Teaching Literacy the Montessori Way
Parents are often attracted to Montessori for the way that numeracy and literacy is taught. From when you first enter a Montessori centre, you’ll notice enticing bright pink and blue sandpaper letters (made of sandpaper so that children not only hear the sound, but can use their sense of touch to feel and memorise the letter too). These are the first visual cue a parent may have as to what makes Montessori literacy learning special.
I want to share with you, that way before we even start with the sandpaper letters there is so much language learning that occurs.
When young children enter our environment, we make sure that it is a language rich space. High quality story, poem and rhyme books are shared regularly with children, allowing them to fall in love with words and their meanings. Baskets made up of classified groupings of familiar objects or cards, are available for them to explore – this may be baskets with toy fruits, animals or kitchen, bathroom and other household objects. Children explore these baskets with a trusted adult to learn the words behind the objects and to sort through them in their minds (supporting numeracy later on). Rich practical life lessons are taught whereby all the items names are described carefully to children, gifting them with their words so that they can start to make the connect between what they do and what these ‘things’ are called.
As well as these daily language rich experiences that are offered to children, we also start teaching children the sounds of letters by playing, “I Spy.” When very young children start this game with us, we take three objects that have very contrasting phonetic sounds and place them in front of the child. We may then pick one of the objects up in our hand and say, “I spy with my little eye, something in my hand beginning with …..” The child has every success with this as there is only one choice which builds his/her confidence to try again, we then swap the objects in our hand, repeating this a few times.
Once we can see that the child is understanding that the objects start with a sound, we then leave three of the objects on a small mat, and then ask the child the same question, helping them to really isolate the sound that they are hearing. As their confidence grows, challenges become greater and more fun by using objects that phonetically sound similar so that they really have to listen really carefully to what we’re saying.
As a Montessori parent, the best way you can support your child to learn literacy is through creating a love of it.
From a tiny baby, your child is fascinated by your voice and will track this no matter where you are. The more you talk to your child, the more you’re building the connections in their brain, not only for a love of language, but for so much more. In today’s technological world, we run the risk of being focused on our phones, which takes away our precious time to talk or listen to our children. If you see this happening, remind yourself to put your phone away so that it’s not a distraction, giving your child dedicated time with you ‘fully present’. There is also nothing better than a bed time story at night with a loved one reading to you. Don’t worry if it’s the same story over and over again, repetition is great for little brains at this age. Playing “I Spy” games at home is another way to make phonics learning fun! Once they get the basics of this, go for a walk and see what objects you can find in your community.
Another tip is to make sure that you use ‘real’ words when talking to your young child. Using baby language may sound cute, but children are so much more capable than we think they are and when they know lots of words, they experiment using these in a variety of contexts.
Literacy learning is so much more than learning how to read and write.
By laying the foundations that literacy learning is about connections and communicating, your child will be naturally drawn into wanting to express themselves in a variety of ways (both oral and written). Maria Montessori understood this so well and that is why her method of teaching still holds as much merit today, as it did in her time.