It all started in the classroom of one of our Age of Montessori teachers, Helene, who wrote last month’s article about observation. She has diligently prepared the children with our Royal Road to Reading materials, which include materials for phonemic awareness and letter mastery.
Once the children have the idea that letters represent sounds, they love to work with the sandpaper letters. As they learn to trace the letters, their muscular as well as visual and auditory memories are all in sync with one another. Simultaneously, the children are also learning to hold a pencil and trace geometric shapes with the metal insets.
Things in the classroom changed and became a “Flash Mob” when two of the children read aloud to their classmates. This was the moment when the genuine excitement began. You can imagine what was going on in the minds of those children who started flocking to the letters. “If they can read, then maybe I can, too!”
Inspiration is the name of the game
Every child wants to be able to do what the others can do, and inspiration is the name of the game. So, here in 2020, it is very much the same as it was back when Maria Montessori first saw the excitement in writing and reading flourish among her class of three-, four- and five-year-old children in 1907. She wrote that the excitement spread among the children who all wanted to write once they saw one child do it. She had her class on a patio on the roof of her building when one of the children understood that to write, all you had to do was take the sounds of a word and write those letters in chalk on the floor. Once one child wrote the first word, the others flocked around and tried to write, too—and amazingly enough, they could! They had been prepared. She wrote that they were cackling like chickens in their excitement. A mother told Dr. Montessori that her child was trying to write in the crusts of their freshly baked bread. The children simply could not get enough.
They could write in those early days, but could not read yet and perhaps, didn’t quite know what it meant to read. One day Montessori wrote a note on the chalkboard: “If you love me, come and give me a kiss.” She commented that most of the children thought she was writing for her own enjoyment as they were doing until one day a little girl came up and kissed her cheek. The secret was out! You can share your thoughts in writing, and someone else can read them and understand.
When you really stop to think about it, the importance of the written word becomes evident. I well recall in the year 2000, Time magazine did a spread on the 100 most important people of the millennium. Guess who was number one? It was Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press. In our digital era it is easy forget that before the computer, oral teaching and books were the only ways humanity had access to information. For hundreds of years, books, libraries and newspapers were the go-to methods for learning something new. (Maria Montessori was one of the top 100 most significant people of the last millennium, too!)
Literacy continues to be a great challenge in American education, but not to Montessori schools. Instead of directly trying to teach a child to read or write, both of which are made up of multiple tasks, we use the idea called “isolation of difficulty.” We look at the task and focus on the component parts. We present activities for the child to explore and learn each component part, and then the psychological impulse toward putting the elements together brings the fabulous day when a child reads or writes. We provide these experiences when the child is ready and interested. We might ask the child, “Who taught you?” The answer is likely to be, “No one taught me; I did it all by myself!”
I invite you to investigate Age of Montessori’s Early Reading—the Gateway to Learning, our six-week online course. We have a whole array of webinars and short courses as well as our MACTE-accredited certification courses available to anyone who wants to learn more about how we can help our children’s development.
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