Monday, April 7, 2014

The Montessori Reading Sequence - Part 2

The talk I signed-up to take about the Montessori Reading Sequence finished up. (You can read my comments on the first part here.) So I thought I'd again share some of the bits I found particularly useful.

This time, again, the bullet points are in no particular order, because a lot has occupied my mind since this call and the chronology of it all seems to have faded a bit.
1. Early reading is a silent activity and the child should not be made to read aloud. Forming the words with the mouth and pronouncing each sound takes more brain work than simply decoding the symbols into silent understanding. Have the child first read silently and then progress to the more complicated task of reading aloud.
2. By learning all 42+ sounds in the English language together, though vocabulary development, aural awareness, and sandpaper letters, the child will be able to read almost ANY WORD when he/she BEGINS reading. In comparison, the child who learns the 26 letters in the alphabet must next learn all of the phonogram combinations and in the interim will only be able to read a small quantity of three letter words. 

The reality is that we don't communicate with only three letter words, and many early readers (whose titles will remain unnamed) are not written in a language form we typically use. In real life I would never say "Pip sat, Pat sat." There is likely more going on with Pip and Pat than that silly short sentence indicates and the child would know that as well. To further illustrate how written language is a form of communication, we are aiming to give the child the tools he/she needs to REALLY communicate all the words they have spent so much effort to learn.
3. Do not correct spelling mistakes during the early writing stage. If a child creates a word that doesn't use the correct symbol, or symbols, at a LATER time present again that symbol-sound connection. 

Correcting mistakes during the child's work cycle will only distract and frustrate them. Use a future presentation to reemphasize points of interest like, the key spelling for the long "a" sound is "ai." 
4. The 3-6 child learns how to read and write through indirect instruction. Montessori guides do not teach writing and reading. A prepared child by roughly the age of three already knows their native language, both vocabulary, pronunciation and syntax. Guides provide each child with the necessary tools they need to develop the mechanical skills used to communicate.

The 6-9 child is not prepared to read indirectly the same way as the 3-6 child and therefore remedial writing and reading direction is different.

5. When the child is first writing with pencil on paper, he/she may write on plain paper with no lines since we are not first concerned with mechanics but rather are focused on expression. In early writing we are most concerned with encouraging ease of expression and it is later we focus on penmanship. Lines confuse the child who is beginning to use the written word to communicate.

6. Classified cards aren't for matching, they are reading exercises. Definition cards are reading exercises as well. These activities coincide with the child's interest in learning about words, and what words do.

7. During the early years, anything that encourages incidental reading, or shape recognition, should be avoided. Avoid, labeling the environment and exposing the child to the ABCs song (this is hard to do if they watch any TV.) 

Learning the names of the letters will only confuse the child when they need to recall the sound of the letter symbol. Incidental reading (like when a toddler can recognize the McDonalds logo) encourages guessing and whole-word reading and doesn't reinforce the symbol-sound connection.
8. All of this preparation for writing and reading in the 3-6 classroom helps the elementary child explore the cosmic education curriculum independently.

9. Conservation of thought happens at about 4 years of age (and this is one of the reasons cursive first is best.) At about the age of 3 the child would be able to point out the b, p, d, and q in the picture below.

After around the age of 4, the same child has developed conservation of thought, and will likely recognize that all three figures below are triangles, even though each form is a different type of triangle.
Likewise the same child will also begin to confuse letter forms in the first picture above, and "b" becomes "d, p, q...I am not sure." 

We are very happy when the child understands that all three sided figures regardless of their orientation are called triangles. But we aren't so pleased when the child also thinks that anything with a ball and a stick is "b-d-p-q".

At the end of the seminar there was a segment about "what can goes wrong" and why many classrooms never see that explosion into writing and reading. Here are some of the notable reasons why we may fail to see this phenomenon.

9. Do Not Rush the sequence! The optimal average age to begin writing and reading is 4 years old. The child must have had sufficient aural and vocabulary preparation. The sensorial and practical life works and all the extension activities are critical in helping him/her develop the control and concentration he/she needs to write and read. There is no need for letter or number symbols too early.

10. There are no tracing activities in the Montessori writing sequence. Tracing encourages the child to use his/her visual short-term memory to remember the letter forms. Writing requires a muscle memory and this information must be stored in long-term memory. This is why sandpaper letters are so important.

11. We don't do enough dictation. This is training the hand to write (or form with the moveable alphabet) the sounds the ear hears and further emphasizes that writing is communication.

12. The use of graded readers, rather than real books, stunts reading enthusiasm. We want to continue emphasizing that writing and reading are forms of communication and real books communicate using the language forms we use everyday. The child will want to be able to express him or herself by using ALL the words he/she knows instead of only the three letter ones. Children don't learn to speak this way and they shouldn't have to learn to write and read this way. 

*          *           *
Reading these take-away points now, I realize that I have messed up in every possible way, in just about 6 months time! I am a very inexperienced guide and I am not without error. But I do my best to observe, read and listen as much as I possibly can, ask questions whenever I am able, and be okay with whatever is sent my way.

A final note about all this: I asked the seminar presenter if as a homeschooling family we would see an explosion into writing and reading. Her answer was, "that although it is possible, it is highly unlikely [in a homeschool environment] that we would see that explosion into writing and reading you find in a traditional prepared Montessori classroom environment."


  1. Very interesting read! I can agree in that, compared to this, I, too, have done things VERY differently. I have had fast readers (my oldest, and my fourth, picked up on reading before I realized they were picking up on reading - I guess they had their own personal *explosion*, if you will) while my second and third took a little longer. I do wonder something - I have always had mine read out loud to me, although many times they would read the word quietly to themselves, then follow up by reading it out loud. However, with Hoss - for example - it took him quite a while AFTER learning to read before he would read quietly instead of out loud, even though often he was reading alone. I wonder - do you think that was because of initially prompting him to read out loud, or if there would be another cause for that? I also find it interesting (in a good way!) that dictation is encouraged :)

  2. Sounds like an awesome seminar! And I agree with every point except 2:

    1) Symbol recognition is going to happen and it is one way that a child is seeing that communication can happen without spoken words. I don't see it as being as negative as it seems the seminar was presenting. We might not EMPHASIZE it, but it is an early reading experience for the children, realizing too that we are giving them the shapes of spoken sounds beginning at 3 1/2, so they are ready for that age-4 explosion - thus they won't be in that symbol phrase for too long before they start working with actual objects for the sounds (SPL).

    2) The seminar leader's comment about homeschoolers and lack of explosion --- how much experience does she have with homeschoolers? The environment (number of children in the environment) does NOT impact if a child will "explode" or creep into writing and reading. Having the preparation work there DOES make it happen. I have seen children in homeschool settings explode into writing and reading - many times.

    1. I wonder too about your #2 point. I haven't a clue how much experience she's had with homeschooling. I am thinking that although open to the idea of homeschooling, she is one of those individuals who is a purist a heart and whose career is in the classroom (and in academic research.) And your comment on this matter, make my heart rest a little easier! Thank you!