Also called “Montessori miniatures”, “phonics objects”, or “alphabet objects”, Montessori language objects are small objects that represent words while playing a variety of early literacy games.
Most 3 and 4 year old children will find language miniatures very compelling because they are naturally interested in tiny objects.
That means you can use Montessori language objects as props during activities to help your preschooler or kindergartener learn pre-reading skills in a way that's fun and engaging.
Keep in mind that Montessori language objects have small parts and must be used with supervision to avoid choking! It's best to wait to do any of these activities if your 3 year old child sometimes puts things in the mouth to explore them.
When I'm not using my Montessori language objects set, I keep them out of reach. It's easy to put together a DIY Montessori alphabet box to keep your collection of language objects organized from a to z.
Montessori language objects are used in a variety of early literacy games during the preschool and kindergarten years to entice your child along the journey from pre-reading to early reading.
A fun way to increase your 3 year old's vocabulary is to put several Montessori miniatures in a bag. Then you can do a Montessori 3-period lesson to help your preschooler learn new words in a fun way. Although it's called a "lesson", it's really just a fun game with three steps:
You'll want to select language objects that aren't as familiar to your child. Let's say you've got a funnel, a hinge and a piece of amethyst.
First you'll invite your child to choose one of the objects. You'll name it (e.g., "This is a funnel.") and invite your child to say its name too.
You'll repeat this naming step with other two Montessori language objects. Any more than three for a Montessori 3-period lesson might be too overwhelming.
The next step is to invite your child to recognize each Montessori miniature without any pressure to say its name. You can mix up the objects on the mat or table, and then invite your child to touch one of the objects you name.
Make it fun by asking your child to move it, hide it, pass it, etc. This way a lot of movement is built into the activity since children learn through the senses and movement. Plus you'll repeatedly name the object ("You found the funnel!") so that your child can learn the new word.
If that step went well, then the final step is to confirm that your child remembers the new word. You'll place one language miniature in your child's hand and ask, "What is this?"
Now that your 3 year old knows the names of all of the language miniatures in your collection, he or she might enjoy matching them to pictures of similar objects.
Although it will likely be very easy for preschoolers, object to picture matching activities show that a 2D image represents all aspects of a 3D object. Your 3 year old will need to to think about the essential qualities because the size, color and shape of the object in the picture won't be exactly the same as the 3D object.
This kind of object to picture matching activity helps your 3 year old develop abstract thinking, which is needed later on to learn that letters represent speech sounds.
Before your child is ready to learn phonics, you child needs to develop phonological awareness. That means becoming aware of the units of sound in spoken words.
Understanding rhyming is one phonological awareness skill. When you teach rhyming, you'll draw attention to the same speech sounds at the end of words, even if the spelling is different.
To introduce the concept of of rhyming words and what it means for words to rhyme, gather two Montessori language objects that rhyme and one that doesn't rhyme.
Let's say you have a jug, mug and pin. You'll name each one as you set it out. Then comment on how jug and mug rhyme because they sound the same at the end. Pin sounds different at the end and that's why it doesn't rhyme. Together with your child think of and say more words that rhyme with jug and mug such as hug, tug, rug and bug.
After playing "odd one out", you can put together a rhyming objects basket. Invite your child to sort them to find the rhyming pairs of objects. When your child can think of and say more words that rhyme with one of the objects, you'll know that your child understands rhyming.
Another phonological awareness skill is hearing the individual sounds in words. The smallest unit of sound in a spoken word is called a phoneme.
Phonemic awareness activities make it easier for 3 and 4 year old child to learn alphabet sounds and phonics. Research shows that children who struggle to learn to read also struggle to isolate individual sounds in words.
In fact, phonemic awareness is said to be the best predictor of success with learning to read! That's because letters are symbols that represent speech sounds.
Playing I Spy with Montessori language objects is a fun way to help children start developing phonemic awareness.
Invite your child to choose 3 objects from a beginning sounds or alphabet sounds set of Montessori language objects that you have inside a bag or basket. Name each object as your child takes it out. Then say: “I see something that starts with the sound /j/…. jet! Jet starts with /j/.” Repeat with one of the other objects, but this time see if your child can figure out which object you're thinking of when you say its beginning sound.
Once your child can identify at least the beginning sound of spoken words, then it's simply a matter of showing what each speech sound looks.
If you’re interested in hands-on alphabet activities for learning letter sounds, you’ll find Montessori language objects very useful. They make a great alternative to worksheets for phonics!
For example, you could invite your child to identify the beginning sound of Montessori language objects and match them with Montessori sandpaper letters or moveable alphabet letters.
Once your child knows letter sounds, he or she can then begin to build words with the Montessori moveable alphabet.
Ideally, your child will think of a word and then find the letters needed to put sounds in a row to make the word.
However, some children find it difficult to think of words to build. That’s why some parents will use Montessori language objects as writing prompts.
You can also use Montessori language objects as a hands-on early reading activity.
You'll need to gather a set of Montessori language objects that represent CVC words (e.g., pig, hen, jug, map, six, nut, jet). Include written labels in the phonetic objects box. Then invite your child to sound out each word and match it with the object.
It’s a really gentle way to introduce reading and offer reading practice, without putting pressure on your child to read an entire book!
If you have a selection of language miniatures that represent short phonetic words, you can keep the activity fresh by substituting some of the objects with other ones.
Once it's easy for your child to read CVC words, include some Montessori language objects that represent longer phonetic words such as bulb, nest, and gift.
Once your child has learned some advanced phonics (e.g., knows some 2+ letters that represent a single sound such as /ai/ in train), you can also create a set of Montessori language objects to match with words that are more challenging to read.
You can also use Montessori language objects to offer additional reading practice. Create a set of sentences on strips of paper that your child can read and then manipulate the objects to match the meaning of the sentence. For example, if the sentence says, "The bug is on the rock." then your child will place the bug on the rock and move the sentence strip beside it.