One of the amazing transformations children go through in the early years, beyond turning from a helpless lump to a functional human, is learning to read. It’s like magic. Watching a whole new world open up as what once was nonsensical shapes becomes words and meaning and order.
One of the many things I love about Montessori is the approach to literacy in all aspects reading, writing, and speaking. It feels familiar and revolutionary all at the same time. What I want to talk about today is ways to support the literacy process at home, not how to homeschool or take on the brunt, but how to play that supplemental piece to the school experience.
Montessori literacy differs from traditional in the variation of the order in which things are emphasized.
The Montessori order of learning literacy:
2. identifying letters –> immediately followed by phonics
Instantly you can see it is both familiar and slightly off from how you or I may have learned to read. The main difference and what has blown my mind as a parent is how soon the sounds of letters are introduced, pretty much after you know that this is a “B” you will also know that it says “Buh”. The other wonderful difference is the focus on learning to write before you learn to read. As a Montessori teacher explained to me, writing is a process in which you have to turn sounds (the phonetics you already learned) into letters piece by piece which is actually easier for children to understand than reading which is a process in which you have to take an already constructed word and decode it piece by piece. Construction versus ordered deconstruction. When explained to me that way and with the observation of my own children it makes total sense, particularly in a language that has so many sound blends, rules, and exceptions to those rules.
So, as a parent how can you support this development.
- Language development and acquisition begins at birth.
- Use proper and descriptive wording when talking to your child. Instead of truck it can become the blue garbage truck.
- When introducing a new word have your child repeat it.
- Require children to speak in complete sentences as early as possible. “Milk?” becomes “May I have some milk please? ” This takes time and practice and modeling from parents, but once a child is capable of using complete sentences hold them to it!
2. learning letters and phonics
- Identifying letters is one things that most parents already do, there are great puzzles and toys specifically geared toward this practice.
- My two kids mastered letter identification between 12-18 months with little more than putting together a puzzle with mommy or daddy a few times a week on top of practice at school.
- Once the child can identify the letters totally independently you can begin working on the sounds. The same toys and puzzles can be used. Instead of asking the child, “Can you put the “D” on the puzzle?” you can ask, “Can you put the letter that says “Duh” on the puzzle?”
- My husband plays a word game with the kids on the way to school: One person chooses a sound and then says a word with that sound. They go around in the car and each person has to say a word that begins with that sound, once it goes all the way around the next person gets to pick a sound. They do this all the way to school which is only a 10 minute drive. It is pretty awesome to watch a three year old think aloud and come up with a great answer “Wuh….wuh…WHALE!”
- Encourage proper pencil grip when coloring or writing.
- Starting at 2 you can have your child trace letters and focus on his/her name. Tracing paper is actually hard to come by but I’ve found some at craft stores.
- Encourage them to write even if it is just gibberish swishes and swirls. I like to ask what it says, you usually get some great answers.
- Bring writing into practical life, if they can write it on their own then do it! My three year old is just starting to master the writing of his name and now he is responsible for labeling his snack for school everyday. My five year old writes all of her own birthday wishes in cards and has begun to add words to her reflection journal.
- Once 1-3 are mastered you will be shocked how quickly reading will be picked up. My daughter started reading three letter words this past summer at 4 1/2 and now a mere 9 months latter can read whole books. I take very little credit for this awesomeness, she has and has had great teachers.
- Have your little reader read at home every day no matter what. The easiest way to do this is to add a story to your bedtime routine that your child can read to you. With a reader who is reluctant or tired from a full day of reading I find using “you read a page, I read a page” works really well.
- Encourage practical reading. My daughter asked what my shirt said, it would be really easy for me to tell her but instead I said, “if you want to know then read it.” This to me is simple but also reflects the idea that reading opens up so much and unlocks mysteries all on your own.
- Model reading. Grab a good book and get lost in it when your kids are awake and can see you. I’m a big fan, this time of year, of reading my book outside while the kids play.
As a parent you can support your child’s literacy and the classroom process without running out a buying a movable alphabet or other Montessori work. Support and encourage and your child will shock you with how capable they really are.