I have been thinking a lot about the Montessori method of learning to read and write at the moment. Frida is deep in the sensitive period for language at the moment, and so it is something which is top of my mind!
Laying the foundations for reading and writing starts at birth. The brilliant book “Montessori Read and Write” summarises this important work of building strong foundations, saying:
“[To learn to read and write] your child will need:
- To love and enjoy books so that she wants to learn to read and write.
- To have a knowledge of the world around her so that she can make sense of the books you read to her, and use this knowledge to express herself in writing.
- To have the ability to use her own language well and to enjoy the sounds, rhymes, and patterns in it, as this is the starting point for both reading and writing.
- To develop a knowledge of print and how it is used in both reading and writing.
- To develop good control over her body, and in particular her hand, if she is to find writing relatively easy.”
So, how does one lay these foundations for literacy? One thing which may seem conspicuous by its absence in the list above is a knowledge of the alphabet, of letters. Surely teaching a child their letters is the first step to literacy? Not in the Montessori school of thought. In the Montessori approach, there is a whole lot of important work which come before any formal work with letters, and often letters are not introduced at all until the age of three.
Instead, there is a lot we can do and offer as parents to build a strong foundation for reading and writing for our children.
Create an environment and family culture which values reading
- Have a wide variety of beautifully illustrated, well-written, engaging books, filled with rich vocabulary, to read with your child. Ideally you would have a mix of story books, poetry books, and non-fiction books. When Frida was first really learning to talk she had a voracious appetite for animal reference books which taught her literally hundreds of animal names.
- Read throughout the day, not just at bedtime. I will never turn down Frida’s requests to be read-to unless I really can’t, and we spend a lot of time reading together each day. I can’t think of many things more important than reading to her.
- Create spaces in the home for reading which are child friendly, perhaps with a front-facing bookcase so your child can choose their own books and return them afterwards, and a cozy place to sit together.
- Take trips to the library together to choose new books.
- Let your child see you reading, too! It is valuable for children to see their parents enjoying reading. I have moved a comfortable armchair into Frida’s playroom, and often read whilst she is lost in play. I feel no guilt about this – I’m glad she sees me enjoying books. We also have a lot of our own books in the home.
Provide your child with a rich vocabulary and language
- Use correct, adult language when talking to your child. Between the ages of birth to six, children are in a highly sensitive period for language acquisition. I refuse to believe that young children can learn the names of ten dinosaurs but cannot learn other complex words. If using new words for the first time, explain them to your child using words they do know – they will surprise you by how much they can understand!
- Read books with rich vocabulary, from a young age. I really encourage you to look carefully at the books which you borrow or purchase for your child. Will it build up their language, or dumb it down? Does it make you want to pick it up again and again? Does it rhyme or have a strong metre?
- Read poetry aloud. This is so good for children, and really enjoyable too.
- Play rhyming games, make up silly songs, tell puns – enjoy language together.
- Recite poems, verses, and rhymes, and encourage your child to do the same. My husband and I have been reciting to Frida since she was born, and I enjoy learning new poems and verses to teach her. She can now recite a number of simple four-eight line verses herself, and delights in doing so.
- Tell stories, and encourage your child to join in (or in the case of Frida, dictate exactly what the story must contain!)
- Ask your child questions about the books you have read or the stories you have told. What happened to this person? Why did this person do that action? How do you think this person felt? Then what happened? These can be more complex as the child is older.
Provide opportunities for the development of fine motor skills necessary for writing
- Give your child as many opportunities as possible to join you in meaningful work. So much practical life work involves fine motor skills, such as chopping, threading, using tongs, or peeling. Here are 40 practical life activities for toddlers.
- Model with clay or playdough together.
- Provide plenty of opportunities for art, using a range of materials including paint, crayons, pencils, and felt pens.
- Offer knobbed puzzles or knobbed cylinders, for honing the pincer grip.
- Bake together – kneading dough is great for strengthening hand muscles (plus who doesn’t love fresh bread?)
- Provide threading work. When your child has mastered threading beads, they may move to simple sewing work.
Build your child’s knowledge of the world around them
- Name everything around your child! Talk to them about what they can see, about what you are doing, about what they are experiencing. This starts at birth.
- Read books which are filled with real-life experiences, objects, animals, and phenomena.
- Provide your child with opportunities to classify the objects she sees, and give her the words to do so; floating / sinking; mammal / bird; food / non-food; soft / hard; rough / smooth.
- Create opportunities for matching work, for example object to card, then object to similar object.
This is not an exhaustive list at all, but I hope it gives you a flavour of some of the things you can do from a very young age to start building up the foundations of literacy in your children. If you feel I have missed anything please let me know!
In my next post I will be talking about the next step in learning to read and write from a Montessori perspective, which is where we are currently at with Frida (clue: it’s still not teaching her the alphabet!)