The Montessori Language Avenue

“In the mysterious period which follows immediately after birth, the child-who is a psychic entity endowed with a specially refined form of sensitiveness—might be regarded as an ego asleep. But all of the sudden he wakes up and hear delicious music; all his fibers begin to vibrate. The baby might think that no other sound that had ever reached his ears, but really it was because his soul was not responsive to other sounds. Only human speech had any power to stir him.” Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, chapter 11.

What is the Montessori Language Avenue?

Commonly known as the “Development of Language”, the Montessori language avenue covers a wide scope of activity in child development. It includes basic oral language, vocabulary, the awareness of phonemes, and of course learning all of the letters in the alphabet. As the child masters these basic skills, they learn to use them accomplish more complex language tasks, such as reading words, phrases, sentences, and eventually books. This is the path that leads them to spelling & grammar, and the beginnings of comprehension.

The developmental phases of language

In the early year of baby’s life, human babies all around the world naturally pay attention to the voice of human but ignore any other noises such as animals or sounds of construction. Speaking to the child with gentle voice, helping the child expose to appropriate classified vocabularies and allowing the child to become part of conversation, culture and community are very important for the child’s language development and it will also help her feel connected and pay attention to the language.

Dr. Maria Montessori demonstrates her language development of the child age between 0- 2 ½ year old in The Absorbent mind, page 124, the figure 7:

  • 0-3 months. At 2 months, the baby turns at sound of a voice.
  • 4-6 months. The baby looks intensely at speaking mouth.
  • 6 months. The baby says first syllable and repeats the same syllable over and over.
  • 6-10 months. the baby reaches the stage of absorption of language; formation of babbling.
  • 10 months. the child becomes conscious that language has meaning.
  • 1 year. the child has her first intentional word.
  • 15 months. the child has the ability to understand sense expressed in language.
  • 13-17 months. the child uses baby talk (prevalence of vowels and interjections) and the child uses mimetic words.
  • 18 months. The child uses substantives.
  • 18-21 months. the child uses phrases formed without grammar; “fusive” and single words with diffused meaning.
  • 21-24 months. the child’s sudden words are increased. It is explosive development; hundreds of nouns, prepositions, verbs and adjectives.
  • 24 months. At the age of two, it is “Explosive epoch”; the child uses completion of vocabulary; prefixes, suffixes, conjunctions, verbs, conjugations and adverbs. The child uses grammar; substantives, verbs and other part of speech. (explosion of words) The child uses words to joy the express thoughts. (Expression of phrases)
  • 24-36 months. Around this age, the variety of phrases increases rapidly. She uses coordinated, subordinated phrases with the subjective. The child’s language is now completed. She uses syntax. She uses her thoughts to express about the future.

At around age one and one and a half years old the child realizes that everything has its own name. The child is aware of environment and the world around her. While the child is forming the language, she is also forming her sense of order. The child can be struggle and frustrated with her expression. Sometimes she mixes words together which causes her to become angry or having mental anguish. The teacher and parents must pay attention to the child’s words so that we can help her deliver message smoothly and effectively. Montessori also suggests that parents should let children live in contact with adults and let the children hear the best speech clearly pronounced frequently. In the first two years, the child has learned her mother tongue language.

How language calls to the child

Dr. Montessori states in The Absorbent Mind that “The child first fixes the sound and then the syllables, following a gradual process as logical as the language itself. Words follow and finally we enter the field of grammar—We see how greatly nature’s teaching illuminates our own thought. She is the teacher, and at her best the child learns what to us adults seem the dullest parts of language. Yet the child shows the keenest interest, and this lasts well into the next period of his development, from three to five years of age.”

From babbling to speaking clear words and sentences, the child is forming and developing her conscious thoughts. When it is the right time we will be surprised that all the sudden, the child can deliver speech correctly and clearly. The inner teacher of the child leads the unfolding of characteristic of human nature which the brain requires at that time. It depends on the individual for the right time to learn, not the teacher.

The period before reading

From Age of Montessori’s language chart: The doorway to reading, it demonstrates period before reading.   Teacher should prepare the environment of the period before reading to the child by increasing of vocabulary through wide experiences and exact terminology; introducing words connected with the Sensorial Material, Introducing words connected with classified pictures, telling stories and poems to children, building stories around central theme, playing question game, providing a book corner and acquiring an attitude of love and respect for books, encourage children’s self –confidence in speaking and telling their own experiences.

Preparation for writing

From Age of Montessori’s language chart: The doorway to reading, it demonstrates the preparation for writing. The teacher should prepare the environment for the child to write by indirect preparation of the hand through the sensorial material, allowing the child to use control of pencil and lightness of Touch-Metal insets, directing preparation of the hand in tracing shape of letters, preparing of the mind in exploring the sounds that compose the words, giving a lesson of sand paper letter, using moveable alphabets for expression of thought in symbols.

From Writing as Human Activity’s video, Mary Ellen mentions Dr. Montessori’s thought about how children learn to write in Montessori that the language bases on sound and the sounds represent by letters. As the children learn the sound of letters, the children learn that when we put the sounds together they form words, when we put words together they form sentences. The children are actually decode the language.

Children at age 4 to 5 year old can learn to write easier than the children age 6 years old according to Montessori’s statement, “Written language can be acquired much more easily by children age four years than those at six years of age. That time at which composer education usually starts while children at six years old need at least two years to learn how to write and do so with great difficult and against their nature”

Analysis of the sounds

Since language bases on sound Montessori mentions that it is the reason that we must begin the learning by analyzing the sound of words. Dr. Maria told us that we should not begin the book which has printed words that common school use to teach for the child at beginning of the year in school. Dr. Montessori says “The correct use of the alphabet in learning to write should only give the simple sign of the alphabet itself.” When we work with the child, the child hear the sound of the words, we simply attach those words in the sand paper letter simple process. Then the combination of the written words could be directly from the spoken language which already be in the child’s mind.

Oral and reading comprehension

Before reading comprehension, the child should understand oral comprehension. Oral comprehension is establishing habits of mind. We would like to assist the children learn to find meaning. Oral comprehension is a natural process of aiding the brain to visualize patterns. It helps the mind to know and inform verbal patterns. When we read a story to the child, in Montessori classroom, we tend to tell children a story rather than reading a story. When we tell a story, we share our thoughts and feelings into the story, it helps children feel connect to the story and they can picture the story by using their imagination. Lev Vygotsky, a well-known psychologist believed that children build their own comprehension of life and language through their interaction in the environment. When we tell the children stories, the children have the ability to build their comprehension of stories also.

The goals for oral comprehension

To build habits of the mind in children:

  • Children need to learn the meaning of the topic or story that they listen or read. We can ask the a few simple questions and let them participate and use their imagination and thought so we know that they follow through the story and understand it.
  • Activating prior knowledge by model how stories make children think about experiences in their own lives. Relating the story to the real life experience of children and make prediction. The prediction is a vital step in the unfolding of reasonable thinking for the child. Teacher needs to open her mind and be sensitive to the personal thought of all children.
  • Helping the child to determine the important main topic of the story. It is very important for children to learn to visualize the story, teacher can help by asking questions and letting the child interact with the text; Ask the kids what story is about and find out. 2. Ask question while reading to make sure that they are still following a long and understand the story. 3. Ask question after finish reading to see children’s thought about the book.
  • Eliciting children’s sensory impressions. Teacher should invite the children to express the images in their mind for example, by acting, writing or drawing.
  • Helping the children making meaning.
  • Helping the children to synthesize the story which means ordering, retelling, recreating a whole story that they have read or heard. Synthesizing is very important, it is a life skill of making sense of our environment and boiling it down to manageable pieces. It is a natural skill that we all are involved every day.
  • Helping children to narrate text elements which include the common patterns which relate to the simple questions of what, where, when, who, how and why.

Teaching vocabulary

We begin with a set of classified materials. Classification helps the child’s mind to become organized.

For example, giving a lesson in the vocabulary of tropical fruits.

  • Clear the area and put a rug on the floor.
  • Get rid of distractions. Set a basket of 3-4 tropical fruits.
  • To avoid a sense of failure or ignorance, give the child the information of simple words before asking her to tell us what it is.
  • Introducing one fruit at a time using the three period lesson.

Three-period lesson

The three period lesson is the technique to introducing the child to learn new words. First period we say “This is__”: We hold the object and let the child hold the object. Second period we say “Show me__”: After the child show us the object, mix the items or ask the child to put the object to places or a part of his body. Third period we say “What is this?” It is a chance to work constructively with the child and open up the tremendous of words.

Matching cards

Set out a set of matching pictures and give the child one matching picture at a time. The child has to lay picture out to the similar one. Once the child succeed with matching pictures. We can start to use one set of the cards to teach the words using three-period lesson. Matching cards can be in so many types such as flowers, gems, cars, animals, presidents, parks etc.

Create opportunities to teach new categories of words

We can present new categories of words by bringing new categories into the class for example bringing fun and attractive objects by season of the year or holiday, by cooking, by building things, by bringing the children to the library or field trip to a farm or park.

Foundation of Early Reading

Writing and reading are complicate works that built of several sub skills. Dr. Maria uses the idea of isolation of difficulty to instruct each sub skill separately.

There are some important factors that Montessori program focuses on:

  1. Phonemic awareness. It is the comprehension that spoken words can be broken down into the individual sound part called phonemes. For example, rhyming words, beginning sound isolation, phoneme segmentation and blending. It is very important to reading an alphabetic language. It is the foundation to learn an alphabetic writing system and also a strong predictor of reading achievement in the early year. We can teach the child phonemic in the Montessori classroom by preparing environment and creating activities such as rhyming, beginning sound isolation, syllabication and segmentation.
  2. Alphabetic principle. It is the notion that letters represent speech sounds. The printed letters can turn into speech. It is a code we use to record the thoughts or writing and it is the code we use to inform printed words or reading. When the child understand alphabetical principle, she can systematically and successfully retrieve the pronunciation of a printed string of words or letters. The child has to learn and masters the letter sound correspondences and learn how to use the letter sound correspondences for word reading which in the beginning will involve with decoding a printed words. Children who understand the alphabetic principle as a deep understanding of how it works not as memorizing are gaining the real knowledge. The early childhood is such a sensitive period for developing symbol systems and language is a symbol system, for young children, it is easier than the older one to learn.
  3. Applying Phonemes and the Alphabet in writing and reading. In Montessori, children start learning only most common sound of each letter and most relevantly, just only the short sound of five vowels which we call “short vowel alphabet.” They are “a”, “e”, “i”, “o” and “u”.
  4. Beginning to decode language. The example of decoding a simple word such as cat, it is one syllable, three letter and short vowel.


Children who have a difficulties learning to read are those who are not able to comprehend and perceive the alphabetic code because of deficiency of phonemic awareness which is the most common cause of dyslexia. Dyslexia is an impaired ability to learn to read. Fortunately, based on a research of Sally Shaywitz who runs 30 years of the reading lab at Yale University, there is a way to overcome dyslexia.

In children with dyslexia, the phonemes are less well developed as a result they may have a difficult time selecting the suitable phoneme when they talk and may instead retrieve a phoneme as the same sound (Ex. Trying to say “ocean” but say “lotion” instead, or “pider” instead of “spider”)

From Overcoming Dyslexia, Age of Montessori’s textbook, Shawitz states that “A young child must develop phonemic awareness if he is to become a reader. That is to say, he must understand that spoken words are made up of smaller units of speech sounds, phonemes. It is the very same phonemes to which the letters of that alphabet must attach if the written word is to be brought into the language system. All reader-dyslexic readers included—must take the same steps” While the normal reader use the back portion of the brain, dyslexics use frontal. This pattern in the back of the brain gives a neural signature for the phonologic difficulties characterizing dyslexia. It is a real fact of dyslexics in all language and all ages. The research and the reading lab experiment of Shawitz has shown that the brain can be rewired and the readers who have language difficulty can become skilled readers.

What we must do based on Shaywitz’s advice is helping the child to comprehend and visualize that spoken words can be broken down and are made up on tiny phonemes.  Once the child has the phonemes awareness, understand that spoken words can be pulled apart into distinct sounds, the child is well on her way to solving the spoken language part of the reading code. Then the big step for the child is figuring out how printed letter linked to the sounds. When the child breaks the reading code. The child has mastered the alphabetic principle and is ready to read.

How Montessori schools help language development

Maria Montessori believes that writing develops before reading in most children. Concurrent to the child’s explorations with sounds, she is also using metal insets and preparing the hand to write in the classroom, the teacher should start the process of helping children learn to read by engaging them with sounds of language.

The goal of the first stage of reading is drawing attention of the child toward sounds of language and finally the child develop her phonemic awareness. It requires 15 minutes a day of teaching and the children benefit from the instruction as early preschool and also kindergarten. Working on words is the initial work of reading and forms the central focus of reading programs for a young child. Once the child has comprehend the segmental nature of spoken words and get familiar with each sounds. The child is then ready for letters. Encouraging the children and parents to emphasis on writing lowercase letter because they are common.

In the Montessori classroom, there are facets of language that include: Oral communication, vocabulary, preparation of the hand to write with the metal insets, learning sounds with phonemic awareness materials, alphabetic principle and letter mastery with the sand paper letters, word building with the movable alphabets, word reading and writing, sentences, word study—usage and grammar functions. The Montessori Method of instructing reading integrated all of the important basics of instruction outline. Montessori programs are based on a general order that comprises of sound, letters, words and sentences. The prepared environment in Language Avenue such as materials and games is the opportunities that aids the child to become successful in learning to read.