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How does Montessori teach reading?

Montessori education was developed by Maria Montessori in the year 1897 as a mode of learning.

The strong points of Montessori approach are on each child’s independence within reasonable limits during the process of learning. Learning is achieved  through the natural process of discovery within an environment favors the child's curiosity and needs.

The journey to acquiring literacy is a complicated process that involves association of symbols to sounds, sounds to words and words to ideas.

The initial steps to reading are a difficult task that adults take for granted because of early mastery. It needs active participants and a lot of concentration that may seem difficult from a child's point of view.

The Montessori reading curriculum relies on a phonics foundation which has three key components; a strong foundation in phonics, comprehension based on visualizing, and learning to read for meaning and using contextual clues.

The Phonics Approach

The Montessori curriculum tackles a child's reading based on a strong foundation of phonics. Phonics is a method of teaching children to read through recognizing the sounds that each individual letter makes.

After the sounds of the letters are identified they are then combined to make up the words being read. This is referred to as blending, the combining of sounds that letters make to create words. 

This is a unique approach in that the child gets to build the words (encoding) through sound identification before they actually read them (decoding).

Children get to learn to read through decoding new words rather than memorization of words.

They learn to fluidly encode foreign words by breaking them into individual letter sounds.

Phonics approach reading process

Montessori education focuses on the developmentally appropriate learning process. The phonics approach follows an organic path that complements the child's age and developmental stage.

Children as young as 4 years old are considered ready to tackle reading in a Montessori classroom.


Phase 1

Writing and sound formation

Children in a Montessori classroom are taught to write first, before they learn to read.

The Montessori curriculum uses distinct sets of practices that provide a positive, natural learning experience for children to acquire reading and writing skills. The child's gross and fine motor skills need to be developed to complement the child's literacy.

According to the Montessori approach, children first learn to write “phonetically” by being presented with letters to mimic their patterns. This helps the child connect sounds to letters.

In the Montessori classroom, a child is presented with colourful sandpaper with letters on them from the Montessori alphabet. They are then encouraged to follow the pattern of the letters with their fingers and eventually try to write them.

Continuous practice of writing these letters develops their fine motor skills and they eventually write correctly.

The aim of this phase is to enable the child to express the letters in writing and be able to connect sound to respective letters, not necessarily right spelling. Montessori curriculum is built around making the learning process enjoyable for the children by creating a stimulating and fun environment.

At this particular phase the teacher provides the children with colourful writing paper and pens and different modes of creating patterns.

Montessori phonics writing can include tracing the letters in various materials such as sandpaper and eventually leading to being taught the use and control of pencil on paper.


Phase 2

Creating words

At this phase the children are able to recognize the Montessori alphabets and connect letters to sounds.

They are still using sandpaper letters and are exposed to developmentally appropriate activities that help them connect the letters to form words.

The learning aids and reading materials for reading are divided into age appropriate sections to help the children and teachers navigate the reading process easier.

Developmentally appropriate activities allow children to build their own understanding of how sounds are represented by symbols, and these symbols are joined together to form words.

Montessori phonics and reading materials and learning aids are divided into age and developmentally appropriate activities and learning objectives.

These focus on children understanding how the sounds represent symbols and how these symbols combine to create words.

Once the children have learned the phonic sounds associated with each letter, they are introduced to the movable alphabet and the process of word building.

This allows the child to gain the ability of putting letters together and sounding them out to spell simple words.

The fact that children are in constant need to move and learn through doing further enforces the learning process of reading.

The word building process starts with simple two or three phonic letter words, with precedence going to words that the all letters involved make pronounced sounds (dog, bat, pig, cat etc.).

Child independence is enforced by giving them phonetic objects that represent words to be built. This also increases the chance of mastery of the words through constant self-directed practice.

After being able to master two and three letter word building, they begin working on building four or more letter phonetic words.

They also get to match reading cards with the objects and progress later to pictures. Soon they are introduced to phonograms which are sounds produced when combining two letters like 'sh' and ‘ph’, long vowel sounds and any other unique sounds in pronunciation.

The work of the teacher is just introduction of these sounds as the student is left to independently work on them.


Phase 3


At this phase the child is able to form and build two to four letter words and matching reading cards with objects.

Now the teacher introduces short sentences and phrases with the help of reading materials that combine visualization and clues that prompt the child.

The child will later progress to more complex words and sentences with the simple foundation that was created by the phonic approach.

The Montessori approach to reading relies on visualization and the sensory stimulation that is provides in the child's environment and from Montessori sensorial materials.

The use of manipulative activities and participation of the child in their process of learning create a better understanding of the functions of words.

Related Article: What are Montessori sandpaper letters? What is the purpose of sandpaper?

 how does montessori teach reading


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