Montessori Language: From Language Development to Writing and Reading

“The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”

Albert Einstein

(Updated 2021:  Be sure to check out more of our favorite books, sorted by category, over at our shop.)

Hello, 2020!  We hope everyone’s new year is off to a great start.  Last month, I shared our current Language space for our 2.5-year-old son and our almost 4-year-old daughter.  I’ve yet to post specifics about how we’ve covered Language thus far, so I’m gonna give you the goods right now on our 3.5-year-old’s journey to reading.

The sensitive period for language is from birth to age 6.  The acquisition of spoken language is a natural process, implemented by the child, and we support that development and appreciation through language exposure and the prepared environment.  However, learning to read is not a natural process for our brains but it augments our ability to communicate and to learn. Reading is a skill that is proven to be most easily acquired by those who learn to read through writing, as encoding is easier and supports the process of decoding.

Our almost 4-year-old preschooler is writing and reading as of last October and has since been working her way through the Waseca Reading Program to build upon those skills.  She went from verbalizing a handful of words to writing with the movable alphabet and reading CVC words in a just over a year’s time.  Yup!  Our 2.5-year-old son is working on his language development through exposure and is developing his concentration.

Since the scope of this blog is the primary years, for now, I’m going to skip over the basics of the earlier years and start around age 2.5.  Dr. Maria Montessori’s own written works are a great place to start for more in-depth information on early language development.  Also, Montessori Read and Write:  A Parents’ Guide to Literacy for Children is a very thorough resource and it covers the Montessori philosophy, as it relates to language, from birth.

Some Background
At age 2, our daughter understood most of what we were saying and reading in our day-to-day and was verbalizing a handful of words.  The verbal language explosion that you often hear about occurring around age 2 manifested itself around 2.5.  This was understandable and not a concern for us when considering her journey up to that point.  Our 2.5-year-old son’s language explosion was right around age 2 and he is following the same path as his older sister and at his own pace.

Of course, every child is different.  Our motive for sharing is simply to provide the timeline for the skills attained and then a description of the works that foster those skills in our homeschool environment.  We are sharing our family’s Montessori journey, what has worked for us, and hope it’s helpful to others.  The pediatrician is always a great place to start for any questions/concerns about your child’s health and well-being.  

How we encourage Language Development and prepare our children for reading:

Language Exposure

  • Hit up the local library and explore household books
  • Check out monthly book rotation posts for some inspiration
  • Read aloud daily, multiple times a day if there’s interest
  • Be creative – take advantage of what they see at the grocery store, outdoors, etc.
  • Develop child’s interests through observation
  • Play guessing games, I Spy for objects
  • Sing songs and dance to the rhythm
  • Talk through routines and processes
  • Explore the Visual Dictionary
  • Entice participation while allowing freedom of choice
  • Provide books with beautiful pictures and illustrations and opportunities for art extensions
  • Encourage storytelling
  • Identify and explore emotions
  • Provide books without words

Development of Concentration

  • Don’t interrupt the child or break their concentration (mindfulness)
  • Identify opportunities for learning by observing for periods of expansion and contraction
  • Encourage the development of concentration through Practical Life activities (cooking, sewing, etc.)
  • Spend time in nature
  • Classify, sort, and sequence objects and pictures
  • Provide open-ended materials, such as blocks
  • Provide puzzle and pattern materials
Spice a dish with love and it pleases every palate
A reel expert can tackle anything

The Prepared Environment

  • Identify and nurture daily/weekly rhythms and routines
  • Model, model, model – turning the pages, putting the book back, enjoyment
  • Allow freedom of movement and at their own pace
  • Keep materials accessible – freedom of choice and repetition are key
  • Maintain order and simplicity
  • Provide environment with decreased distractions
  • Cultivate an awareness of the level of effort required for child’s mastery of skills – requires observation (too little induces boredom, too much induces frustration)
  • Ditch the screens when possible
  • Do not provide a reward system
  • Provide specific positive praise when prompted – “I see you’re working hard.”
  • Maintain environment of self-directed learning
  • Use materials and activities with a control of error

After some time engaging in the above experiences and works, we wait for the child to show interest in the letters and words, usually in the form of questions.  Then we move on to Beginning Reading Skills:

Phonological Awareness

Visual Discrimination

  • Provide object-to-picture matching activities – Solar System example
  • Introduce 3 Part Cards – Tree example
  • Reinforce skills through repetition and variety of materials

Letter Sounds

Once the child is at Level 5 of the Sound Game and has a mastery of most of the Sandpaper Letters, we progress to Beginning Writing Skills:

Word Building

  • Introduce the Movable Alphabet – removes the later skill of handwriting from the beginning reading process
  • Provide CVC word cloth for added control of error
  • Provide opportunities to create CVC words out of small groups of letters

At that point, we introduced the Waseca Reading Program and our preschooler is currently making her way through the CVC drawers.  This reading program uses the Orton-Gillingham Approach, which is a structured, sequential, and cumulative system for literacy.  It is also multi-sensory, which supports deeper engagement and understanding.  It utilizes a 4-step process for mastery of each drawer in the nine cabinets, and it allows the child to mark their own progress as they independently make their way through the drawers.  

The process includes:

  • word building with the movable alphabet 
  • label-to-picture matching
  • reading
  • handwriting skills  

There are plenty of options available to substitute for the Waseca Reading Program.  This is just the route we chose for our children to continue their journey. 

Checking her work

In addition to the Waseca Reading Program we provide beginning readers, Montessori phonetic reading blocks, and Waseca’s readers that are related to our current Geography works.

Get a $15 coupon towards your first Waseca Biomes purchase here.

This is a lot of information about experiences that took place over a period of time so please feel free to check out the links for specifics on any one individual task.  We’ve been able to accomplish most of these tasks with just a library card, sandpaper letters, and objects we already own, and we’ve found that it can be a budget-friendly process if you’re resourceful.

In the future, we will return to this topic as our preschooler navigates her way through blends and digraphs, all the way to the traditional Montessori Grammar Work:  The Farm.

Currently in the queue, we have a post on our handwriting journey that includes an updated look at our art/handwriting materials, also in our homeschool language area, so stay tuned for that.  

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my motto for 2020, which I borrowed from one of my new favorite mamas.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”