This week I have been working in the back room of our classroom. There has been so much great work going on~it's been so fun!! Our back room includes Language and Cultural (Geography, Science) as well as our Unit Shelf-this month we are studying Birds. I think if you are new to Montessori, one of the biggest areas of interest is how children learn to read and write in a Montessori classroom. What I can first generally tell you is that every work, every material, every activity provided for children in our classroom has purpose and rationale that connects to the bigger picture of providing a learning rich environment.
We have many preparation for writing works available to children. The Everyday Living works provide opportunity for children to develop their fine motor skills through pouring, spooning, scooping. Children can practice directing their hands to do different movements which will later help them when they need to manipulate a pencil to draw/write. Maria Montessori said, we should never ask a child to do something with a pencil that they have not yet done with a broom-meaning that children should learn how to control/manipulate larger items before asking them to use something smaller like a pencil. The metal insets are a very popular work in our classroom-children are attracted to the colorful pencils they are invited to use as well as the fun shapes and insets they can use to trace. This work provides lots of practice for pencil control.
How do we determine when children are ready to start learning their sounds? We have a work in our classroom called 'I Spy'. This work is used to determine if children are hearing the initial sound of a object. We lay out a couple objects to begin with-for example zebra and bat. We say, 'I spy with my little eye something that begins with the sound /z/'. If they can choose zebra, then we know they are hearing the beginning sound. This is a developmental skill. When children are consistently hearing the initial sound using several objects, then they are ready to begin learning sound/symbol relationship, that is, that the letter s says /s/. This is introduced through the sound boxes. Sounds are divided between 5 or 6 boxes with most frequently used sounds introduced first. Children are given a lesson where they trace the sandpaper letter and hear the teacher say the sound-this is a multi-sensory experience-they are seeing, hearing, touching the /s/ sound. Then, when the sounds in the first box are introduced, the children match objects that go with each sound. Children practice a lot with the sound boxes, doing letter rubbings for reinforcement and fetching with the moveable alphabet (meaning they go to the moveable alphabet and get the letter representing the sound). After children master the sounds in the sound box which includes the first vowel sound /a/, they can begin building words with the sounds they know-writing words with sounds before reading words is an important distinction of the Montessori reading program. This process has proven over and over to be a solid foundation for great reading progress. Children continue being introduced to sounds in each sound box as they master another. We continue doing moveable alphabet one vowel at a time, then doing mixed vowels so children can learn to discriminate between the different vowel sounds. Every step along the way is an important process for each child and children progress at their own individual rate. Their interest, age, and readiness are all part of the variables that play into the journey for each child. Learning to read is very exciting and children typically love this area of the classroom. The beauty of a Montessori classroom is that even if a child isn't quite ready for certain aspects, they are seeing other children do these works which contributes to their success later, when they are ready.
I will write more about the next phase of the reading process later.