Let the Children Play


We recently went to the Children’s Museum and as my husband and I sat near the sand table, I observed something that I found worthy of note: Adults repeatedly interrupted concentrating children. I could tell that this  stemmed from the well intentioned desire to expose the child to as much of the museum or to as many of the possibilities of life as possible.  I’m sure they were thinking,” I don’t want my child to miss out on this cool thing over here or we paid to get into this museum so we need to see everything or she’s using that sand tool the wrong way, I should take it from her hands and show her the right way.”  None of these sentiments are bad, but in the eyes of Maria Montessori, a concentrating child is a sacred thing and her concentration should be protected and deeply respected (even if she is using the sand tool the wrong way).

Maria Montessori stated, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’ This is not what we normally think of when we think of a traditional classroom or of a traditional parenting style. We normally think of the adult as being very central to the child’s learning.  This quote can be applied to parenting if we change it to say “The greatest sign of success for a parent is to be able to say, ‘My child is now working/playing as if I did not exist.’

What does it mean if a child is playing as though her parent does not exist?

  1. It means that she is completely absorbed in what she is doing and building excellent concentration skills in the process.
  2. It probably means that she independently selected what she is playing with or working on. This indicates that she has the self-confidence to make her own decisions.
  3. It means that this child is building the self-discipline to focus on one thing rather than flitting from one thing to another.

It’s easy to think that being a good parent means interacting 24/7 with our children. We feel that we should constantly be reading books, pointing out street signs, singing songs, playing games, making our children laugh, showing them new toys etc. We should certainly do all of these things!!! We should also back-off and allow our children to have peace and quiet and the chance to develop the important skill of concentration. It is so tempting to go up to a concentrating child and say, “What are you doing?” We want to show that we care and engage our children, but stopping ourselves and allowing our child to have time to concentrate is an excellent exercise in being respectful to our children. We usually respect adults when they look busy after all.

You might be thinking “All of this lingo about allowing children to concentrate is wonderful, but do I let me child rip up an important book or perform any other destructive action in order to respect her concentration?” The answer is no. Montessori believed that children should be interrupted if they are in danger of hurting themselves, hurting others or are disrespecting toys or materials. If it is time to leave the museum for nap time, children should be given a 5 minute warning and then asked to leave. We should respect our child’s concentration, but within the limits of proper behavior and a family schedule.

One last thing, infants have the ability to concentrate too! When infants are staring out the window, watching a mobile or playing with the grass it is o.k. to give them some quiet time to concentrate.




The Power of Observation


Maria Montessori was all about the observation of children. She found that she was able to be far more effective in guiding children when she took the time to stop directly interacting and diligently observe them.

Why is observation important? 

  1. When we, the adults, are observing, children are given the chance to interact with the environment based on their own desires and needs.
  2. We get to see what children are really interested in. It might be the floor vents (and after all that work I did selecting such lovely toys!). That’s o.k.!
  3. Once we know what our child is really interested in, we can select a time to join the fun and add some vocabulary or extensions. If, like my child, your little one is interested in the floor vents, you could introduce the words “air” or “wind”.  I offered my son some small scarves to place over the vents when the air is on and he loves it. I also noticed my son’s fascination with our trashcan. Instead of a new set of blocks, I bought him a trashcan of his own.
  4. Children concentrate for longer periods of time when they are engaged in self-directed play. This builds their attention span. Woohoo!
  5. The parent or caregiver can take a break from center stage. Sometimes we need to just watch and not feel guilty about it. Observation is not ignoring. Observation is enthusiastically watching what our child does. If my son clearly wants me to engage, I do, but if he is looking at books, I sit quietly and watch him.
  6. Children learn how to be self-directed and independent. Independent play leads children to feel confident and to learn to solve their own problems.

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