Montessori Homeschool Curriculum Reading Program

How Does Montessori Teach Reading?

The Montessori method of teaching reading is focused on indirect preparation.

Pre-reading activities are offered to children to help them develop the skills needed to read. Once children have all of the component skills, then they will discover for themselves that they have the ability to read.

Effort is made to observe children to assess where they are in the process of learning to read. This helps you choose activities that will offer just the right amount of challenge.

Children learn at their own pace. Although there is no pressure to get a child to start reading by a certain age, most children who learn to read the Montessori way will begin to sound out words when they are around 4.5 to 5 years old.

Because the Montessori method of teaching reading requires a lot of observation to offer individualized activities, any potential concerns with language processing are often identified early.

Teaching reading the Montessori way follows a speech-to-print approach.

Spoken language is the foundation for written language. That's why the first step to teach reading the Montessori way is helping a child hear the speech sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Then those phonemes are associated with the graphic symbol.

It is understood that language is a system of arbitrary auditory sounds and associated graphic symbols that are agreed upon by people of a specific culture to represent ideas. In spoken language, the sounds are combined in a certain agreed upon way. In written language, the graphic symbols represent the sounds and they are combined in a certain agreed upon way.

The Montessori method to teach reading is a sounds first approach.

Children learning to read the Montessori way will first learn letter sounds instead of letter names or both letter sounds and names at the same time. That's because the focus of the next step is on preparing children to represent speech sounds (phonemes) using letters to write words that they say.

Encoding comes before decoding for children learning to read the Montessori way.

Encoding is the act of expressing your own thoughts in written form. To write a word with a pencil or a moveable alphabet, your child needs to segment the word into its individual speech sounds, find the letters that represent those phonemes and then build the word by putting the letters in a row.

Reading is a decoding process. To read a word, your child needs to recall the speech sound that each letter represents, say each phoneme and blend them in the right order to hear the whole word and understand its meaning. 

Writing comes before reading because it's much easier to encode words than it is to decode words. In the beginning of learning to read, before decoding becomes automatic, this "sounding it out" process of pulling apart each word and putting it back together again is a lot more work than writing your own thoughts!

You already know your own thoughts when you write them. Reading requires your child to work towards the unknown. When words are written by another person, you can only understand the thought once you read the words.

When children learn to read the Montessori way, they absorb the idea that reading is silent communication.

Language facilitates communication in the present moment and over time. We get access to information and ideas from other people through reading. Your child will learn that they can know what you are thinking, without you saying it, when you write your thoughts on paper and your child reads it.

What Montessori Curriculum Materials Will You Need For Teaching Reading?

You'll need 4 Montessori materials when you choose to teach reading the Montessori way. You can buy these materials from a Montessori online store, or you can make these materials yourself. Some homeschooling families use a mix of purchased and DIY Montessori materials for teaching reading.

  1. Montessori language objects are used as props when playing sound games to help your child hear the speech sounds in spoken words. It's like playing "I Spy" except that instead of inviting your child to look for something that's a certain color, you'll ask your child to look for something that starts with a speech sound that you say. This activity develops phonemic awareness. Learn where to find Montessori language objects.
  2. Montessori sandpaper letters are used to help your child build visual, auditory and muscle memory of the graphic symbols that represent speech sounds. Tracing the sandpaper letters with two fingers also helps your child develop the tripod grip for holding a pencil. Your child will have fun matching Montessori language objects with the sandpaper letters to reinforce memory of letter-sound correspondences.
  3. A Montessori moveable alphabet is used to develop encoding skills. Children use their existing phonics knowledge to put sounds (letters) in a row to build words.
  4. Words on labels or cards are used for reading practice. The first reading activity in the learning sequence uses language objects to match with words that you'll write to create labels for your child to decode. Reading practice is scaffolded. Words that can be decoded using knowledge of a-z letter sounds comes first and then words with digraphs such as sh, ee, ai, ch etc are introduced. A child starts with reading words, then phrases and then sentences.

Does Montessori Do Phonics?

The Montessori method for teaching reading is based on phonics. Children learn the code between speech sounds and letter symbols. Teaching phonics the Montessori way initially focuses on learning a-z letter sounds, but then common digraphs (two letters that represent a single sound) are introduced.

When teaching phonics, it's important that children get the experience of using their phonics knowledge so they understand what they are working towards.

Once your child can say the letter sound when shown many of the sandpaper letters, then you'll model how to put sounds in a row to build words using a Montessori moveable alphabet. Work with the sandpaper letter continues as a separate activity at a different time to continue expanding phonics knowledge. Meanwhile, the process of word building will also reinforce existing phonics knowledge and offer opportunities to learn more a-z letter sounds and digraphs.

Usually within about 6 months of practice with encoding using the Montessori moveable alphabet, your child will realize that any words that are written can then be read.

Children will continue to learn advanced phonics once they begin reading lists of words that feature a digraph. At that time, the different spellings for the same phoneme are introduced.

What Is The Montessori Method of Teaching The Alphabet?

Awareness of speech sounds (phonemes) in spoken words comes first. Then a child is shown what a phoneme looks like using cursive or print Montessori sandpaper letters. It depends on which style you want your child to learn first for later handwriting.

Montessori sandpaper letters are introduced via a 3-period lesson that includes any 3 letters at a time. Children learn to associate the sandpaper letters with only the short vowel sounds and the hard consonant sounds. Other sound spellings will be introduced later on in the context of learning digraphs.

Only the lowercase letters are explicitly taught during the preschool and kindergarten years using sandpaper letters to best prepare a child for writing and reading books, which are mostly made up of lowercase letters.

Letter names are not mentioned during lessons with the Montessori sandpaper letters because they are not helpful for encoding and decoding.

The Montessori method of teaching the alphabet is very simplified and focused on what matters most for writing and reading. That means that children are less likely to get confused between letter names and sounds or mix up uppercase and lowercase letters.

Does Montessori Do Sight Words?

A sight word is any word that is recognized and read at a glance. Eventually all words become sight words for a skilled reader because the words are decoded so fast.

Montessori reading programs do include activities to memorize high frequency words to facilitate more fluent reading, but only after a child is able to decode words using phonics.

Research has shown that beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading compared with memorizing whole words.

The Montessori focus on phonics first will discourage guessing at words or relying on pictures for context. Children practice reading skills by sounding out decodable text using existing knowledge of the phonetic code.

Initially, reading practice is just a series of one decodable word on a label or card. Only when that's easy will a child will advance to reading phrases and then sentences that include words like "the" and "is" or "she". 

Which Montessori Reading Program Is Best?

Dr Maria Montessori didn't trademark her method. That means that anyone can describe their school or program as "Montessori". There are a variety of Montessori teacher training programs, and that comes with differences in what's included in the curriculum. 

If you've already done some research into Montessori reading programs, you'll likely have seen references to AMI versus Dwyer versus the Pink/Blue/Green reading series.

AMI refers to Association Montessori Internationale. That's the organization that Dr. Maria Montessori founded to carry on her work.

A variety of Montessori reading programs for English exist because she developed the Montessori language curriculum based on learning to write and read in Italian. Writing and reading in English is more complicated because of all the various spellings for some phonemes.  

The Playful Path to Reading is the Montessori reading program that's based on my Montessori training (AMI) and my experience guiding 3-6 year old children in a classroom at an accredited Montessori school in Canada.

It's more aligned with Dywer than Pink/Blue/Green since Dywer is also AMI trained. It doesn't use the Pink/Blue/Green reading series materials, but it does cover the same skills.

When you're looking at a Montessori reading program, you'll need to consider the scope of the curriculum and where your child is at in the learning sequence.

At least one Montessori reading program that I know of assumes that your child already knows a-z letter sounds!

The Playful Path to Reading is designed to start with children who are around 3 years old and who are ready to move beyond just building vocabulary. That was the focus of language development during the toddler years. Now your child is ready to become aware of speech sounds in spoken words. Your child is ready to understand that words are made up of phonemes in a row and that we use letters to represent those phonemes.

Most children who startThe Playful Path to Reading at around 3 years old will move through it over the next 2-3 years. This Montessori reading program takes your child from not knowing any letter sounds to being able to read sentences like "Kim eats green beans with her meal." and "Jill got a carton of milk at the market." At this point, your child will be well prepared to read decodable books to continue to develop writing and reading skills. 

PLAYFUL PATH TO READING Montessori Homeschool Curriculum Reading Program

The best Montessori reading program will come with ongoing support from a trained Montessori teacher.

Many people have invested in The Playful Path to Reading even though they also have access to a Montessori language album that describes the materials, the prerequisites, and a script for doing the activity. That's because the curriculum is just the starting point.

Similarly, there are lots of free or low-cost Montessori printables online for teaching reading the Montessori way. You might even be reading this article now because you've been trying to piece it together and it's proven more difficult than you expected!

Often there are questions that come up that aren't addressed in a Montessori language album, an online Montessori homeschool training program or the file you get when you download Montessori printables. 

  • What should I do if my child is guessing during the sound games to develop phonemic awareness?
  • Does my child need to be able to identify sounds at the beginning, middle and end of words before I introduce the sandpaper letters?
  • What sandpaper letters should I teach first?
  • What should I do if my child is tracing the Montessori sandpaper letters incorrectly?
  • How will I know that my child is ready to be shown the moveable alphabet?
  • Should I correct words that my child builds words with the moveable alphabet?
  • How will I know that my child is ready to begin reading words?
  • What books are best for an emergent reader?

It's such a relief to describe what you observe to a trained Montessori teacher and get feedback! A trained Montessori teacher has likely encountered similar situations and can offer some context and suggestions so that you don't get stuck.

What is it worth to have a trained Montessori teacher guide you through the process of helping your child learn to read? To be handed the complete set of resources to  implement the steps quickly and easily?

Imagine skipping all the overwhelm and trial and error! That’s what you’re buying when you enroll in The Playful Path to Reading today.

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