Understanding, using and enjoying language is the critical first step in communication.
According to Montessori, the evolution of language begins with the infant’s innate capacity to absorb fragments of speech that form the basis for further language development. Children first discover that sounds have meaning and then isolate parts of speech. Their acquisition of oral skills occurs naturally. We must provide opportunities for the development of written language and reading.
Experiences gained from the Practical Life and Sensorial activities serve as a preparation for reading and writing. Children are given a phonetic basis for reading. They hear the sound, see the shape and by tracing, develop the muscular memory needed for writing. They are then ready to pursue an interest in words while cultivating writing skills at an individual pace.
Through storytelling, conversation and many other exercises, vocabulary grows. Eventually these preparatory activities culminate in children beginning to write. Montessori refers to ‘explosions’ into writing and reading and when they occur, they bring tremendous joy to both the learner and the educator.
Some FAQs about Language in a House of Children
Why are lower case and that too, cursive letters, presented to a child before capital letters in a Montessori House?
Lower case letters are used all the time, whereas capital letters are used for a particular purpose, such as at the start of a sentence or for a proper noun. When children are familiar with lower case letters and have started reading and writing them, they are gradually introduced to grammar and parts of speech. This is when they understand the purpose behind the use of a capital letter.
Montessori discovered the importance of learning through movement and the senses. With cursive letters, the child learns to link letters together so the pencil flows along the paper, and frequent stopping is not required within and between letters.
- Learning cursive is good for children’s fine motor skills, and writing in longhand generally helps learners retain more information and generate more ideas.
- A child who writes in cursive can also read print, but a child who learns to write in print may not be able to read cursive.
- Children, who learn cursive rather than print, develop reading and spelling skills easier. The linked-up cursive letters help them think of a whole word.
- There is less chance of reversal of cursive letters, as against print ones. E.g. b d p q s
How do you introduce the alphabet?
Alphabets are introduced through their phonetic sounds, and not necessarily in sequence. Vowels are offered before consonants because:
- They are pure and easily audible
- They are limited in number, and yet, indispensable
- They are easy to recognise
- Vowels are present in almost all words and a child can identify them easily in the words he/she sees
The letters of the alphabet serve as symbols for sounds. For example, if a child is introduced to one or two vowels such as ‘a’ and ‘o’ and a few consonants, he/she can start making simple words like cat, dog or laptop. This excites them and they realise they can make and read more words.
English is not a very phonetic language, and has various spelling complications. How do you present these complications?
Initially, only purely phonetic words are introduced - mat, net, hop, pin, sun, lamp, cabin Etc. Once children are familiar with these sounds they are introduced to more complicated words. E.g. when a word has a – e, he/she will be presented with several words using these sounds, such as, cake, bake, make, date, plate. Similarly, a list of words with o – e, would be presented, such as rope, hope, joke, pope.
As and when they are ready, systematically prepared word lists, with all orthographic complications, are presented to children, incorporating various sound combinations – sh, th, ch, ng, gh, ph, and so many more.
What happens to words that have no explanation as to how they are pronounced?
When the child has worked sufficiently with phonics he/she is introduced to the names of letters. By this time he/she is able to differentiate between purely phonetic words and those that need to be spelt. Such words are presented as ‘sight words’ - the, which, when, that, what, though, are just a few examples.
When do you start with writing?
The preparation for writing starts long before children are introduced to a writing instrument. Various materials in a Montessori environment require the use of the tripod grip, which is also essential for holding a writing instrument. The knobs of these materials have the same thickness as a pencil and indirectly prepare a child to hold a pencil, when ready.
Before this step, they do preparatory activities such as tracing of sand paper letters with their fingers. They also do such tracing in sand, where the focus is on form, rather than size. The child is using the extra sense of ‘touch’ and thus, three senses, touch, sight, and hearing are involved in the learning process. Children absorb letter formation in a sensorial manner and this remains with them, facilitating the exercise of writing. The first actual pencil usage is with material called the Drawing Insets; after practice with these insets, they move on to writing on paper.