One thing that always amazes people when they walk into a Montessori classroom is how focused most of the children seem to be on their given activities. In my classroom, there is often also a buzz of activity that flows around all of that focus. I still remember my father coming to visit. At first he thought that it was just a bunch of kids aimlessly moving about. The longer he watched, the more he noticed what was really going on. "Wow. They are all moving so purposefully. And then they are so focused on what they are doing!" He just couldn't get over it.
Concentration is an essential skill in Montessori. And it naturally comes about in Montessori. Children have an amazing ability to concentrate, especially when they are attracted to something. We use the Practical Life area to hone those skills. Have you ever seen a child pour a pitcher of beans back and forth for ten minutes straight? As she watches them pour and listens to them fall, she is deepening her concentration. How is this possible? I ask you to get two cups or glasses and to fill one with rice or beans. Pour one into the other and then repeat. Continue for a few minutes as you ignore the world around you. (Yes, it feels embarrassing to do as an adult if someone else walks in on you who doesn't know what you are doing. But just go with me here.) Your mind starts to calm. Your body starts to calm. You are developing an ability to concentrate. And when you are calm and can concentrate, you open your mind to all kinds of possibilities.
Other activities have the same effect. Have you ever noticed that some people say they like to scrub something to blow off steam? Again, they are calming their bodies and opening up their minds for concentration. Think of some other "mindless" activities that you do. I like to cut out laminated works or to sharpen pencils by hand. That repetition of cutting strips of paper, or stapling together booklets can transport me just as well as meditation. Montessori children also have a lot of repetition in their activities, again leading to concentration.
Those concentration skills then manifest themselves all across the classroom. Even my most active children have times when they are deep into their activities. That boy who has difficulty walking at a slower pace than a full-on run can actually sit and do a jigsaw puzzle for 20 minutes. Another one with no sense of body awareness who trips over everything in his path will sit and use the bead bars for a half hour. Both of these boys have spent a lot of time transferring beads with spoons and scrubbing tables, among other things.
Concentration allows a child to have the patience to spell out 15 words with the moveable alphabet. Concentration helps a child to pinprick a map of the United States within a few hours. Concentration helps a child do the Hundred Board multiple times in the morning. Concentration helps him learn to calm his body, to be aware of himself, and to mature as a person.