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Composing words (articles and nouns) with the Moveable Alphabet Montessori teaches basic skills phonetically, encouraging children to compose their own stories using the Moveable Alphabet. Reading skills normally develop so smoothly in Montessori classrooms that students tend to exhibit a sudden “explosion into reading,” which leaves the children and their families beaming with pride. Another unusual result of the Montessori approach is that young children will often be able to write (encoding language by spelling phonetic words out one sound at a time), weeks or months before they will be able to read comfortably (decoding printed words). Once children have begun to recognize several letters and their sounds with the Sandpaper Letters, they are introduced to the Moveable Alphabet, a large box with compartments containing plastic letters, organized much like an old-fashioned printer’s box of metal type. The children compose words by selecting a small object or picture and then laying out the word one letter at a time. As with the Sandpaper Letters, they sound out words one letter at a time, selecting the letter that makes that sound. The phonetic approach, which has mysteriously fallen out of favor in many schools, has long been recognized by educators as the single most effective way to teach most children how to read and write. However, we have to remember that, unlike Italian and Spanish, English is not a completely phonetic language. Just consider the several different sounds made by the letters ough. There is the sound off as in cough, or ufff as in rough or enough, or the sound oooh as in the word through, or the sound ah as in thought. Altogether, there are some ninety-six different phonograms (combinations of letters that form distinct sounds) in the English language (such as ph, ee, ai, oo, etc.). It is not surprising that in the early years, as young children are beginning to compose words, phrases, sentences, and stories, their spelling can sometimes get a bit creative. For example, the word phone is frequently spelled fon. Montessori teachers deliberately avoid correcting children’s spelling during these early years, preferring to encourage them to become more confident in their ability to sound words out rather than risk that they will shut down from frequent correction. The process of composing words with the Moveable Alphabet continues for many years, gradually moving from three-letter words to four- and five-letter words with consonant blends (fl, tr, st), double vowels (oo, ee), silent e’s, and so on.

NOTE: Many parents find it curious that Montessori children are not taught the names of letters; instead, they learn the sounds that we pronounce as we phonetically sound out words one letter at a time. For a long time, children may not know the names of letters at all, but will call them by the sounds they make: buh, cuh, aah, etc. This eliminates one of the most unnecessary and confusing steps in learning to read: “The letter A stands for apple. The sound it makes is aah.” As children begin to work with the Sandpaper Letters, teachers will lead them through a wide range of pre-reading exercises designed to help them recognize the beginning, and later the ending and middle sounds in short phonetic words. One common example would be a basket containing three Sandpaper Letters, such as c, b, and f. In addition, the basket will contain small inexpensive objects that are models of things beginning with these letters. The basket described above might contain little plastic objects representing a cat, cap, can, bug, bag, bat, fish, fig, and fan (no consonant blends). In another exercise, we will substitute little cards with pictures instead of the small objects. Cards with the names of familiar objects are commonly found in most kindergartens. However, in Montessori, children take this much further, learning the names of and placing the appropriate labels on a bewildering array of geometric shapes, leaf forms, the parts of flowers, countries of the world, land and water forms, and much, much more. Montessori children are known for their incredible vocabularies. Where else would you find four-year-olds who can identify an isosceles triangle, rectangular prism, the stamen of a flower, or the continent of Asia on a map? When will children start to read? There is typically a quick jump from reading and writing single words to sentences and stories. For some children, this “explosion into reading” will happen when they’re four, for others when they’re five, and some will start to read at six. A few will read even earlier, and some others will taken even longer. Most will be reading very comfortably when they enter first grade, but children are different, and as with every other developmental milestone, it’s useless to fret. Again, the children are surrounded by older children who can read, and the most intriguing things to do in the classroom depend on one’s ability to read. This creates a natural interest and desire to catch up to the ‘big kids’ and join the ranks of readers. As soon as children, no matter how young they are, show the slightest interest, we begin to teach them how to read. And when they are ready, the children pull it all together and are able to read and write on their own.

©Tomorrow’s Child Magazine Montessori 101: Special Issue • www.montessori.org

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Montessori 101 and Guided Tour of Montessori Classroom  

This is a special issue of our magazine, Tomorrow's Child intrbasic principles of Montessori education and offering an illustrated introduct...

Montessori 101 and Guided Tour of Montessori Classroom  

This is a special issue of our magazine, Tomorrow's Child intrbasic principles of Montessori education and offering an illustrated introduct...