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Language Work in The Montessori Primary Years

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

by Ms. Anisa Foy, Educational Advisor of AMCA

At age 2-2.5, the child enters the primary class generally speaking his own language with a reasonable vocabulary. He is also in the middle of a long and sensitive period for language, which makes it easier for him to absorb it. This period extends from birth to age six, and educators today refer to it as a “window of opportunity” to learn any language with ease. As language is absorbed so easily, some schools offer more than one language at this stage through language immersion. The work of the teacher is to surround the child with all areas of the language; not to teach it merely as a subject, but to  acquire it naturally through osmosis.

The first task of the primary teacher is to show the child that there are more words than he already knows. Briefly, this is how it’s done:

Enrichment of Vocabulary, little exercises that give names to everything in the environment. These cover all objects of furnishings in the classroom, playground, home, clothing, and everything the child will come in contact with. This extends to all items of food, fruits and vegetables. This is ongoing work all through the primary years. The more vocabulary the child gets at this level, the better prepared he will be for the elementary years.

Parallel to the enrichment of vocabulary, the child is given Oral Language: poems, stories, and conversations. The child is encouraged to give expression to thoughts, and communicate.

Primary School (1)

Students are encouraged to express themselves through words both oral and written.

The next discovery that goes alongside enrichment of vocabulary and oral language is that language can be made visible by using those 26 characters, The Letters of The Alphabet. This is an awesome discovery and needs to be presented as such; these characters enable one to make thoughts visible. This is writing, it is a discovery that could be quite magical for the child.

Next comes the exercises that let the child hear The Sounds of The Letters, through sound games. The child hears the sound “m” in mother. Then he gets the opportunity to see what “m“ looks like. The child does a lot of this with all the letters, and at the same time is introduced to writing by tracing Sand Paper Letters. These are individual wooden squares on which letters made with sandpaper stand out and are therefore easier to trace with one’s finger.

Primary Montessori School (2)

Sandpaper Letters

Now comes another magical discovery, with the same 26 letters he can find out what another person is thinking. The Phonetic Object Box is introduced to help the process. This exercise consists of a collection of small familiar objects with name labels on cards. You show the objects and the labels, but you do not ask the child to read, you encourage. You line up the objects and encourage the child to label them correctly. Pick up a label and ask, “Do you know which object I’m thinking of?” The child sounds out the letters and he may not realize it, but he has just begun to read spontaneously!

What follows is spontaneous writing with The Moveable Alphabet, a box containing small cut out letters of the alphabet, blue for consonants and red for vowels, boxes of pictures of familiar items or small objects. The child places an object on the rug or table, then sounds out the name of the object and picks out the letters that make each sound, thus spelling the name and labeling the object. The child has begun to spell and write completely effortlessly!

Movable Alphabet

Movable Alphabet

A discovery that has to be a part of the child’s time at the primary level is that words carry out different functions, and that they are grouped together in a certain order. Function and order expresses a thought. This is done through Function of The Word Exercises. This is taught with using little symbols that are placed on words to denote the function of the word. E.g. A large black triangle denotes a naming word (noun), a large red circle denotes an action word, (verb), a smaller blue triangle denotes a describing word (adjective), to name a few. There are different symbols for all parts of speech. The child is learning grammar, again quite effortlessly, and at this stage parts of speech are not named as such.

Function of the word symbols

Symbols for each word function

Finally Simple Reading Analysis, with symbols and arrows show the child the correct order of words in a sentence.

If one stops to think of it, the three-year primary Montessori program is an intense introduction to language, presented without stress. Not “taught” as a subject, but presented as a series of discoveries. The language program should be presented as a means of expression. It thus prepares the child to move on to the elementary years fully prepared. By the time the child is six, we do not have the absorbent mind or the sensitive period for language, so it is of great importance this time is put to full optimum use. 

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