Have you noticed how much children love to fixate on the smallest of details? We as adults never seem to notice the line of ants walking along the sidewalk, or the small flower alone in a field of weeds. But children do and they will stare and examine for what seems like hours on end.
My first instinct is always to say, "let's move along, there's more to see" or "we gotta keep going". My older brain can't fathom soaking in a few minutes of quiet observation when it comes to a tiny bug doing it's everyday task. To a child however, it's all new. Their wheels in those brains are turning with much excitement, questions and wonder. They start to make connections and ask why. It is their desire to want to know more. So why not give them the space to take it all in?
In Montessori, you can see how this wonder manifest in the classroom. A child may be interested in a material presented to them and will begin to work on it by themselves. Take the Pink Tower, for instance. The child, at first, learns to properly build each cube upon each other so that they don't fall. They represent a gradual reduction in size. Over time, they can explore variations in how they build the tower or choose to add other materials to it, such as the Broad Stairs.
For the most part, the teacher is not involved except to introduce the lesson. Afterwards, the child is free to explore and expand. You may notice during this entire time, the child is focused deeply, almost as if they are in a trance. They are so enthralled by the material and it's possibilities that they deeply invest in its every angle, size and dimension. Then they move on to another work of their choosing and the same may happen. They are focused, working diligently or even repeatedly on the same task.
These moments of concentration are what is known as normalization.
"Normalization is a phenomenon that must happen from the inside out. It comes from a reorganization within the center of the child. We have to wait for it. We cannot make it happen, even though we would like to." (Haines)
Normalization happens when the child is ready to expand their thinking and capabilities. The prepared environment is what aides in this normalization and allows the child to develop according to their inner urges.
"First, there is only potential — and the child, by taking what he needs from the environment, grows to be who he is." (London Lectures, 30)
Just as we shouldn't rush a child in their observation of the world, we shouldn't push them to conform to what we view as a normalized child. They will come to it on their own if we give them the opportunity to explore and to be active in the things that interest them.
So why is this concentration so important?
When the child learns to concentrate, they are allowing themselves to fully develop to their potential. They are allowing their bodies to move in the ways they need to move. They are helping their brain make connections and form ideas. They are at peace because they have fulfilled their inner need. Overall, they are then able to "take in the whole of education." (London Lectures, 30).
As adults, it's so easy to assume a child needs our intervention as much as possible. But they are capable and willing to learn and grow. When we allow ourselves to "sit on our hands" and avoid intervening, then we can see how important and dedicated the child is to their work, and that's a beautiful thing.
Haines, A. (2017). Strategies to Support Concentration. NAMTA Journal, 42(2), 45–60. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1144489