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Happy birthday, Z! My little toddler turned 3 on Sunday. Our journey through toddlerhood was filled with ups and downs, trying to figure things out as we go. It wasn’t easy keeping up with him because toddlers change and develop so quickly.
We have had a lot of successes however, one of them being Montessori reading. And while we were rebels and went against the flow when it came to following the album sequence, we did one thing right: FOLLOWING THE CHILD.
Here’s what Z can do by the age of 3:
- Recognize all 26 letter sounds (phonetically)
- Trace all 26 letters correctly about 90% of the time (using Montessori sandpaper letters)
- Recognize about 13 phonograms correctly about 90% of the time
- Recognize the first phonetic sound in a word using verbal cues only (Montessori sound games)
- We are about 80% there in terms recognizing the ending phonetic sound in a word using objects or verbal cues only (Montessori sound games)
- We are starting to read 2-sound words (such as in, of, ish, onk)
Please know that this is not me bragging. I want to share our rebellious journey with you because I learned a valuable lesson regarding the Montessori method, and I’m hoping it might help you in case you are on the same journey.
As you read this, you will realize that I broke and bended a lot of “Montessori rules.” In the beginning, it was due to ignorance. But now I see that there’s wisdom to not following Montessori album sequences — I use the albums as a loose guide, while following 2 of Montessori’s principles very religiously: OBSERVATION and FOLLOWING THE CHILD.
But be forewarned: This is the chronicles of Z’s language journey from 1.5 years old, so it is going to be a lengthy article. Next week, I will elaborate more on some of the Montessori reading exercises that I talk about here.
Our Montessori reading journey
Between 1.5 to 2 years old
We started learning our letters around this time. In the beginning, I introduced letters to him one at a time using a very boring version of the Montessori 3-period lesson. Needless to say, it didn’t work — a toddler is not designed to listen to your university-style lecture on alphabets.
I didn’t really understand at the time that the Montessori 3-period lesson doesn’t have to be boring. The principles of naming, recognition, and recall can be used in a fun way. So I printed, laminated, and pasted 3 letters at a time in places we hang out most. There would be 3 letters in the kitchen and 3 of the same letters in his bedroom.
Every chance we got, I would point and name the letter for Z (naming = 1st period). Sometimes he would point to them as he excitedly comes into the room, and I would name them. It slowly morphed into a game where I hung the letters far apart and he had to run to point to the letter I named (recognition = 2nd period). As he became more successful, I would play games where I ran to the letter and asked him to tell me its phonetic sound (recall = 3rd period).
We played several ad-hoc versions of the game to keep things interesting, but always using the Montessori 3-period lesson — naming, recognition, and recall.
We played it in the car, at church, in restaurants, in the sand pit at the playground, etc. It didn’t have to be confined to using just the sandpaper letters or the ones that I had laminated, writing them on the spot (on napkins, in the sand, wherever) works just as well if not better!
When he was successful, I would introduce new letters — I try to keep only three at a time. If he had already learned one of the letters, but not the other two, I would remove the mastered letter and introduce a new one right next to the other two.
Once he got a fair bit of letters under his belt, we did revision on an ad-hoc basis — just by whipping out those letter cards or by writing them on a piece of paper.
Between 2 to 2.5 years old
At some point between 2 and 2.5 years old, we stumbled upon the Leapfrog Letter Factory video. Despite having vowel and consonant colors that were reverse from Montessori colors, and despite using only uppercase letters, Z still managed to pick up the concept of letter sounds.
We watched it shamelessly and it was from that video that he picked up uppercase letter recognition (and more reinforcement on phonetic sounds).
Also at some point, I started letting him trace sandpaper letters. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to start until he has mastered all his sound games. But I started my KHT course when he was 18 months old, ordered a bunch of materials at 20 months old, and in my overzealousness I started letting him use whatever he was interested in using.
The sandpaper letters was a success because he was interested in language and letters. (He wanted to have nothing to do with the sensorial materials.) We traced like crazy, day and night, pretty much whenever he wanted to. At one time, he even traced until his two little fingers were red and thinned from all the tracing! (We took a one-week break from all sandpaper work after that.)
Here we are matching letters. Notice that the smaller stretchy alphabets I purchased have opposite colors than the sandpaper letters — this is not a good idea, but I’ll leave that topic for another post.
Between 2.5 to 3 years old
After learning all his letter sounds and tracing the letters, I was pretty much lost and didn’t know where to go from there. I had not expected his language learning to explode and develop so quickly and I was sort of waiting for him to get older to introduce more concepts.
Luckily, Z was still in his interest zone for language. And because our Montessori sound games started more as a knee-jerk and panic reaction to the article I read, I didn’t have any time to curate any miniature objects, so we dived right into identifying the beginning sounds of words using only verbal cues. It took only about 1 month of intense playing for him to get the concept. We played in the car, at home, over dinner … you get the idea.
Just a couple of months ago, I also started introducing phonograms to him. The double sandpaper letters only give you the key phonogram sounds, and it is expected that the child will later learn that other double letters make the same sounds too (e.g. ‘oi’ and ‘oy’).
I decided not to purchase double sandpaper letters for him because he already knows how to trace all the letters. Instead, I printed out cards with green double letters — they are being used for the 3-period lessons, playing games, and as reference for when he builds phonograms with the movable alphabet.
He can recognize accurately these phonograms — sh, ch, ng, nk. The others are about 80% accuracy — oa, oe, ay, ai, ee, ea, igh, ie, qu.
Some phonograms seem to make a lasting impression on him — he finds ‘nk’ totally funny. And he is also amused with ‘igh’ because there are 3 letters in that phonogram.
At 3 years old (now)
About a month ago, with the advice of a Montessori teacher on a Facebook group, I decided that it’s time to introduce him to the Montessori movable alphabet. This material is used to help children spell and write words phonetically even before they can write it with a pencil (hand/finger muscles not developed yet.) So technically, the movable alphabet is a writing tool and not a reading tool.
However, just as soon as I purchased and introduced him to the movable alphabet, his interest for language seemed to have decreased substantially, and replaced with a passion for numbers. (Check out my post called “Moving On To Math.”)
Our language work continues, no doubt. But what I’ve observed is that when the interest and passion dies down, the learning is not as fluid anymore. Our lessons and language practice feel more coerced, and I find myself spicing things up so he will remain interested. He doesn’t automatically reach for anything letter or language related anymore — now all he sees are numbers and all he wants to do is math-related work. (Which is why in my highly popular post and video “Montessori Sand Tray“, he is tracing and writing numbers instead of letters.)
I’m also putting all Montessori conventions aside and teaching him how to read two-sound words. In my observations, he’s starting to want to read. And out of all of our current language work, reading two-sound words phonetically seem to be his favorite. So I’m sticking with it.
Updated: I just found this article by Deb of Living Montessori Now who expresses basically the same sentiments as me. Her son Will learned all of the phonetic sounds by age 1.5!
That’s it for now! I do apologize for being so long-winded, and I usually edit my posts to make it easier, but I figured if anybody is truly looking for help or truly want to know how we did it, more details will help.
Don’t hesitate to give me any thoughts, questions or feedback, I’d love to hear from you! You can leave them in the comments below, or connect with me on my Facebook page.