Before I get into sharing our materials and Montessori lessons we use and will use, I want to write a little bit about introducing reading and writing to children. A child's readiness to start reading and writing is developmental. It should not be rushed, introduced too early, or forced. As a mother and educator, I greatly resent the misconception that seems to be out there that a child should be reading and writing at age 4. In today's society there is a pressure felt by both parents and educators that children should be reading and writing as early as possible, that earlier means better later on. Growing up, I didn't read until first grade, many other countries do not introduce reading and writing until age 7, and much research has shown that reading too early can actually hinder literacy. I was so happy to find this this article in my inbox this morning from Waldorf In the Home, in regards to introducing reading and writing. I would encourage everyone to read it if you haven't because it successfully explains when and why a child is developmentally ready to start.
Montessori Beginning Reading and Writing:
We began with "I spy." A game that my youngest daughter plays now. We set out 3-5 objects on the mat (objects as opposed to pictures because they are less abstract for the child). I say "I spy with my little eye, something that starts with the sound "F" (saying the sound NOT the name of the letter. If she picks up the fish, I say "You're right" if not, I simply say the sound again and slowly say "fish" emphasizing the F sound. My oldest daughter enjoys this game too, but I have her find the last sound in the word to make it a little difficult and work on those ending sounds.
I invested in some sandpaper letters (most of my materials come from Montessori Outlet or Alison's Montessori) These are used in conjunction with the the I Spy game. The child traces the letter (introduce 2 at a time, adding when those two are mastered), then the child draws the letter in a tray/dish of sand. I start with the letters of the child's name. Use the 3 period lesson to introduce the letter (if you google this term I'm sure it will come up).
The Moveable Alphabet
Once the child knows about 3/4 of the alphabet sounds, he/she is ready to start making words. It is easier for the child to create words rather than read words. The words to be used are phonetic and easily sounded out by the child. Whether you are using a moveable alphabet or a homemade version it is important that the letters be easily accessible and neatly arranged and organized. The first lesson would be to familiarize the child with the tray. The child takes one out, says the sound and returns it. The adult requests a sound, the child takes it out and returns it. Being familiar with the material will prevent frustration later when the child is ready to create words.
Objects and the Moveable Alphabet
During my Montessori training we were required to create most all of the materials. My professor felt it would help us familiarize ourselves with it, children often prefer handmade materials, and Dr. Montessori herself made most of the materials used in her classroom. I've collected over the years, purchased some and saved all of my materials. Many Montessori's divide reading and writing into color coded levels. Pink is the easiest (2 or 3 letter phonetic words), blue is next, and green is the most advanced with the most difficult words. I have a pink sticker on all of the phonetic material, as you will see. After the introduction to the Moveable Alphabet the child creates words. I have 4 boxes of objects (5 objects to a box). Each object is phonetic. My daughter (just starting this recently), chooses a box. We name the objects, she finds the sounds and creates the written word. The first time I sat with her and we worked through it, but after that we name the objects and I leave her to work independently so that she isn't second guessing or looking for me to answer and I'm not tempted to help too much. (Objects included in our boxes are: cap, elf, lips, dot, fox, pig, bat, rug, pan, ax, log, six, mop, bag, hat, ant, hen)
The next step after using the objects to create words, is using cards. Montessori always begins with the most concrete form, working to the abstract, and pictures are more abstract than objects. There are 5 cards in a box and they are laid out and named. The child is left to work independently to create the words. I created these cards myself. Often times I used clip art or purchased an inexpensive phonetic coloring book and cut out and colored the pictures and mounted them on cards. (Words for these cards include: rat, jam, pen, bus, log, leg, mix, hat, tub, hot, jug, fix, ham, cot, hop, bud, gas, hut, ox, cap) I have 4 boxes of these.
The next step is without the moveable alphabet. The child matches objects and card. Just like previously, the child names the objects and works to read the card and find the match. Now, the child is reading. I have 5 boxes of these with 5 matches in a set. (Words include: sun, bib, peg, ant, can, cat, bug, bat, mitt, dog, mat, pin, nut, pig, web, rug, pot, fan, net, ram, man, bud, lid, jet).
The more abstract version is next, matching cards and words. I made these materials again using clip art or phonetic coloring books. I have 8 sets of these. Words include: pit, log, yak, gas, bed, hen, red, jet, pan, elf, pen ham, map, kit, dig, tug, well, bun, doll, bib, cot, mop, lid, bus, nap, van, mud, rag, egg, cab, pup, pig, ant, fin, wig, sip, peg, hen, ten, fig.
The next lesson used is matching picture sheets and word cards. The significance of this activity is to prepare the child for reading from pages of a book. I created 3 of these sheets. Words included are: net, ink, cup, ant, ten, zip, sun, rug, mop, egg, box, pot, tag, mug, can, top, cat, pad, bun, mat, pop, bag, pin, hug.
The cards are stored on the back of the sheet with a simply added pocket.
Word lists are the next step in reading. No pictures or objects are used, just a simple list. I have seven of these. Words include: dab, fit, dug, fed, mix, rut, get, dip, fed, ban, get, sub, jab, dad, rim, met, bit, met, yet, lug, act, fed, rim, mud, fog, beg, tip, gap, pet, hip, tax, wit, den, vex, cut, sob, rip, fat, jag, elm, pet, ink, us, hot.
Before this activity the child is introduced to Sentence Cards and Objects, however, apparently, I didn't get to making these in my training because I don't have it. Instead, shown here is sentence cards and pictures. The child reads and matches. Sight words like "the" must be introduced in some cases. I created these using a phonetic coloring book, coloring and pasting onto paper. I have 4 sets.
The introduction to books is helped through the use of handmade booklets. These are easy to make and fun for the child to read. The mini books, contain 6 words, one word to a page. I made 4 booklets.
Secret words are both fun and purposeful. Each word is on a single piece of paper and folded closed. The box of words is presented to the child with quiet excitement. The child is told that the words are "secret words" to be read to herself, not out loud. The child chooses one, opens it, reads silently, and folds it back up. The purpose is to introduce silent reading. The child is learning and being encourage to develop the skill of silent reading.
Action or Verb Cards
Action cards are fun. They are contained in a small box and can be used with the adult and/or a small group. It can also be used like a game, where the child hides the card from the other plays preforms the action and the other's guess. Traditionally, verbs are written in red in the Montessori classroom. Another type of card (not shown here because I don't have it yet) is Environmental Cards/Noun Cards. For the beginner reader the verb and noun cards are phonetic, but later can be longer and non phonetic. An example of this set of cards would be: rug, wall, cup, mop, etc. The child would read the card, walk to the object and places it on the object as a label. Children enjoy moving all around the room labeling objects.
We have a set of early reader books. Ours are Primary Phonics, set one. (They are put out by EPS or Educators Publishing Service)
Here is a photo of the boxes and containers I use to hold the cards and objects sets. Boxes work well, as well as recycled containers especially those that the child can see into. I store all of our pink materials in one plastic storage box. I know I haven't covered much writing and hope to do so as my daughter starts working on it. There is a lot more in this area. I hope I haven't missed anything or gotten anything wrong here, it has been awhile since I've worked with this material! My hope is that anyone interested has a clear idea of an introduction to reading in the Montessori classroom. For more info on the very beginning stages before the actual letters are introduced I found this book very helpful and I have a small list of activities under the Montessori Lessons List download (language section) found on the side of the blog.