The Montessori reading program facilitates independent learning and keeps children motivated. Here's how to teach reading the Montessori way!

How to Teach Reading the Montessori Way

Montessori reading tactics might seem a bit foreign if you are used to the traditional preschool educational methods. While some strategies are similar, the general structure and order in which writing, phonics and reading get taught varies quite a bit.

How is reading taught in Montessori?

Montessori reading in itself is taught in quite a “typical” way: expose children to books, rhymes, songs and other words as much as possible, and then allow children the opportunity to begin to put words together as they gain familiarity.

However, the precursors to Montessori reading are where things vary greatly. In the Montessori method, writing is taught before reading. Children don’t learn any “sight words”, but instead rely on phonics and letter sounds to decipher words on their own.

Pre-literacy skills are highly emphasized in a Montessori setting, and more focus is placed on laying the foundation before reading than it is on actually diving into reading itself.

Why is writing taught before reading in Montessori?

One of the biggest ways that a Montessori reading program varies from others is that writing is taught before reading. Teachers and parents in a Montessori setting first introduce individual letters using sounds, and wait until foundational hand strength has been developed to begin the writing process.

Once children have begun the process of learning to write, they are able to start to put letters and words together on their own. In this way, reading flows naturally as a next step after writing.

What is Montessori phonics?

Phonics play a key role in any Montessori reading program. Children first learn the sounds that letters make, as opposed to the actual letter name. Learning the sounds of each individual letter allows children to then begin to put multiple letters together and create words based on sound combinations (as opposed to memorization, like “sight words”).

Phonetic object boxes also play a role further down the line in a Montessori reading program. These boxes contain objects and are labeled to help children discover corresponding letters and words.

Whether you are interested in learning more about an early Montessori education program or are hoping to gain knowledge to teach your children reading using a Montessori philosophy at home, all children will benefit from some or all of these activities.

The Montessori reading program facilitates independent learning and keeps children motivated. Here's how to teach reading the Montessori way!

The Montessori Reading Program

If you’re curious how reading is taught in a Montessori setting, you might be surprised to discover that children do a great deal of the learning independently. The reason for this is because so much emphasis is placed on the precursors, before reading is formally introduced.

In order to teach and introduce reading using a Montessori philosophy, you’ll need to spend some time laying down the groundwork first. There is a lot more formal instruction involved when it comes to individual letters and writing than there is to learning words. Here is a breakdown of the general Montessori reading program.

Pre-Literacy skills

Montessori reading is first introduced at an incredibly early age – although it is not in a formal capacity. From birth, Montessori teachers and parents begin singing, reading, dancing and saying nursery rhymes to their infants.

As children grow, they are exposed to written names and labels all over their Montessori home or classroom. Most areas and important objects are labeled, and children are exposed to these labels well before they learn to read or write.

Real words and proper names are always used to identify objects or activities, which help children begin to build a formal vocabulary right from birth. In addition, once more formal lessons begin to be introduced, they are always presented from left to right.

Learn letter sounds

The first formal source of instruction children have in any Montessori reading program involves sandpaper letters. Children are taught the sounds that letters make as opposed to the letter names.

Learning to associate sounds of letters helps greatly in the future when children begin to create words. For example, they learn that the letter A makes the “ah” sound and continue to identify it in this way, as opposed to using the name “A”.

Encourage hand strength with tracing

Foundational hand strength is developed early in a Montessori setting through the use of cylindric blocks and toys. Later on, after children have worked through the sandpaper letters, they then begin using this hand strength to trace.

Children first trace shapes and patterns using metal insets, developing their writing muscles even further.

Begin writing letters in cursive

After they are comfortable tracing shapes and patterns, children then begin to trace letters. They first do this using their fingers on the sandpaper letters, and eventually move on to sand boxes and more insets.

Cursive is always taught first in the Montessori reading and writing curriculum, since children don’t have to lift their hand to create letters and words.

Match letters and sounds with objects

After gaining familiarity with letters, children are given the opportunity to start matching the letters with different objects. The moveable alphabet is used to help them physically see the letter A, verbalize the “ah” sound, and match it with an object that starts with the same sound.

Eventually, children may begin to combine multiple letters using their knowledge of the letter sounds to create short words.

Write words and short sentences

Children are given the opportunity to create words and put them together on their own. They are able to practice physically creating words through the use of the moveable alphabet, and writing words by combining letters as well.

Read short books

Once children understand and become more familiar with creating words and short sentences, reading is the natural next step.

As you can see, learning to read in a Montessori setting comes naturally for most children after being exposed to so many different activities and materials. Most Montessori students learn to read on their own, and often earlier than many of their peers.

Deciding to introduce reading using the Montessori method is a great step to take for your child – whether they are at home with you or enrolled in a Montessori classroom. Simply introducing each material in the appropriate order will set your child up to learn independently and find motivation to build upon each skill.

Montessori Reading Materials

Here are some materials that help expose children to reading in a Montessori classroom. All of these materials will be found in an early Montessori environment, and can be purchased to have on hand at home as well. As you’ll note from above, each material has a very specific purpose and use in the curriculum.

Cylinder blocks

Made of wood, these blocks come in a wide variety of shapes and combinations. Most have a small tab on the top that requires children to use a pincer grip to grasp, which will help develop foundational hand strength.

These blocks are introduced as toys to children even before one year of age. As children gain strength and skill, more advanced puzzles and blocks can be introduced.

Sandpaper letters

Sandpaper letters play a fundamental role in learning to write and read in a Montessori setting. These letters are key when it comes to initially exposing children to letters and their sounds.

Each of the lowercase letters of the alphabet are mounted on a separate piece of wood. The letters are made with a sandpaper texture, so children can trace them with their fingers and feel the texture. Consonants are mounted on blue wood and vowels are mounted on pink.

Moveable alphabet

The moveable alphabet is another key component in a Montessori reading curriculum. These small, wooden letters allow children to physically touch, hold, and move each individual letter to match with objects or begin to create words on their own.

Phonetic object boxes

Phonetic object boxes can be created at home or in school. Each box contains a letter and objects that begin with the same letter. Children can experiment with matching objects themselves, or simply practice saying the letter sound and corresponding words of objects in the box.

Tracing trays – shapes, patterns and letters

Since learning to write plays such a key role in Montessori reading, tracing trays are another important material. Small metal insets are set in boxes, and children are able to trace the inside of the inset with their finger, pens or pencils.

These insets are available with shapes, patterns and letters to help meet children at their own skill level and progress in difficulty as they become ready to read.

Teaching your child to read the Montessori way is a great decision to make – whether they are enrolled in a Montessori classroom or not. Using some or all of these methods at home will expose your child to different learning styles, provide them with many different opportunities to practice and retain new skills, and help them stay motivated to read.

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