Language in the Casa – Montessori Method

Dr. Montessori discovered – contrary to popular perception – that children will tend to develop writing before reading. Dr. Montessori later understood that this is a logical path to follow because it easier to express what is within us than to try to understand that which another person is expressing. The writing stage is based on the process of analysis while the stage of reading is based on the process of synthesis- a process that requires greater mental maturity than analysis. The processes occur separately in the child and that is the reason that writing and reading are independent from one another. Writing can begin at about four years of age, while reading typically comes closer to the age of five.

In a Montessori classroom, the children do not write initially with a pencil. They use the movable alphabet, which is a box containing all of the letters in the alphabet. Having already learned the phonetic sounds of some or all of the letters, the children proceed to ‘write’ phonetically forming first words, then sentences, using the individual letters in the box. Once a child has developed enough strength and control of hand movement through the Indirect Preparations provided throughout the environment, he/she can begin to write using chalk and chalkboard, then paper and pencil.

Indirect Preparations are found throughout the Montessori environment. “Indirect” simply means that the child is being prepared unconsciously. There are indirect preparations for language, mathematics, etc and preparations for one area of development can be found in all areas of the curriculum. The following example of indirect preparations for writing will demonstrate the variety, importance, diversity and ease with which the children gain the necessary skills to move forward.

Indirect preparation for writing

When a child arrives languagein the environment at 2 ½ to 3 years of age, they are not prepared mentally or physically to write. Order is brought to the mind with the Practical Life exercises and the Sensorial Materials. The children are able to begin classifying their environment and learning language as well as completing exercises which train the mind to move from left to right from the moment they arrive in the environment (tracing the Red Rods, washing a table, spooning, pouring, etc). Additionally, as often as possible in all areas of the classroom, including geography, the children are shown to manipulate the materials using the Pincer Grip (Puzzle Maps, Cylinder Blocks, Pouring Jugs, etc), which is the grip used to hold a pencil.

At this early stage, the muscles in the children’s hands are beginning to strengthen for the eventual step of writing correctly with a pencil. Lightness of touch is also a factor in writing correctly. If you press too hard, the pencil will break, if you press too softly, you have trouble seeing what is written. Exercises such as the Touch Tablets and Touch Boards, the Sandpaper letters and the Metal Insets directly teach the child the concepts of rough and smooth, phonetic sounds, and design respectively, but also all require a control of movement necessary for writing. None of the above would ever be told to the child. The child does each exercise for its direct purpose or lesson and unconsciously takes in all of the extra benefits.

Reading

languageTotal reading versus traditional mechanical reading: Reading is a mental activity not just a verbal one. Total reading is the perception of ideas through symbols where one is able to understand everything that the author wants to convey. The Montessori approach to reading brings immediate understanding and appreciation. There is a distinct difference between Montessori and the traditional broken-down approach, where the child reads only words rather than sentences and phrases. The phonetic approach allows the child to become independent in attacking and understanding words. The child relies on his/her own analysis of sounds related to the symbol.

Although this period is a rather mechanical sounding-off of words, it is short lived. One can see that the child very quickly moves onto more meaningful reading. Thanks to the principles of the Montessori’s pedagogical approach (no pressure/competition) the child is left free to develop at his/her own pace and rhythm.

Grammar

languageFunction of words: The child discovers that the words belong to particular groups and that in sentences they have a definite purpose and place. For example, in English, adjectives always follow the article and precede the noun. In the casa (the children’s house), the grammatical terms are not used, but rather the function or use of the word is and the function is then related to a particular symbol. Once the child reaches the lower Elementary level, the grammatical names are given and are still linked with the symbol. At the upper Elementary level the child moves away from the use of the symbols and toward a more abstract understanding of grammatical structure and complex sentence analysis.

The sentence analysis exercises introduce the child to the meaning of word placement within the sentence structure. In taking apart the sentence, we focus our attention in the arrangement of the words and not the words themselves. This helps the child to understand the subject, the predicate, and the clauses of a given sentence. As with every other area in the environment, the entire language program is very sequential. Each step is dependent upon the previous one, thus giving clarity and a sense of achievement as one progresses.

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