actually detrimental for the child. Children learn through active experience and by doing so instead of entertaining the child. provide an environment that encourages him to engage himself. Apart from human entertainment, toys that entertain also affect concentration. These are the toys that have numerous activities, they sing, flash, beep, talk and do all sorts and the press of a button. This kind of entertainment leads to passivity and takes away that sense of wonder and accomplishment that comes from discovery.
6. No TV before age 2 and little or no TV after age 2: I have written about the dangers of TV before. I would like you to try this experiment, put on a cartoon or one of the children’s programs (not Mr. Rogers). Take out a stop watch and count how many scene and color changes happen in 3 minutes. The real world cannot keep up. The child gets used to the hyperactive space and struggles to slow down and focus. Children are sensorial learners, turn off the TV and let them discover this beautiful world we live in. It is also passive entertainment and noisy.
7. Simple and developmentally appropriate toys and materials. I have found that the toys that hold my son’s attention the longest are those that push his skill to the limit or that require skills that he is still building. They are usually very simple and may even look boring to the undescerning. I included some pictures in the last post.
For toddlers and older children, practical life activities such as baking, washing, cleaning and other activities that involve water, as well as Art usually lead to long periods of concentration I want to also mention that sometimes he concentrates on building a skill that requires no materials. Some examples include when he first discovered his hands and would stare at it for extended periods of time. Also when he was learning to turn over. He would sometimes try over 30 times in a row. It was the same when he was learning to go from lying down to sitting down and when he was learning to crawl. He would literally try over and over for close to an hour. There were no materials or toys involved. Just the space and uninterrupted time. He was definitely concentrating. I also remember the incident pictured below.
8. Start Early: Babies can concentrate. I wrote about a reader’s daughter watching the Gobbi for 40 minutes. Given free time, a prepared orderly environment and all the other factors listed above, any child from birth can concentrate. Mobiles are such a good way to encourage early concentration. I have some great videos of our early days and long periods of observation Here’s a video showing the perseverance one can cultivate by concentrating. Notice that the goal is not unachievable but it definitely stretches his ability (and his whole body :))
9. Observe: Like in all things Montessori, observation is important. You observe to make sure the child gets enough rest, To make sure he is not hungry or dehydrated, To see when he is over stimulated, to identify his interest, to identify his developmental stage and support it and most importantly to recognize moments of concentration and respect them.
10. Do Not Interrupt: Once you have recognized it, DO NOT INTERRUPT. Not to help, not to congratulate, not to correct. Just smile to yourself and if you want to watch, watch from a distance. During its development, concentration is fragile. It is easily broken and when the child experiences several instances of this break, he stops trying to concentrate. It is so beautiful to watch a child completely absorbed and engaged in something.
I encourage you to help your child develop this skill that will serve him all through his life.
What else do you do to help your child concentrate? Please contribute to the conversation.
Live a Good Life!