Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Presence of Mindfulness in Montessori: Concentration

Concentrated attention is present in both Montessori education and mindfulness practices. In a recent activity in Shining Through, A Teachers' Handbook on Transformation, by Sonnie McFarland, it lead me to practice the development of our powers of concentration. It is an exercise that has allowed me to focus on the present moment and to create greater control of my  thoughts. Just as we the Montessori teachers would want to have our rhythm of life respected, we must respect the child in the moment. In Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, by E.M. Standing, Montessori shares a story of how she was observing a child. The child was working on composing numbers 1-100 and Montessori felt it was dreadfully slow, she decided to help her only to find the little girl to tell her to leave her alone. "I felt justly rebuked," said Montessori, "for my stupidity. I had made the mistake of thinking the child's interest lay in getting to the end of the process and not in the process itself." Practicing to be mindful will allow us as Montessori teachers to allow ourselves to be present in the moment with our thoughts, emotions as well as our actions.

Montessori education has been an over 100 year-old-system that naturally incorporates mindfulness practices and the natural development of concentration. Concentration is highly valued in a Montessori classroom. When concentration is present in the environment, it is the Montessori teacher’s responsibility to protect it. A Montessori teacher acknowledges that this is a healthy state of Normalization which is when a child is "being a contributing member of society". The Montessori teacher will observe the children as constructive and kind in their behavior, calm, intelligent, and expansive and bring out "extraordinary spiritual qualities." In Montessori's, Spontaneous Activity in Education: The Advanced Montessori Method, she writes, "After this phenomenon of concentration the children are really "new" children. It is as though a connection had been made with an inner power...and this brings about the construction of the personality."

A traditional Montessori environment has a 3 hour work cycle. In this cycle it is the goal for the child to have full absorption. This exists when the child is focused in interesting and absorbing work and is consistent with the practice of mindful training of a child's attention. But don't be fooled if you ever enter or experience what Montessori calls "false fatigue". A phenomenon observed in Children’s Houses around the world, often at approximately 10 a.m. The children seem to lose interest in work, behavior becomes disorderly, and the noise level rises. It may appear as if the children are tired. Remind yourself that this is false fatigue and the children will go back to their work where there will be a higher level of concentration and focus.

An exercise from Shining Through, A Teacher's Handbook on Transformation, by Sonnie McFarland

Find a quiet spot where you will not be distracted by external noise. Sit in a chair or on a pillow on the floor with your back straight. Imagine a flow of energy traveling freely up your spinal column. Breathe deeply. Let your eyes close and pay attention only to your breath. Let it become gentle, even and smooth. Consciously relax your body. Release the tension you notice.

Now concentrate on a visual image that inspires you-a sound or a word. Whatever you choose, use it consistently. This image or sound serves as a point to focus for your mind. As you sit quietly, continue to concentrate on the sound and/or image and continue to keep your breathe deep, even and smooth. As thoughts arise in your consciousness, see them and let them go. Return to this point of concentration.

Continue to do this for 10-15 minutes at first, gradually expanding this time. Practicing concentration daily is extremely helpful in the development of your mind's creative capacity.