Beauty and Power of Focus

Dear MMS Community:

A quality I cherish about summer is the way time expands for our family: we’re less rushed, less tightly scheduled, and this—especially when we’re focusing on building a fire while camping in the redwoods, or paddling down a river—naturally lends itself to more opportunities for contemplation and single-focused concentration. This time last year I wrote to you, “…as we ramp back up into the school year mode with all of its attending pressures and pulls, and as we move away from the expansiveness of summer, take heart knowing that your children will be coming each day to the sanctuary of learning and community that is MMS.” Today I write to you to encourage you to take heart also, knowing that your children are coming to a school where educators put a primacy on concentration.

Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University, Mihaly Csikszentmikhalyi, coined the term and idea of “flow,” which is described as “…what you experience when engaged in deep concentration in an activity you find inherently interesting. When your sense of self falls away.” There is a growing body of research showing the benefits of concentration, as well as the deleterious effects of distraction and “multitasking.” A study reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2014 and summarized in a New York Times article advocating for “monotasking” concluded that “…interruptions as brief as two to three seconds…were enough to double the number of errors participants made in an assigned task." (“Multitasking” as we think about it is not actually neurologically possible. Rather, our brains rapidly switch back and forth from one task to the other, which is highly inefficient as well as exhausting. I encourage you to check out online this “PBS Frontline” documentary on the subject Digital Nation.)

Contrast the distractibility that colors so much of life today with our approach at Marin Montessori: the care we put into maintaining the integrity of the three-hour uninterrupted work period allows children to focus so deeply on the work they find meaningful. In fact, there is now research showing that Montessori students engage in the advantageous mental and emotional state known as “flow” more often than students in conventional schools. We also now know that an education like ours, one that so thoroughly promotes concentration, is associated with stronger executive functioning connected to inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory, as well as stronger social intelligence. Maria Montessori’s words seem especially prescient: “…the birth of concentration in a child is as delicate a phenomenon as the bursting of a bud into bloom…” (The Absorbent Mind).

In today’s high-octane world, take heart, families, knowing we are working every day to create a learning environment for your children and adolescents to harness and develop their power of focus and depth of thinking. This will, without a doubt, positively impact your children’s lives. In addition to the cognitive benefits so well demonstrated through the development of concentration, mindful focus simply makes life more pleasurable. As Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford professor and author of The Willpower Instinct, says, “Almost any experience is improved by paying full attention to it.”

Here’s to knowing that while the expansiveness of summer may be waning, our children will soon be stepping into a school community and environment that will continue to support their development in all the right ways.

All my best,

Sam