Introduction to Language
Dr. Montessori recognised that a young child has a natural sensitivity for language development that starts in the womb. Children from 2 to 6 years have a unique fascination for words - written and spoken - they can build a vocabulary from about 200 to 10,000 words over this period. This fascination is what allows them to begin writing and reading before the age that its traditionally taught.
The Montessori teacher is able to follow each child’s period of interest and introduce the materials associated with language at the optimal time. Acknowledging that a child has already gained language (i.e. the mother tongue) before starting in the classroom, the teacher starts with sound games leading on to Sandpaper Letters which allow the child to come to writing with ease. Building words using the Movable Alphabet nearly always precedes reading in a Montessori environment.
For writing, children need two skills - the memory of the shape of letters and their corresponding sounds, as well as the muscular ability to use a writing instrument with control.
Acquiring both skills at the same time can be very discouraging and frustrating. The materials designed by Dr. Montessori offer children the opportunity to learn the shapes and sounds of the letters in a way that is independent from perfecting the motor skill. For example, the child can gain confidence in their ability to write by using the Movable Alphabet which allows the child to compose without the underdeveloped hand getting in the way. Children in Montessori classrooms learn to write, not by writing, but by performing a variety of purposefully structured activities that prepare them directly and indirectly for success in handwriting.
Some children read at four, some at five and some at six. The actual age isn’t as important as their level of readiness. If they begin too early, they’ll be discouraged. If they’re forced to wait and the time passes their initial period of interest then they’ll miss the golden opportunity when they’re propelled by their own natural enthusiasm. The freedom of Montessori allows children’s own interests to determine their progress.