One way that Montessori education differs from most other early education programs is its approach to language. There is no daily recitation of the ABC’s, there is no alphabet chart posted on the wall for all to see and try to memorize. Instead, the Montessori approach to language follows concrete lessons and works that guide a child gently into the concepts of language. To aide in the acquisition of language, both spoken and written, there are many pre-alphabet activities that our Directresses engage your child in, and some that you can even do at home!
Children’s House Guide Reghan McAuley shares:
“All young children experience sensitive periods in their first plane of development. The sensitive period for language begins at birth and go the whole way through the first plane of development (0-6 years). By the age of six, with almost no direct teaching, the child will have acquired a large vocabulary, basic sentence patterns and the inflections and accents of their cultural language. Maria Montessori believed that it was particularly important for adults to converse with children throughout this period, continually enriching their language and giving them every opportunity to learn new words. The Children’s House is a prepared environment that is intelligently designed to optimize the child’s experience and provides immeasurable gifts to feed the child’s great hunger for language.
“What can you do at home? Read, read, read and read some more. Beyond that? I recommend including a regular sprinkling of old fashion oral story telling, poetry, riddles, and songs. And don’t stop there! All young children are starving for language. You may also play language games. The best part about language games is that you can do them anywhere and practically anytime. These games can be perfect fillers while waiting in line, waiting at the doctor, waiting in a restaurant, waiting to get to Florida. They can be brilliant distractions when mending an injury, in rough transitions or simply a desperate need to change the subject.”
This early language game may not, at first glance, appear to have much to do with language. What could matching objects possibly have to do with language and reading? It’s about the development of visual discrimination. For the earliest letter recognition, a primary-aged child needs to begin where she is developmentally: in the realm of the concrete. As she progresses, she will move from concrete to abstract. The matching game starts with the concrete, then moves to more abstract by changing the game; begin by matching objects to objects, then move to matching objects to pictures, then pictures to pictures, and eventually the child will be ready for sound game, then object box (seen below).
You are likely familiar with some form of the game “I Spy” – for countless numbers of us, it may be a go-to activity with our young children to pass the time in a car on a long trip, or in a restaurant while waiting to be seated. Here, “I Spy” is used to isolate the beginning sounds of words. For instance, “I spy, with my little eye, something that begins with ‘cuh'” when referring to a cup. While this game is played within the classroom, this is one game that parents can do easily, with no materials, at home. Try walking around the neighborhood with your young child while playing this game, or if the weather is poor, just walk around inside your own home while playing! Be sure to use the phonetic sound of letters: for example, “buh” instead of “bee” for the letter B.
A rhyming challenge is simple but has a big impact on a young child. Start with an easy-to-rhyme word, like hat, and count (or write down) every word you and your child can think of that rhymes with it. Try to top your list with new words.
Dr. Montessori stressed the importance of naming everything by its proper name. A bird, therefore, is more than a bird, it is a cardinal, or a blue jay, a robin, a pileated woodpecker, a mourning dove, a sparrow, a starling, and so on. Ask, “how many types of birds can we name?” to get started, or try flowers, trees, insects, fruits, vegetables, or colors!
Create an Oral Story
Storytelling is a fantastic way to build your child’s language and readiness for reading and writing, and is often overlooked. Before bedtime, or even at the dinner table, try starting with a story prompt and let each person add on to the story. Reghan shared one of her prompts: “A long time ago, there was a tiny man who lived inside a tremendously large tree in the forest…”
Children’s House Guide Heather Steinman agrees with Reghan; she also advises parents who want to help their child develop language to read, read and read some more to them! Heather shares, “It can be helpful to follow along the words you are reading with your finger and point to illustrations that coincide with what you have just read. It is also super important for children to see their parents reading. NOT on their phones or tablets but books, magazines and newspapers.” Our children learn from observing us in our daily lives; if we make reading a priority, so will they!