On the playground, I overheard someone say, "You know, because toddlers aren’t able to concentrate for a very long time...” What?! Babies and young toddlers are most definitely capable of reaching a state of effortless concentration if only we’d let them.
Imagine that a baby picks up a red ball. He explores it by touching it. How tight does he need to clutch it to hold onto it? He’s just learning his gripping skills, so it takes time for him to find a strong handle. Once he understands that it is malleable, he grips it tighter to see how it changes shape within his hand. The ball comes to life as his hand moves. Shadows appear and disappear. He lifts it above his head and understands that its weight is light. Then he decides to let go to see how it will drop on the ground. His full attention in on the ball dropping; he is a scientist as he begins to understand the ball’s properties. And then, an adult walks into the room and asks, “What color is that ball?”
His concentration was disrupted and, whilst being quizzed, he is being asked to perform rather than experience the moment or learn for himself. More often than not, adults insert our agenda for play and unintentionally disrupt a toddler's “flow.” It's coming from a well-meaning place, but amidst our desire to help babies acquire language, for example, we prevent them from reaching this state of effortless concentration and enjoyment.
In the below video, we see a two-year-old who is experiencing an intense moment of learning. Had I interrupted her play (more than I already did by watching and filming her), she would have been robbed of the discovery and practice of numerous skills such as balance, cause and effect reasoning, fine motor skill development, concentration, and perseverance.
When a toddler’s full attention is focused on the movements of their body, of which an object is an extension, it’s better to let them be. The development of concentration happens when their attention is fully involved in overcoming a manageable obstacle. Self-directed focus becomes a path to learning new skills and taking on increasingly difficult challenges.