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How children learn to read & write in Montessori

I'm going to walk you through the materials that guides children into learning to read and write. This is an area of Montessori where nearly everyone who is unfamiliar with Montessori is shocked. And it's for two reasons. The first being that children who have followed the Montessori method of learning to read and write typically are advancing their peers in terms of timing. Secondly is because in Montessori children learn to write first, then read. Which is opposite to what most of use are accustomed to with the current school system.

Now I will say that whilst a lot of children in a Montessori environment have an interest in the written language which is supported early on, not all children will have that interest at that time. It's important to remember that every child is different and to always follow the child, their interests and their developmental readiness.

Jax using his knobbed cylinders

Before anything else, comes the preparation of the hand for writing. Lots of fine motor muscle work to build up the hand strength to be able to grip and hold a pencil. Some really good fine motor work is a spray bottle. Most young children will jump at the chance to use one and it is amazing for their fine motor development.

Any kind of transfer work with tongs, tweezer, scoops, cylinder blocks, puzzles etc. They are all important for building up the fine motor muscles and hand eye coordination required to hold and use a pencil.

When the child is around 2.5 is when you can start to introduce the Montessori sound games. These are a precursor for understanding the letter symbols purpose and teach them phonemic awareness. It teaches the child to listen for sounds in the words. The sound game is essentially eye spy but with phonetic sounds.

You will have a basket or tray with different items in that start phonetically. For example "I spy something beginning with "kuh"" And they could pass you a cup, or a car etc. Gradually it becomes harder having more objects, more sounds and listening for the starting, finishing and middle sounds. This process is long and you will play this game for years to come! So don't worry where your child is on that timeline and you don't have to wait for them to master every single possible way to play it before introducing the next material.

Our DIY sandpaper letters

When your child is around 3 years old and has achieved some basic phonemic awareness with the sound game, then you can introduce the sandpaper letters. Sandpaper letters are tiles with the sandpaper letter symbols written on. The reason they are sandpaper is to provide a tactile sensory experience to them and allow the child to feel the letter symbol.

To use the sandpaper letters you will show your child the tile, ill use S for this example. So you will point to the S sandpaper letter and say this is "sss" and then use 2 fingers to slowly trace the letter. Then you will invite the child to trace the letter and repeat the sound. This will then become a 3-period-lesson.

They are not introduced all at once, but rather in sets. What sets you choose to go with will depend on where you seek your information. This is the order we did them

Set 1- s,m,a,t

Set 2-b,f,o,g,

Set 3-c,r,i,p

Set 4-h,j,u,l

Set 5-d,w,e,n

Set 6- kqvxyz

We use these instead of the wooden movable alphabet

Once the child is comfortable with the letter symbols and their phonetic sounds then you can introduce the movable alphabet. The movable alphabet consists of little wooden letters that the child can use to "write" words. They will be able to sound out the letters to build up words with the movable alphabet. At first it will start small with basic CVC words and overtime will become more complex and challenging. There are lots of ways to use the movable alphabet but ultimately follow the child.

My son is currently 2 and a half years old and we are on the movable alphabet right now and he wants to spell his name(Jackson), the dogs name(Tia), and the cats name(Pumpkin) repeatedly. So I guide him through sounding it out with the movable alphabet. He has started to write some letters when he's generally scribbling and has written the dogs name! (Tia)

Jax wrote those completely by himself!

Around the same time you introduce the movable alphabet, and when the child has some good foundational fine motor skills and a strong pincer grasp, is when you will can bring in the metal insets. They are a fascinating material for little ones. They consist of metal squares with a removable shape in the middle that the child can remove to draw inside the inset, or around the shape.

Metal insets

The direct goal is they are stencils that the child can use coloured pencils to draw around the shapes, and draw inside the shapes outline. They provide great fun and creativity. Indirectly they are specifically designed to train the hand for all the shapes they will use for writing the alphabet. It really is a fun material.

Somewhen after working through all these materials is when the magic happens. The child will be drawing and scribbling and then suddenly notice they can write letters on paper. And so begins the beautiful journey of writing. Sometime after writing more and more complex words and sentences the child will then make another amazing discovery. They can now read too! Isn't it wonderful?

Now all that's left is for the child to discover all that being able to read and write opens up inside their world. It is a beautiful process to watch and it never amazes me how children in Montessori just spontaneously start to read and write because the environment has prepared them to independently reach that goal. It's amazing to see and you will love watching that magic lightbulb of pride go off in their face when one day they can just read and write.

Some of the materials are quite expensive! If you want some free, cheap and diy alternative check out my other blog post Montessori materials on a budget.

This is a brief overview of the materials and rough timeline of them. There are specific ways to introduce the materials and activities for them. If you have any questions just fill out the contact form or DM me on Instagram.

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