Montessori Language: Speaking, Writing, and Reading, from Birth to Age 12+
Excerpts from the 0-3 book “The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three Years,” and the 3-12+ book Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for 3-12+.
LANGUAGE FROM 0-3
The First Year: the Senses
We can feed the child’s intense interest in language and prepare for later spoken language, by speaking clearly, by not raising our voice to the unnatural pitch often reserved for speaking to pets, and not oversimplifying language in the presence of the child. We can tell funny and interesting stories of our lives, recite favorite poems, talk about what we are doing, “Now I am washing your feet, rubbing each toe to get it really clean” and enjoy ourselves in this important communication. And we can listen: to music, to silence, and to each other.
An adult can engage in a conversation with even the youngest child in the following way: when the child makes a sound, imitate it—the pitch and the length of the sound: baby “maaaa ga” adult “maaaa ga,” etc. One often gets an amazing response from the child the first time this happens, as if he is saying, “At last, someone understands and speaks my language!” After several of these exchanges many children will purposefully begin to make sounds for you to imitate, and eventually will try to imitate the adult’s sound. This is a very exciting first communication for both parties. It is not baby talk; it is real communication.
CLICK: Montessori Language
LANGUAGE FROM 3-6
It was very hard for me to learn how to read. It did not seem logical for the letter “m” to be called “em,” and yet with some vowel following it you did not say “ema” but “ma.” It was impossible for me to read that way. At last, last, when I went to the Montessori school, the teacher did not teach me the names of the consonants but their sounds. In this way I could read the first book I found in a dusty chest in the storeroom of the house. It was tattered and incomplete, but it involved me in so intense a way that Sara’s fiancé had a terrifying premonition as he walked by: “Damn! This kid’s going to be a writer.”
—Gabriel Gárcia Márquez, Nobel Prize for literature
The main influence on the development of a child’s spoken and written language is the family. If the adult speaks clearly and precisely to the child, and in a normal tone of voice that one would use with a peer, the child will do the same. If the child is exposed to more than one language in the home or school it is very important that he be able to associate one language with one person, and the second language with a different person. So, for example, the first adult should speak only English to the child, and the second adult should speak only Spanish to him. This will help the child sort out the difference and become fluent in both.
Reading aloud to a child gives the message that reading is fun, introduces vocabulary that would not usually come up in spoken language, and demonstrates beauty and variety of expression. Reading and writing are not “taught,” in the traditional way one thinks of in learning literacy, to a child before age six or seven. Rather, the environment is prepared with sensorial experiences that will enable the child to teach himself. This was one of the most amazing discoveries of Dr. Montessori in that very first school. Here is a quote from Dr. Montessori about her experience in the first casa dei bambini, “house of children,” in Rome in the beginning of the 20th century:
Ours was a house for children, rather than a real school. We had prepared a place for children where a diffused culture could be assimilated from the environment, without any need for direct instruction…. Yet these children learned to read and write before they were five, and no one had given them any lessons. At that time it seemed miraculous that children of four and a half should be able to write, and that they should have learned without the feeling of having been taught.
CLICK: Montessori Language
LANGUAGE FROM 6-12
As the child is learning about the history of humans on earth, about the history of civilizations, in the geography and history areas, it is quite natural that this interest flows into the study of languages. Through stories, pictures and beautiful carefully chosen books, we enable the child to begin to understand:
1) The path traced by language, the growth, and development of language—through, colonization, commerce, and war.
2) How humans have given a name to everything found or made and how this process continues
3) How language constantly changes and why
4) How language expresses the creative force of humanity
At this age children in many ways are repeating the history of humans on earth. They want to cook, sew, garden, and begin to learn all of the skills of adults. Children and adults alike find it fascinating to trace the development of the language, to realize that in the past only a few people, sometimes only priests, knew how to read and write. They find the connection between the migrations and other contacts between groups of people and the many different languages on earth. And they are amazed the even today there are millions of children all over the world who cannot read and write and because of this are severely limited in what choices they will have in their lives. This makes children appreciate their own good fortune in being able to learn.
TELLING STORIES AND PROVIDING RECORDED BOOKS
Children listening to recorded books might be better than spending time on screens but there are drawback. When an adult is telling a story, true or not, the child can ask questions and interact. When a child is reading a book he or she an stop and think about what was just read or ask someone what the meaning of as unknown word is, this this is the active use of language and books. Both are extremely valuable
But when a child is listening to a book this is passive. There is no conversation with another human, no way to ask about the meaning of a word or an idea, and one cannot pause and process and think and create.
Learning to gather and order one’s thoughts, tell and write stories, and to read, is far more successful when the language model is an in-person adult, not a recording.
FIRST MONTESSORI BOOKS
To see the complete chapters, refer to the books:
The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three: CLICK: Joyful Child
Child of the Word, Global Education for 3-12+: CLICK: Child of the World
OTHER BOOKS IN THIS SERIES
CLICK: First Montessori Books
All the Best in our joint venture of learning about human development,