"The secret of good teaching and parenting is the selection of the right material for the imagination which will generate confidence and interest for life." ~David Kahn, founder of NAMTA
Dr. Montessori talked about language as "an instrument of collective thought" as it is integrated into everything the child does. The time Dr. Montessori spent observing the development of language offered invaluable insight to the structure of the Language area in the Primary environment.
Before we even jump into the letters in the alphabet, Dr. Montessori emphasized the importance of simple spoken language, offering to the child interesting conversations, opportunities to casually build vocabulary (without the pressure of a looming test or quiz) and to also begin to build phonemic awareness (the awareness of sounds in words). The emotional context of spoken language does not come through a screen, so watching TV or playing an educational computer game is not a substitute for talking with your child. Another important part of spoken language is reading aloud together. Every. Single. Day. It's one of the absolute best things that you can do to help your child in school.
Through the activities in Practical Life--including polishing and table washing, the child is developing the necessary muscles in her hand needed for writing. The Sensorial area also offers activities to strengthen the hand for writing.
In the Montessori environment, we offer writing before reading. It may sound backwards, but the child has been doing many indirect preparations for writing since entering the casa as a young three-year-old.
Sandpaper Letters give the child a three-fold impression of seeing the shape, feeling the shape (gaining muscular memory) and hearing the sound of the letter. The beauty of this environment is that once the older children master the Sandpaper Letters, they are then given the opportunity to share that presentation with a younger child, seen in the photo above. The children LOVE the chance to learn from each other and it's only a matter of time before the sounds start to catch on like wildfire.
Metal insets are another way that the child is prepared for writing. The serpentine lines become closer and the designs more complex as the hand strength of the child improves. Dr. Montessori wrote that by the time the child is presented the Metal Insets, the hand should be fully prepared to hold the pencil.
After the child has mastered the majority of the sounds of the letters in the alphabet with the Sandpaper Letters, she is offered the chance to "write" words using the Moveable Alphabet. This activity aids the child in learning to "break words down" before having to blend them together to read. We work together to learn to hear each of the sounds in the word the child wants to create. Children enjoy the chance to make words as big as they can, or to fill a whole mat (or two!) with words. This is another place where the older children are able to offer help to the younger ones. Once the child has mastered "writing" lists with the Moveable Alphabet, we move to writing short stories on real events in the child's life.
The mechanics involved in reading in the Montessori environment start with Phonetic Reading. We have an object box that the children love and it is the first place where they realize that they can read.
In addition to the Phonetic work, the children are also introduced to the Phonograms, which are two letter combinations that make a new sound, such as "sh" or "ee". With these in their pockets, they are equipped to become practicing readers and soon move into learning Puzzle Words (the words that one must memorize, they cannot be read phonetically).
Once reading becomes more comfortable, after much practice with the Phonetic and Phonogram related activities, we move on to learning about the parts of speech using the farm. We have symbols that represent the Noun, Adjective, Article, Conjunction, Preposition, Verb and Adverb. The focus for the child is on the function of each word and learning to identify it using symbols for each part of speech.
When the child is able to stay in this environment for the full three or four years (through the kindergarten year), we are able to allow the child the chance to experience later language activities that aid the child in building fluency to reach what Dr. Montessori referred to as "total reading". These activities include word study (exploring compound words, homonyms, synonyms, etc.), sentence analysis (which is so much more fun than the sentence diagramming we all did in middle school!) and interpretive reading.
We are an AMI accredited Montessori school growing daily in spirit & intellect!