THE POLARIZATION OF ATTENTION
Contrary to what is often assumed, Maria Montessori’s philosophy is not based on noble ideals of freedom and independence or a striking image of man. The basis of her work is a phenomenon that she later described as the “polarization of attention.”
It is characterized by a particularly intense focus on what you are doing, with almost complete disregard for the outside world. But what about the polarization of attention, and why is it so important for child development?
That’s what we’re going to focus on in this article – and with the utmost attention!
WHAT DOES “THE POLARIZATION OF ATTENTION” MEAN?
Maria Montessori certainly chose this somewhat unwieldy term with care since she puts her pedagogy on a very lifelike basis: the central image is that of a child who, completely contentedly absorbed, carries out the same activity over and over again.
This child is the declared goal of Montessori pedagogy.
When attention is polarized, a person is fully focused on what he is doing. The environment is hidden, and the sense of time is distorted.
The polarization of attention is thus closely related to what is called “flow” in psychology, but Montessori identified some peculiarities of child attention:
Children tend to be repetitive: They can repeat the same movements or actions many times and be perfectly happy doing so. There is never a dull moment during these repetitive episodes.
It is generally easier for children to get into this state than adults. According to Montessori, it simply corresponds to their nature as children and only succeeds without external intervention and pressure.
In a phase of polarized attention, the intellect and the hand are “one,” as Montessori says. The child perceives nothing but their activity and appears very concentrated, cheerful, and relaxed. Every interruption massively disturbs the inner unity, and usually, the child does not find his way back into the flow.
For a polarization of attention to occur, the child must be allowed to choose their activity from a larger range and to do so in peace. Flow is the characteristic behavior of a child in the middle of a sensitive phase and is passionate about learning something new. With a lot of mindfulness, you can recognize from the outside which acute phase is currently pending and then offer some activities that fit with it.
A phase of polarized attention is preceded by a period of preparation in which the child decides on and slowly immerses himself in a particular activity.
Then comes the actual flow, which can last up to 90 minutes, depending on age. When it is finished, there is a phase of reflection and rest in which the child is often very satisfied and sometimes wants to talk about what he has done.
WHY IS THE POLARIZATION OF ATTENTION SO IMPORTANT?
According to Montessori, something crucial happens in the child in this state of highest concentration. There is a change or expansion of thinking and perception.
It is often a phase of polarized attention when the proverbial penny drops and a child understands and internalizes something. Of course, this coincides with the cognitive science assumption that intrinsic motivation and, associated with it, increased alertness produce particularly lasting learning experiences.
WHAT DOES THE PREPARED ENVIRONMENT HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
On the one hand, a pleasant, quiet environment is important so that the child can devote himself to his work. On the other hand, a good range of activities is, of course, the most important basis for finding the right job.
It may be possible that you only ever prepare a small selection of materials at home that is appropriate for your child’s developmental stage. As soon as the child knows how the individual things work, he no longer needs support in overcoming the challenge.
It is important that the materials are presented clearly and are not stowed away in locked boxes. An open Montessori shelf can help here.
HOW TO DO THIS WITH POLARIZATION: TIPS AND TRICKS
Attention and concentration are individually very different states. And not all children (or adults) find it equally easy to get into a flow.
These measures help to bring about this great state more easily:
The prepared environment does not have to look like a Montessori facility. But it should convey calm, order, and freedom. It is best in a friendly, bright, warm, structured room.
With a child who is easily distracted or sometimes finds it difficult to concentrate, an environment that is not only tidy but also as unstimulating as possible help.
To fully surrender to an activity, you must let go of everything else. A child must, therefore, feel very secure to work on something so calmly. It may take familiar surroundings or the certainty that you will be around.
Attention is often disturbed by unmet needs. Your child will probably only find polarization of attention when they are rested and full, do not need to go to the toilet, and are emotionally balanced.
Finding an activity that perfectly matches your child’s interest and developmental level can take a while. It is important to try things out patiently and to be imaginative and flexible. Pay close attention to what your child is currently interested in and try to offer a variety of activities and materials that fit that interest.
Back off when you notice that your child is dealing with a certain object or work material and is intensely interested in it, Montessori recommends not looking at the child again until they signal that they are done.
Every outside comment, every interruption, and every praise interrupts the polarization of attention.
You may have the impression that your child never pays that much attention to anything, but that could also be because of your expectations. It doesn’t have to be the traditional Montessori activities that interest and engage them. Your child may experience their flow while climbing, riding a balance bike, or simply observing what is happening outside the window.
If you want to enroll your child in Montessori, then you can contact us to get your child enrolled in Mutendi Montessori.