In a Montessori classroom, it is believed that learning to read and write should be a natural, gradual, and tangible process. Thus, the alphabet is taught differently than in traditional classrooms. How is it done? There are seven best ways to teach the Montessori alphabet.
What makes Montessori different from traditional education?
Montessori classrooms challenge kids when ready, developing personal independence and self-sufficiency and cultivating their sense of purpose and motivation. In Montessori education, it is believed that children develop at different paces, and they have different interests and strengths.
Montessori teachers follow the interest of their students using observation and levels of understanding, allowing them to unveil the child’s unique potential. They take notes of children’s development, interests, and readiness, so they can prepare and customize their curriculum for the day.
They start from concrete to abstract
Maria Montessori said, “what the hand does, the mind remembers.” This is a recurring theme in all Montessori teaching techniques, starting from concrete examples before moving to the abstract. It is believed that the more students work with their hands, the better they can grasp the concept with their minds.
Montessori teaching utilizes the senses to facilitate learning. The more neural connections are made during the learning process, the better. The same technique is used in learning the alphabet.
Learning the Alphabet, the Montessori Way
1. They focus on phonetics
They focus on the sound of the letter and its meaning. Rather than saying the letter “A,” they say “aa” or “aye,” “B” for “bee,” for “C” they say “cuh,” etc. They identify the letter with their sounds and associate the visual representation of the letter with it. The idea is it is a better way to help kids form and read words (by combining the sounds of the letter to make words).
Indeed, it is far more intuitive and helpful to teach kids how to spell the word “dog” when they can identify the sound that each letter of the word makes.
2. Different sounds of letters
Many letters of the alphabet have different sounds. C, for example, can be pronounced as “cu” for the word car, “ss” for the word “cell,” “dd” for “dog,” and “de” for “dear.” For words like these, the more familiar sound is pronounced.
Vowels with short sounds are also taught first, while vowels with long sounds are reserved for later. Examples of this are “sat” and “sip.” Doing this first will help the child avoid confusion while simultaneously allowing them to read and learn more words.
3. Start with lowercase letters
Most people picture the upper-case letters first when they think of the ABCs. In the Montessori style, however, they start with the lowercase. This is because most words they encounter use lowercase (i.e., storybooks), and children see letters like they see shapes. Thus, studying in lowercase allows the student to identify the letters individually without getting confused.
Once the child can quickly identify different letters in lowercase, they are ready to locate their upper-case equivalents.
4. Letters are NOT presented in alphabetical order
While it is easy to assume that the way to teach alphabet letters is by singing them, the truth is there is no logical reason why the letters in the alphabet are arranged the way they are. Also, students should be able to recognize the letters without referring to the song. This is why the alphabet is not taught in alphabetical order in Montessori.
When you think about it, the only word you can make out of the first three letters of the alphabet “A, B, and C” is “cab.” This means students cannot form any other words using those letters.
Montessori style has its own set of introducing letters, and here’s how it goes:
- 1st set – c m a t
- 2nd set – s r I p
- 3rd set – b f o g
- 4th set – h j u l
- 5th set – d w e n
- 6th set – k q v x y z
This way, kids can form multiple words using each set of letters. Moreover, to introduce a point of interest, they also use the first letter of the child’s name for teaching letters.
5. Writing precedes reading
It feels counterintuitive; however, the idea is that children can place letters (using their sounds) more easily and form words when they can connect the letters on paper. By learning phonetics, they can make words themselves. Writing words concretely helps the mind better understand each letter that makes up the word.
Writing is an analytical process that allows you to break down the word to its sounds. On the other hand, reading is a more advanced process as it requires breaking down words and putting different parts together.
When children write, they express their thoughts by coupling the different sounds of the letters to express their intended meaning. Whereas, reading requires children to put the different sounds together and analyze their meaning to understand the words.
6. They start with hands-on materials to teach students how to write and read
For children, writing words means combining two different skills: segmenting words using the sounds of the letters and using their motor skills to handle a pencil on a piece of paper. However, most children learn the concept of letters before they can learn the motor skills to maneuver a pencil on paper. Thus, since they learn to associate letters with sound, they can practice making and reading words using and moving blocks of letters together.
Moreover, children are taught physical exercises with their hands before writing letters, such as painting with a paintbrush, safely handling scissors, washing bottles, building tower blocks, turning door knobs, etc. This method is how they prepare the movements of their arms, hands, and fingers to handle more sophisticated tasks like holding a pencil and writing.