Reading skills develop in children in many different ways, but they correlate to the explosion of language that children experience in the early childhood years. The area of language incorporates both written and expressive language. It is an amazing phenomenon to witness children begin to speak and learn a new language with such proficiency that in our adult age we struggle to achieve. However, reading often takes more effort and doesn't necessarily come naturally to children.
How do I know my child is ready to read?
It is important to remember that every child is unique and therefore, develops differently. However, the evidence of skills in Order, Concentration, Coordination, and Independence often signify readiness. OCCI is primarily built through adequate exposure to the Practical Life and Sensorial areas.
The Montessori language area is introduced to children from two distinctive foundations that separate it from the traditional models:
1. Montessori introduces letters by their sounds first. (also commonly known as phonics)
We believe it is far more valuable initially for children to associate letters by their sounds and not their name, because it allows children to more naturally compose words through the blending of sounds. After using the Montessori sandpaper letters to master phonic sounds, children begin sounding out three letter words (c-a-t, p-i-g, etc.)
2. Montessori introduces lowercase letters first, before uppercase.
95% of written language is in lowercase letters, but most schools teach children uppercase first. It makes more sense to have children learn lowercase letters because those are the letters they will see when beginning reading. It is a misconception that uppercase letters are easier for children to write; "upper case letters have more starting points and require more strokes/pencil pick ups, so are actually harder than lower case to draw. There are more diagonals in upper case letters, which is developmentally challenging." (Read more about it here!)
We begin children with an introduction to the letters by tracing, while saying aloud its sound. Children build muscle memory by tracing the finger along the sandpaper letter lines, which prepares them for writing.
We sort the letters into 4 groups for the children to learn:
Group 1: a, c, f, m, p, s, t
Group 2: b, d, g, i, l, n, r
Group 3: h, j, k, o, u, w
Group 4: e, q, x, y, z
The child begins to work with small objects and pictures to identify its beginning sound. Then the child will match it with its corresponding letter sound. This also increases the child's vocabulary as he/she learns new words from the objects and pictures that may be unfamiliar.
If the child is ready to begin tracing, he/she can also practice tracing the letters from their work.
3 Letter Words
When the child is confident in identifying beginning sounds of words, we move into the three letter words. The child is practicing identifying the beginning, middle, and ending sounds and blending them together to form a word.
We use the Montessori Movable Alphabet, which shows color distinctions between vowels and consonants. The child can "build" three letters together to form words in the Consonant-Vowel-Consonant pattern, also known as CVC.
Once a child is familiar and comfortable with reading three letter words, we can also begin to introduce sight words, which are words that are most commonly seen in written language, and are not phonetic, such as: is, see, the, a, go, to, etc.
The child begins to read both three letter words and sight words together in simple phrases and sentences. We use phonetic readers from the BOB books collection in our classroom.
After the child has passed the initial foundations of reading, he/she will continue into these next stages:
more sight words and new vocabulary
4 and 5 letter phonetic words consonant blend sounds (bl, gl, pl, br, gr, pr, etc) digraph sounds (ch/sh/wh/th) vowel patterns (oo, ou, ee, ea, etc)
sentence writing and structure
grammar (capitalization, punctuation, introduction of nouns/verbs/adjectives)
Although we have general "stages" of language development, be aware that your child may not fit into these stages in sequence perfectly, and that is ok! Sometimes a child may have proficiency in one area of language, while in another has more difficulty. Some children can pass through stages quickly while others may take a longer time. The most important thing in all of this is to constantly encourage your child! Our priority is to nurture a love of reading and writing in the children that they may continue to pursue them for the rest of their lives!