Language is the origin of human civilization. Humans’ capability to express and to communicate an idea by means of speech and words lead the human race to greater discoveries. Building a word by combining sounds and building a sentence which represents an idea by combining words, then integrating sounds into symbols and presenting in a written language was the revolutionary transformation amongst human beings.
“…written word, the greatest triumph of civilization”
Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XVI, pg 239
The continuation and conservation of language plays a key role in the continuity of the human race. The responsibility of this important process lies on the hands of the future generation. However it is the responsibility of the present generation to prepare their next generation, for this key role.
Dr. Maria Montessori the revolutionary explorer of early childhood education discovered that every child acquires the sensitivity for language during a certain period time in their childhood. In these blocks of time child’s absorbent mind allows him to absorb characteristics of language from his surrounding environment through his sensory organs and directly store in his psychic life which aids in his natural development. As an infant these impressions are absorbed unconsciously but gradually when the child has a conscious mind, which he acquires around the age of 3, he absorbs characteristics of language consciously. So it is important to provide the child with a resourceful environment, lead by freedom which allows him to explore and experience his surroundings.
“…the means for preserving the continuity of language are the new beings who keep on arriving in the world. Whatever is formed at that time at the child’s mneme has the power to become eternal.”
Montessori M. - The Absorbent Mind: Chapter XI, pg 120
The role of the language, within a social group is another form of communication. It is made through speech, listening, writing and reading. As a result people have invented many interesting ways to communicate, in order to express their thoughts and emotions. For example singing, narrating poems, fictions, writing on personal diaries are some ways to express ideas. Furthermore documenting information on researches, discoveries helps to communicate and to pass on knowledge which benefits in development of another or their ideas. However having the knowledge documented could be the most important component for survival of a thought or a discovery.
But does only documenting knowledge would be enough for the continuation of survival?
This is where reading comes in place. In order to use this stored knowledge, a person need to be capable enough to read the written language with understanding.
Even though language develops naturally within a child, like an impulsive conception he needs to be prepared for this mental process of reading, starting from his early childhood, especially focusing more during the time period he attains his sensitive period for language. During this sensitive time if the child was not exposed or not satisfied by language, his opportunity for a natural conquest is lost forever and the child will carry this lack with him throughout his entire life.
Dr Montessori interpreted writing as the ability of converting sounds into letters. But in reading she explains that a person needs not only to pronounce the word but also the word needs to be recognised and understood, which requires an extra step in the intelligence.
“A higher intellectual activity must therefore be brought into play.”
Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XVI, pg 230
Maria Montessori introduced an effective method to help the child in achieving the skill of reading, and to achieve it faster during his childhood. Dr. Montessori also revealed that to achieve the skill of reading, first the child needs to be assisted in acquiring the skill of writing. Because,
“…writing prepares the way for reading so that the difficulties are almost unnoticeable.”
Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XVI, pg 229
In the Montessori classroom we first teach the child reading of symbols, which are letters of the alphabet, combined with the sound it represent. This is the phonics approach for written language, which emphasis on the sound. In this process we also make use of child’s sensitivity for learning through sense of touch, because,
“…muscular memory is the most tenacious in a small child and is also the readiest.”
Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XV, pg 212
Tracing sandpaper letters helps the child absorb the muscular impression of the letter along with the auditory impression which makes a lasting memory in the child’s mind. I understood how effective this method is with my own experience. After learning about introducing the alphabet using sandpaper letters I came home that day and made sandpaper letter cards to teach my 2 years and 10 months old niece the sounds of the alphabet. Few days later, after she was taught some of the sounds she had her hands on one of the dress materials which had printed letters on it. She instantly recognised some of the letters she was taught and pointed them out while saying its sound aloud. It seemed that she was so much happier with what she achieved and so was I.
In order to absorb the characteristics of a letter effectively, the capability of the child to discriminate muscular and auditory impressions are essential. Child absorbs a lasting impression of the shape of the letter through tracing, which the characteristics include vertical lines, horizontal lines, slanted lines or curved lines. So it is necessary for the child to acquire proper prior skills for absorbing information through sense of touch, For an example, if the child is not given proper training in sense of form, it may be difficult for him to discriminate differences between ‘a’ and ‘d’. So it is important to train the child by giving him plenty of experience in sensorial materials that represent form such as stereognostic materials, geometric cabinet, geometric solids.
Also if the child is not given proper training in auditory sense, it may be difficult for him to discriminate differences between some of the sounds, such as ‘v’ and ‘w’. The child should be given prior experience with auditory sensorial materials such as sound cylinders and using of bells.
All the experience child gains in working with materials on the sensorial and practical life areas have lead the child to unconsciously “…perfect themselves in writing without writing.”
Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XV, pg 210
When the child enters the Montessori classroom he comes with his sensitivity to bringing the body under the control of his will. As a result of this he’s able to repeat an act any amount of time until he is able to gain control over his movement. Therefore for the purpose of writing he unconsciously perfects himself to co-ordinate his eye and hand movements and the mechanism to manage writing instruments by using pincer grip.
In Dr. Montessori’s mechanism for indirect preparation for written language, she concluded that it is very important to enhance a child’s oral and auditory language skills through conversation, speech work, drama, stories both red and told, songs, and naming activities. Through these activities the child is given the opportunity to express their thoughts and enjoy their work by building confidence, imagination, creativity, concentration, communication and listening skills. A simple naming activity games like ‘I spy game’ allows the child to understand the placing of a sound, whether it’s in initial, terminal or medial within a word and helps the child familiarise with the sounds used in speech. In order to succeed this exercise the child should have the skill to discriminate sounds and be familiarized with the names of objects.
After familiarising the child with sounds by presenting vowels and consonants in the alphabet, children are exposed to phonetically sounding words. Initially he is given simple phonetic words that have 2 to 3 letters such as cat, hat, and ant. At this stage child has naturally developed a tendency to sound out words according to its phonetic sound. But for the child to be easily understood that these words are pronounced phonetically the Montessori Classroom apply a pattern that is common only to these words. Which is a phonetic word of 2 or 3 letters are printed in larger, black coloured font and on pink coloured paper. All the materials that come under this category are called the Pink Scheme materials.
Then the child is introduced to Blue Scheme materials which contain longer phonetic words and words with simple acceptable blends such as ‘ll’, ‘ck’. Some of the words that come under blue scheme are black, bell, bond, and pond.
At the end the child, when the child is much comfortable reading words in the blue scheme he is gradually introduced to the sounds of the typical letter-patterns of English, which is called phonograms, for example ‘ch’, ‘aw’, and ‘tion’. These words come under the Green Scheme, which they are printed on green coloured paper. The phonetically sounding letters of the word are printed in black and phonograms are printed in red which makes it easier for the child to recognize phonograms and pronounce accordingly.
The words in all these three schemes mentioned above, the pink, the blue and the green are initially presented to the child in a written format by using the movable alphabet. Within these writing exercises directress assists the child in composing words by uniting sounds. The words given to the child to build consist of letters which keeps its individual sounds, and of phonogram sounds, when pronouncing the syllables. This is the next level in achieving reading skills which allows the child to understand that most common sound-spelling relationships so that they can decode, or sound out, words. This decoding ability is a crucial element in reading success. At this stage child is not required to read the built words, but only to identify words which involve with different sounds and associate them with objects. By being able to succeed at this, the child will enjoy one of the pleasant achievements in his life, the easy but complex act of writing.
As the third stage in preparation for skilful reading, the child is progressively directed in to reading words. At the initial phase of this stage the child is introduced to names of familiar objects. He’s provided with objects and tags containing the name of the object, which he needs to, read and match to the object. With preparation exercises done involved in writing, now the child is able to read a word as a composite of sounds. And the words that are given to the child to read needs to be selected by the directress based on the phonics approach; firstly the short and simple words that keeps its individual sounds which is pink scheme words, then longer phonetic words and words that contain blends which is blue scheme words, finally when the child is introduced to phonograms, he’s given words with phonograms the green scheme words.
As a technique to present words without them being too hard or too easy, were to group words based on their sounds. For an example, grouping words with the sound ‘o’
group 1 : on, hop, pot, ox
group 2 : pond, bond, cold, told
In this classification, it not only arouses child’s interest in getting to know words that are in the same category, and encourages his keen interest in reading difficult words; it also helps him to overcome the various difficulties connected with spelling.
Gradually the child is progress to read words without the presence of its concrete version. He is given wordlists, booklets that contains not only nouns but also verbs, adjectives and more. e.g. big, end, blend, own. When the child is given lot of exposure in oral and auditory exercises such as songs, speech, drama, telling stories the child have the opportunity to develop his vocabulary and by providing plenty of practices in reading which are frequently repeated, the child is able to easily recognise a word as he reads and he could easily tackle the issues that occurs in spelling. But if a child asks for help, it is required by the directress to assist the child willingly. And also it is much helpful to the child to reach a higher standard of achievement by encouraging the child for more challenging exercises.
Finally the comprehension of words proceeds to logical reading of sentences. But first the child needs to be introduced to few rules of sentence reading such as a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a full-stop and he needs to be introduced to articles that require completing a sentence or a phrase such as ‘the’ and ‘a’. These words are introduced as sight words that are taught to the child from a three period lesson which allows him to carry the words in his memory. The words does not pronounce phonetically are introduced in sight words. As child’s skill level of reading increases he is introduced to much longer sight words when approaches the green scheme, such as ‘mother’ and ‘father’
Then the child is provided with single sentences that are associated with pictures which give him the sense of what the sentence describes. The same technique is applied when the child is introduced to reading story books. The picture associated with the sentence act as a control, and by doing so he is trained for logical reading that communicates ideas to his thinking process, which they gradually discover on their own. The materials; sentence cards and story books are introduced at the pink scheme level which helps them to build their logical reading even with the limited words that they know. As the child’s word reading level improves in blue and green schemes more challenging reading is involved in sentence reading and story book reading. In order to succeed in grasping of sentence reading it is required for the child to carry the ability to describe and recognise each word and understand its relationship, thus he should have mastered his concentration, his fixation across the written line and the concept of left to right and top to bottom reading,.
The more the child is given practice in reading the better they are capable of read that leads to opportunity to expand knowledge. Also they’ve the prospect to be active freely for their sensitivity for language, and to satisfy the inner needs through enormous enjoyment of reading.
Furthermore if the child is encouraged to read aloud they have the opportunity to learn proper grammar and pronunciation. Also it enhances their spoken language development and helps them learn to express themselves clearly and concisely. With the exposure given for books, magazines, and the web children have the means to grasp to new words to their vocabulary. Also the child needs to be encouraged to use of the dictionary which not only allows their vocabulary to grow it deepens their level of understanding. In addition as his reading skills develop, encourage the child and challenge him with more difficult reading material.
Learning through graded phonics approach is the foundation of language and reading. By teaching the child how to identify sounds by listening to a word, then breaking it apart sound by sound helps him to map sounds onto spellings therefore enabling him to decode words. Decoding words subsequently aids in the development of word recognition, which progress to reading sentences that in turn making the child boosts his reading fluency and becomes a strong reader. He will also learn to use his senses as tools to achieve understanding, a skill that will help him in areas that expands far beyond his educational process. In addition, phonics instruction in each pink, blue and green scheme improves child’s spelling ability because it emphasizes in spelling patterns that become familiar from reading.
The phonics approach not only quicken the reading ability of a child but also helps the responsible figures to observe and approach the developmental disabilities that a child would posses, such as dyslexia or faults in speech like stammering or hearing and more.
Therefore, graded phonics instruction in the Montessori Classroom plays a key role in helping a child comprehend language effectively and preserve throughout his lifetime.
“If writing serves to correct, or rather, direct and perfect the mechanism of speech in the child, reading assists in the development of ideas and language. In brief, writing helps a child physiologically and reading helps him socially.”
Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XVI, pg 230