Monday, January 9

Our Beginner Reading and Writing Montessori Materials

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:

I Spy

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.

Sandpaper Letters

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)

Moveable Alphabet and Cards

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.

Matching Objects and Cards

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).

Matching Cards and Words

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.

Matching Picture Sheet and Word Cards

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

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.

Sentence Cards and Pictures

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.

More Sentence Cards and Pictures


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

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.


Lynnette said...

thank you for such a detailed list with pictures!

Jae said...

Thank you so much for this post! Very informative. Now I am inspired to organize my pink series :)

Jae said...

By the way, how often do you do these activities? Do you do these daily?

Fiona said...

This post has come at a perfect time for me! My 28 month old has started showing an interest in letters on the page and asking what letter objects begin with. It seems young to start introducing her to the I Spy game. Do you have an opinion on it? My plan was to start very slowly as I don't think she's actually hearing the sounds at the beginning of the words yet.


Amy said...

We do language activities 2 to 3 times a week. I wish we had a more consistent schedule but because my daughter goes to morning (pubic school) kindergarten 4 days a week, she likes to spend a lot of home time playing.

Fiona- I checked my lesson plans and the I Spy game can be introduced at 2 1/2. and up. For a young child, you would need to start with holding one object in your hand and saying "I spy something in my hand that starts with the _ sound." To keep the interest, you can play "I spy something on the table, or I spy something I am touching, or I spy something I am waving"... Once she understands how to hear the first sound you can use two objects. It is a fun game and my daughters love little objects we collect to put in the I spy tray. I have found it is usually introduced in the classroom at age 3. When your daughter asks about letters I would encourage her to hear the sound. "Yes, it starts with the sound __" I wouldn't discourage interest, keep answering her questions, but direct her towards sound awareness over letter recognition.

Unknown said...

Amy, this post is an answer to prayer for me. My daughter is SO ready to read and I have been clueless how to go about teaching her. This step by step with pictures and instruction is amazing. Thank you for taking the time to do this, I'm sharing it with many friends.

Fiona-I know that this is not completely Montessori based, but I must recommend the DVD by Leap Frog, "The Letter Factory". It gave my kids such an interest in letters and they knew their sounds and letters so quickly. It made letters fun! One of my girls knew almost all of her letters and sounds by 25mo. because of the video.

Mama Goose said...

thank you! I have always been very curious about the actual method in Montessori for teaching reading. Thanks for the post!

Unknown said...

Hey Amy, I'm struggling to find the "objects." I know we do have a "bug" and a cat in the playroom but where did you get the other items? Like the ax, and such? I know I don't need to have the same items, but just knowing how you went about collecting yours would be helpful. Thanks!

Amy said...

Hi Ange, I purchased the objects during my training, years ago. A lot of craft stores carry the objects- like Michael's- usually in the dollhouse accessories area. Many times they come in packages containing two or three, so I split the cost and separated the packages with classmates. They aren't cheap, considering how small they are! I think I bought from a company that no longer carries them but found that Montessori 'N Such carries a set as well as Montessori Services.(, also there is a seller on Etsy that sells sets.

Crystal said...

Thank you! We were just told that our son has a form of dyslexia and are looking for ways to help him learn and remember how his letters are supposed to look. I can see that some of these will be very helpful.

Ms. Pauline said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ms. Pauline said...

Wow! What a wonderful, concise, and complete explanation on Montessori reading and writing!
I have written books that follow the pink, blue, green series, they are available on etsy.
Thanks Amy for mentioning!

Rebecca said...

Could you please tell me where you got your movable alphabet? I've been looking for one just like it!