Here's a breakdown of the Montessori language curriculum, including all of the language materials used for optimal learning and success.

Montessori Language: Curriculum and Materials for Success

The Montessori language approach is a very specific, structured approach to language learning that varies from many traditional methods. While the ultimate goals of writing and reading literacy remain the same, the Montessori approach likely differs from that which most are familiar.

Whether your child will be attending a Montessori school or you are simply hoping to learn more about teaching reading or writing at home, the Montessori language approach provides valuable insight into how children learn.

Montessori Language Philosophy

Before diving into learning or teaching, it’s important to understand the history of how this very structured method came to fruition.

Maria Montessori, the creator of what is now known as “the Montessori method” was a scientist who spent a great deal of time studying and interacting with children of all ages and backgrounds. Through her observations, she came to believe that children are born with everything they need to develop language.

However, she discovered that reading and writing must be taught. The Montessori language philosophy emphasizes the initial need for children to be exposed to language from the beginning of their life. As children grow, a variety of materials are used to help children develop the skills they need to read and write.

How is language taught in Montessori?

The Montessori language approach is very structured. Language is approached in a very methodical manner, beginning from birth and continuing throughout a child’s education. When children are born, Montessori parents and teachers prioritize exposing children to a variety of language.

Once children are a few years old and beginning to show an interest, parents and/or teachers begin by introducing sandpaper letters. Children are exposed to letters, learning their sounds as opposed to their names.

In contrast to a more traditional approach to language, children usually learn writing before reading within the Montessori method. Each new skill is not introduced until a child begins to show interest, and parents use their child’s own timetable as their guide for advancement.

Montessori Language Curriculum

Whether your child is homeschooled, attending a Montessori school or a student at a traditional school, you can easily apply a great deal of the Montessori Language Curriculum as your child begins to read or write.

These principles begin as early as birth and continue throughout a child’s education, meaning that it is never too early or too late to start a Montessori language approach. Here are the principles of the language curriculum using the Montessori method.

Spoken Language

The first phase of the Montessori language curriculum is spoken language. From birth until about age 6, children have what is referred to as an absorbent mind. This means that children are absorbing and learning from everything that is around them.

During this time, children are able to learn language simply by being around others who are using language. Children begin to create an internal vocabulary and practice communicating using the language they are exposed to.

Some great activities to promote language development during this phase are exposing children to songs and poems, reading to them, naming objects in their environment, and beginning a Montessori three part lesson.

Phonetic Awareness

Children continue to learn and absorb spoken language around them until about age 6. However, at some point during this time, they begin to show signs of readiness for the second phase of the Montessori language curriculum.

This time of phonetic awareness is when most parents and educators begin to introduce letters. In the Montessori approach, letters are introduced phonetically, based on their sounds. Rather than learning the names of the letters, children learn to identify the sounds that they make.

Children learn to hear the different sounds in the words that they speak or listen to, and start to identify the corresponding symbol within the alphabet.

Some great materials to use to introduce and encourage phonetic awareness are sandpaper letters and the moveable alphabet.


In contrast to the traditional method, children learn writing first in a Montessori setting. Montessori language methods introduce writing earlier than most – prior to reading. Parents and educators wait to introduce writing until the child shows interest and signs of readiness.

Once a child has mastered the sounds of the letters and begins to show interest in further learning, they are given the chance to create words.

In a Montessori setting, this is most often done using the moveable alphabet. Children first put letters together based on their sounds, creating words using their phonetic observations. This means that in the beginning, children are not expected to spell correctly.

Throughout the beginning of the Montessori language curriculum, children use materials and activities to help strengthen their fingers and hands for writing. After using the moveable alphabet, children are given the opportunity to create words by writing out the letters themselves.


In a Montessori setting, language skills build upon each other as activities continue to be used in more advanced ways while children grow. The use of sandpaper letters and the moveable alphabet help establish a foundation for reading.

Reading is often not taught in a formal setting, but rather, is introduced and practiced while children are learning other subjects.

Once children have begun to form words with the moveable alphabet, their learning can be enhanced through the use of language cards with vowels, symbols, matching and more. Parents and teachers continue to focus on the specific sounds throughout the Montessori language curriculum, rather than letter names.

Advanced Language Activities

Word Study

  • In late kindergarten or early elementary, children begin to analyze and study words with which they are familiar.
  • During this time, they practice and develop different skills, such as alphabetizing, matching and classification.

Sentence Study

  • Once children have a deeper understanding of individual words, they begin to analyze sentences.
  • Here, previous knowledge is revisited and built upon in order for children to understand nouns, verbs and symbols.
  • As they advance, they explore the function of words and specific grammar rules.
  • Grammar cards and boxes are used to help students physically experience the words
Here's a breakdown of the Montessori language curriculum, including all of the language materials used for optimal learning and success.

Montessori Language Materials

Initial exposure to the Montessori language curriculum may feel overwhelming, and a bit limiting at times. However, with the right materials, you’ll find that teaching and learning in this way flows quite organically and naturally with children.

These materials are certainly not essential for introducing language with the Montessori method, but can be highly advantageous. Each material serves a specific purpose, and was created with great purpose and intentionality.

Sandpaper Letters

What are they?

Sandpaper letters are found on wooden squares, typically 6.25 x 4.75 inches in diameter. Each letter is created using high-grit sandpaper in either cursive or print. Vowels are presented on a blue background, with consonants on a pink background to help differentiate.

How are they used?

When introduced to Montessori language, children first trace the letter with their finger, feeling its shape on sandpaper. Next, they learn the sound the letter makes, rather than its name. For example, the letter B is not identified as “Bee”, but rather, with the sound it makes – “buh”.

Finally, they put this knowledge in place by engaging in letter matching and object sorting based on the look and sound of each letter.

What skill do they support?

Sandpaper letters help introduce the letter sounds. They serve as a visual symbol for each of the different sounds, and provide a sensory experience for children to enhance learning as they simultaneously trace the letter shape while saying its sound.

Moveable Alphabet

What is it?

The moveable alphabet is a key component of the Montessori language curriculum. It contains a small, physical version of each letter of the alphabet. It maintains the same color-coding system as sandpaper letters, and contains multiple copies of each letter.

How is it used?

Once children master the phonetic sounds of each letter, they begin using the moveable alphabet to identify different objects that begin with different letters. These letters can be added to sound boxes or used to create words as writing is introduced.

What skill does it support?

The moveable alphabet supports just about every language skill in the Montessori curriculum. After children master the sandpaper letters, the moveable alphabet can help further solidify their phonetic knowledge, and allow them to practice both reading and writing.

Sound Boxes

What are they?

Sound boxes are created by children, parents or teachers to help enhance their understanding of letter sounds. They are simple boxes, baskets or trays containing objects and pictures along with a letter from the moveable alphabet. These objects all begin with the corresponding letter in the basket.

How are they used?

Once children can identify the sounds that correspond to each letter, they are able to find objects or pictures in their environment that begin with the same sound. They put these objects together in a basket with the corresponding letter.

What skill do they support?

These sound baskets are helpful for solidifying children’s knowledge of letter sounds. They also encourage language practice as children identify different objects in their environment by name.

Metal Insets

What are they?

Metal insets usually come in groups of ten, and each contains a pink metal frame surrounding a blue metal shape. The shape is cut out with a knob in the center, so children can remove it from the frame.

How are they used?

The Montessori language curriculum is very structured, and metal insets play a key role in preparing children for writing. Children use metal insets to develop strong finger and hand muscles by tracing the metal shape.

What skill do they support?

These metal insets are used to encourage finger strength and develop the hand dexterity that is needed to write letters. They are introduced prior to children beginning to write.

Vocabulary Cards

What are they?

Vocabulary cards can be handmade or store-bought. They come in a three part set: an image, a word, and the image + word.

How are they used?

Montessori language skills are often practiced using these vocabulary cards. Once children can identify the letters and sounds, these cards help them practice forming words and matching words with each object.

What skill do they support?

Vocabulary cards help solidify knowledge of letter sounds and provide practice for children in the early stages of reading.

Rhyme Cards

What are they?

Rhyming cards provide a visual for children with written words grouped into those that rhyme. Each set has a main word listed at the top, followed by a few others that rhyme. These words utilize the same color coding system as sandpaper letters, with blue vowels and pink consonants.

How are they used?

Once children begin to read, rhyming cards can be used to help them visually break down the words into different sounds, vowels and consonants. Children practice finding a word and matching it with words that rhyme based on their sound.

What skill do they support?

Rhyming cards are used to solidify phonetic understanding, and further develop reading skills. The cards provide opportunities for children to read words as well as hearing its sound and putting the sound into context by finding others that are similar.

The Montessori language curriculum might feel a bit foreign if you are used to a more traditional approach, but its methodical system helps learning flow naturally. With a solid understanding of each principle in the curriculum, any parent or teacher can implement some of the practices.

Introducing your child to language using a Montessori approach will allow them to take the lead, feel confident and gain independence in their learning. Try using some or all of the Montessori language principles in your home or classroom today!

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