Language Development in the Montessori Classroom

By Sharon Vanella
Head of Early SchoolsandpaperlettersMK

The Language Area in a Montessori classroom isn’t confined to just one space, but is present throughout the entire classroom. Preparation for reading and writing is introduced through repetition of Practical Life and Sensorial Materials, which focus on left-to-right/top-to-bottom motions, sequence of steps, and use of tools that strengthen and refine fine motor skills. Sound Cylinders in the Sensorial area prepare the ears for hearing subtle differences in sound. The Science and Geography area (as well as Math and Sensorial), contain a variety of vocabulary-enrichment activities, as objects and places are named and identified. The Art area also helps prepare students for writing as they interact with different tools, and use their imaginations to create stories about their artwork.

In the Language sequence specifically, children begin with a great deal of oral language practice: songs, finger-plays, rhyming, and “I Spy” games, to help recognize by ear the sounds which make up the words we speak. As children show phonemic awareness (that the sounds we speak are joined together to form words), we begin the process of connecting the symbols of the individual letters to the sounds they make. Letter sounds are introduced using the Sandpaper Letters, through a lesson format called the Three Period Lesson. Letters are presented verbally, visually, and tactilely as the child will see, hear, say, and touch the sandpaper letter form during the lesson. The
sound of the letter is introduced, rather than the letter name – /b/, rather than “bee”, and here at Prep, we use the lower case, manuscript alphabet to introduce the sounds.

As the child makes the connections, objects, then pictures, with those initial sounds are introduced to help solidify the connection. For example, a “car” may be shown in connection with the sound /c/. Later in the language sequence, when the child has mastered a number of letters, s/he is introduced to the Movable Alphabet, a box containing multiple copies of each letter. Children are invited to then begin the process of composing phonetic words, such as c-a-t, in which each sound of the word can be heard. This process develops over time, and word patterns, such as silent “e”, or double consonants such as “/sh/” can be introduced. Eventually, the child will begin to form sentences with the Movable Alphabet, and spacing, parts of speech, and punctuation may be introduced. The process of composing words with phonetic sounds leads in time to the child being able to decode a word, or “sound it out” – which becomes reading. Along the way, as a child begins to decode/read, sight words are introduced as well.
During this process, as the child’s hand strength and coordination develop, s/he will also begin to form letter symbols with pencils, and a move toward abstraction will be to write down the letters and words s/he composes, imagines, or sees in print.

Four ways to support your child in language development include:

  •    Play “I Spy” games with letter sounds or rhymes
  •    Play board games to practice the sequence of steps
  •    Read aloud, talk about the books you read, let your child see you reading
  •    Give children an easel and let them paint or draw on a vertical surface

Give your child the time and space to develop, and you’ll see their “explosion” into language will occur naturally, and it will be a joy to watch!