Upon approaching all shelves in the Montessori classroom, you’ll notice that activities typically move from beginner to more advanced as you move left to right and top to bottom. This important feature of our work layout is to help the child develop that same pattern for reading, left to right, top to bottom, far before they are even reading. This is just one example of the indirect preparation for language that appears across the classroom. Various art and practical life exercises have the indirect aim of strengthening hand muscles in preparation for writing. Therefore even when a child is not working specifically in the language area, they are doing work to prepare and reinforce skills needed.
When looking specifically at our first language shelf, you will notice activities that focus on visual discrimination, typically matching activities. The development of strong visual discrimination is important for children to be able to distinguish letter symbols. As we continue through the shelf one will find sound activities for training the ear to notice and distinguish sounds in words. Rhyming is one such activity that helps the child notice sounds in words and is a great activity to practice at home. We also play “I Spy” with sounds. From our object box we may choose 3 objects, for example, a fox, pig, and cat. The clue would be what you hear first, “I spy with my little eye, something that starts with /c/.” The child would then guess “cat.” Notice that we primarily focus on the sounds of the letters, rather than the letter names. Initial sounds are the easiest to hear, then the last sound, and the most difficult sound to distinguish is the middle sound. So for a more advanced child, your clue could be, “I spy something with the middle sound /i/.” The child would then respond “pig.”
Our second language shelf introduces the child to the actual letter symbols using sandpaper letters. The letters are made with sandpaper so that as the child traces the symbol, they are engaging their tactile memory as well. This year we have a very specific letter and picture chart to help the children remember the letters and sounds. This chart was created by a fellow Montessori teacher who is also trained in Orton-Gillingham. As the letters are introduced we say the letter name, the picture/word cue, and the sound. For example, “a, Apple, /a/.” You may download and print the chart which is attached to this email for a reference at home. These specific picture cues are often very helpful for the children to identify the corresponding sounds. We do a variety of activities to help master the sounds, including object/sound matching and letter games.
As the child masters sounds, we introduce word building. Word building is typically done using our moveable alphabet, which consists of a compartmentalized box of all the letters, with vowels being blue and consonants being red. First the child works with 3 letter words like “mat”, and then moves on to those with blends, such as “swim.” They may also engage in word building through various other activities, like journal writing and story writing. The emphasis during this stage is matching a sound with a symbol and identifying sounds in words, so children mainly use inventive spelling. For example, dream may be written “drem.” As the child becomes comfortable with word building we also introduce BOB books and other simple readers. While reading we emphasize pointing to each word, sounding out the sounds, then blending them together to decipher the word. Children also begin to come across high frequency words, or sight words, that are used often in reading and writing. Many of these words are not phonetic and are simply words we must memorize.
Our language area also includes a shelf targeting fine motor skills for handwriting. At this stage our goal is for the child to practice writing and making the symbols. The metal insets are a traditional Montessori work consisting of metal stencils in a variety of shapes. As the child traces these shapes they learn the strokes used in letter formation and the control needed for writing. This shelf also includes tracing letters in a rice tray, writing and tracing on chalkboards, and pin-punching shapes for hand strength. Finally at the bottom shelf we have a variety of paper and activities for writing stories, cards and messages.
As you can see, so much is included in the Montessori language curriculum. My goal is to give you a glimpse of how we approach language in the classroom to better support you as you help your child with these skills. This is a special and magical time in your child’s life!