I recently decided to bring out the moveable alphabet that I have had sitting in a cupboard upstairs for a while and introduce it to Frida.
If you’re not familiar with it, the moveable alphabet is a brilliant Montessori material which recognises that most children will be able to start spelling out words long before they have the fine motor skills to write them. Writing your own words with an alphabet which can be manipulated is a key part of the Montessori method of learning to read and write – it is thought of as the “bridge” between the two skills.
In her brilliant book “Montessori Read & Write: A parent’s guide to literacy for children” (which I cannot recommend enough!) Lynne Laurence writes:
“Giving the child letters that have already been prepared divorces the creative and expressive side of writing from the slower and more underdeveloped skill of writing by hand. The development of both of these areas will progress along parallel lines for a while: in this way the actual act of handwriting, which needs practice and repetition, doesn’t hold up her growing ability to use language in its written form to express thought…
“In addition to the other benefits that accrue to your child from being able to write expressively, as she begins to write using the moveable alphabet letters she will directly experience the way in which letters make words, and how print goes from right to left and from top to bottom. It will give her an opportunity to connect writing directly with speech and she will be very quick to make the leap between writing things down and actually being able to read back what she has written.”
How did I decide Frida was ready to introduce the moveable alphabet?
- She has a good understanding of the letters in the alphabet and their phonetic sounds, as well as some phonemes;
- She has been showing an interest in trying to spell words using her fridge magnets;
- She can sound out and read short phonetic words (if she feels like it – though often she doesn’t!); and
- She showed an interest in the material when presented with it. This is, in my opinion, the best marker of “readiness” – a child who is ready for a material will be far more likely to show an interest in it and want to use it than a child for whom it is too advanced or too simple.
I bought a proper wooden moveable alphabet set as we will be home educating and this was one of the materials I felt happy to invest in, but I have seen brilliant moveable alphabets made from laminated card which would be great, especially if your child goes to school or will do in future.
If Frida shows sustained interest in using it, I will try and sew her or buy a spelling mat (like this one here) to use alongside it.
Alongside the moveable alphabet, I gave Frida a selection of sweet three-letter word flashcards which have an image on one side and the word on the other. This means she can pick a card, write the word using the moveable alphabet letters, and then flip the card over to check her spelling. This provides her with the control of error which is key in the Montessori philosophy, allowing her to check her own work independently without me interfering or correcting her which could be quite demotivating.
I liked the idea of using cards as a prompt whilst Frida familiarises herself with the material and starts to understand how to use it and learn where all the letters are. She also had a go at writing a couple of words which weren’t on cards, and I imagine that as she feels more confident working with the moveable alphabet she will gravitate towards writing more of her own messages. I just plan to leave this work out for her and see where she decides to take her learning.
I want to stress that there is no pressure on her to use this work, or to “learn to spell”. If she shows interest in using it, great! If she doesn’t and she chooses to do something else, also great! The Montessori approach is firmly about following the child and meeting them where they are at, about rejoicing in the child as an individual who is on their own path.
I feel strongly that Frida doesn’t need me to “teach” her. She needs me to provide a lovingly prepared environment where she can follow her own interests and thrive, and she needs me to be willing to join in the learning and magic with her by sharing books, conversations, outings, experiments, and experiences, by demonstrating and collaborating and by giving her the space and time to figure stuff out for herself.
Being child-led can sometimes feel a bit scary in a world where children’s education is so controlled by adults. But actually? Children LOVE learning. They are always learning. Sure, that learning might not look exactly like the learning they would experience at pre-school or school. But it doesn’t make it any less valid. Seeing Frida take so much joy from her own learning, freely chosen, is such a gift, and I feel very lucky to witness it.
I realised whilst writing this post that I didn’t actually share a post about our use of the sandpaper letters, and I haven’t shared much about the literacy work we do together either. I will write a post to rectify this soon (although – disclaimer – it mainly looks like reading a lot of books, talking about letters and words we see, and me writing words and letters on the chalk board for Frida to look at).