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Z and I started playing Montessori Sound Games pretty late. I never fully grasped the importance of not delaying the Montessori sound games, and I also assumed that it was too difficult a concept for a toddler to handle.
Obviously I was wrong.
If you observe your toddler or preschooler and he’s raring to go in the language section — if he loves alphabets, and their sounds, and is pointing and shouting letters on store signs while you’re on the road, or pointing out letters on your clothes like Z did — chances are very high that he is ready to play Montessori sound games and he will soak it up faster than a diaper.
(For a detailed overview of our Montessori reading journey through toddlerhood, click here.)
Before we move on, I’d like to point out that we did not follow any album sequence. I used albums to help me understand what I should do and how, where each lesson falls in the grand scale of things, what the objectives of the lessons are, and used them as rough guides for when I observe my child is ready. What I do follow is my child, and you should do the same with yours! What I’m aiming to do here is to share my experience with you, and offer some tips that I’ve learned along the way, to hopefully help and inspire you to blaze your own trail with your child(ren).
When we started playing the Montessori Sound Games
Z was about 1.5 years old when we started our language lessons. We started by learning all the letters and their sounds. We stuck three laminated letters at a time at the places we hang out most (the kitchen and his bedroom) and very informally did the 3-period lesson (naming, recognition, recall.)
The objective is for Z to realize that each letter/symbol has a sound. He does not need to know the names of the letters (as in ‘ay’, ‘bee’, ‘see’), he just needs to know the phonetic sounds (as in ‘ah’, ‘buh’, ‘cuh’).
It is similar to how we show a child a picture/miniature of an elephant, and tell him “This is an elephant” — the child comes to associate the miniature elephant with the word “elephant”. So we show the child a “picture” of the letter ‘a’, and only tell him “This is ‘ah'” — the child comes to associate the symbol/letter ‘a’ with the sound ‘ah’.
We did a lot of work on letter sounds and recognition, so Z actually mastered all the letter sounds before we moved on to the Montessori sound games. At that time, I wasn’t aware of the importance of not delaying the sound games, so it was almost a full year later when we started the Montessori sound games (when he was about 2.5 years old.)
Why is the Montessori Sound Game important?
The Montessori sound games essentially help the child come to the awareness that a word is made up of different sounds pieced together. In the beginning, Z has learned all the letter sounds. Next, I help him to understand that the word ‘cat’ is made up of 3 of the sounds he has already learned — ‘cuh’+’ah’+’tuh’. The sound games are played to help him identify aurally what those sounds are because later on this will lead directly into writing. A child who knows which sounds are in a word will be able to spell it out phonetically. (Reading comes naturally with that as well.)
These pictures below are work-in-progress with the Montessori movable alphabet because although Z has mastered the beginning sounds, we are still working on ending sounds. In the first picture below, he has identified that the word ‘cup’ begins with the sound ‘cuh’, and there are 2 sounds for ‘cuh’ (the letter ‘c’ and ‘k’ both make the same sound.) At this age, he doesn’t bother which ‘cuh’ is right, so he reaches for a ‘k’ and places it in the beginning.
In this second picture below, you can see that he has identified the ending sound of ‘fish’ as ‘ch’. This is because mommy sometimes doesn’t articulate very clearly, but it still shows he is starting to get a grasp of his ending sounds.
The last step will be to identify middle sounds. (I’m dreading this.) But once he can identify the middle sound, he will then be able to easily spell out 3-sound words such as ‘c-a-t’ or ‘f-i-sh’ or ‘h-o-nk’ or ‘p-ea-ch’. (Or more-sound words!)
How to play the Montessori Sound Games
OK, I have a confession to make. As I’m doing research for this post, I just realized that we’ve been playing our Montessori sound games in a different way than most albums say to!
Here’s (a general gist of) how most albums say to play the sound games:
- Put out a few objects (for example, some miniature animals)
- Adult: “Can you show me which animal begins with the sound ‘zzz’?”
- Child: Hands over the zebra or says “Zebra!”
- (Notice that the adult says the letter sound)
Here’s how we’ve been playing it (see the video):
- Me: “What sound does zebra start with?”
- Z: “zzz-zzz-zebra!”
- (Notice that the child says the letter sound)
(Don’t even ask me how I overlooked this detail. It’s basically a poor understanding of how to play “I Spy” games because we never played it in my culture and childhood, combined with my understanding that this would lead to writing so I assumed he should be the one sounding out the sound.)
Anyway, based on my conversations on this Facebook group, I found out that I’m not the only one who plays it this way, and apparently it’s the more difficult way for the child (so if your child is struggling with the Montessori sound games, and you realize you’re playing it the way we play it, you might want to try the “prescribed” way to see if it helps. Here’s a helpful video, and here’s a written lesson.)
Also, in the beginning, I dragged out the beginning sound to draw attention to it — “zzzzzzebra”. It took about a month of giving him lots of examples, and trials, but he finally mastered it. If you watch the video, you’ll notice at the end that he thought I was saying “Vacebook”, but then corrected it when I articulated more clearly.
Our tips on playing the Montessori Sound Games
- Don’t delay it. Especially if your child is ready.
- Don’t fear it. If I am being honest with myself, part of the reason why we waited so long is also because I dreaded the task. I thought it would require loads of “formal, stretched-out work time” when really all we did to make it successful was to constantly play fun games, sometimes as short as 5-10 second chunks! It turned out to be an easier lesson than I expected because Z was ready for it.
- Don’t assume you’ll need lots of miniature objects or Montessori materials before you can get started. As I said in point #2, I dreaded the task. And because we played in short 5-10 second chunks, there was no time to take out a work rug or select a tray. We used everyday life objects (like the refrigerator, a plate, the clock) and fingers to point at them. Cheap and cheerful!
- Follow the child. Based on your observation, you will know when your child is ready to move on to bigger language challenges. You will also know if your child needs to learn in a different way than my child learns. Using everyday life objects in 5-10 second chunk lessons worked for us, and it’s great if it works for you too! But otherwise, follow the child and adjust the lesson to find a way that suits both you and your child.
- Don’t think it’s too late to start. It’s as I said — we started with letters and their sounds, and we even moved onto Montessori sandpaper letters before I recognized the importance of the Montessori sound games! But late is better than never, because eventually the child will still manage to put together all the pieces of the puzzle.
- Don’t wait till your child has mastered the beginning sounds before moving on to the ending sounds. Z mastered his beginning sounds (and even took a short break) before we even started the ending sounds. Once again, it was because I dreaded the task (do you sense a pattern here?) As a result, he’s a little bit stuck and it’s taking longer for the concept of ending sounds to sink in. (He keeps wanting to give me the beginning sounds instead.)
I sincerely apologize for another long-winded post, but I truly hope it helps those of you on this fantastic journey with your child(ren)! Bottom line is — trust your instincts, follow your child, and trust your child to handle the job.