Between a few months of age and 6 years old, children experience what Maria Montessori called the sensitive period of language. That is to say, they are particularly permeable during this period, to anything related to language, this is what Maria Montessori called « the absorbent mind » of a child. This is the period where he learns to speak spontaneously. This extreme sensitivity to words allows him to learn one, two or even three different languages simultaneously as their first language.
After learning to speak and up to about 6 years old, the child is fascinated by everything related to language and he is passionate about the words he hears and sees. It is also during this period that we must submit as much vocabulary as possible, in every way possible. The child loves big words and he remembers them with unusual ease. It is therefore essential to teach him the right word for everything and to increase opportunities to introduce new vocabulary, in various field geography, science, art history, etc…
You will be impressed by the ability to develop the child’s assimilation of all these words and you’ll be surprised by his fascination for words very complicated that he can easily assimilate into several different languages.
It’s at this time that he will be very interested in all the characters (letters) he sees around him and they will seem to mean something to him. If you also took the time to read him many books, he will soon realize that it is all these little signs that allow you to tell him these wonderful stories.
At the Lycée International Montessori, we focus every morning during a group lesson on the sounds, which composed the words of the day of the week, of the month, etc…, I also set up games with children’s names.
These letters, the child sees them everywhere. Our role as educators or parents is to allow him to feel the best he can in the world he lives in. It is therefore essential to enable him as soon as possible to decipher and understand everything that is around him in his life.
This goes from what is written on the cereal box he sees every morning on the breakfast table, to the understanding of what is written on the posters, signs, billboards in the streets all around him, or the newspaper that his parents read every morning and by stories that are read to him which he loves, but his parents do not always have the time to read them to him.
Once he has acquired self-consciousness and up to about 6 years old, the child also goes through the sensitive period of autonomy. The proof is that he always asks to do things « on his own. » How is it possible to be independent when you always need your parents to read everything for you? Teaching him to read is essential at that age.
By beginning reading games, around 2 years old, the child has all the time required to learn with pleasure, when his power of concentration on this task is the greatest. After 6 years old it is too late, the sensitive period that made learning to read an exciting game is over and will never return.
The child who has discovered early, spoken and written words will not be subjected to any pressure of the curriculum that says that a child must learn to read and write during kindergarten classes and must be able to read and write at the end of this school year. Under these circumstances learning is no longer a pleasure but a constraint during a short year where so many things need to be learned! The stress and the difficulties encountered by the child, after the sensitive period can lead to learning difficulties, anomalies and even failure.
As parents, you can implement a variety of activities with your child to respond to this thirst for learning. The key is that your child understands that a word is composed of sounds and a sound represents a letter.
Therefore, you can do many games with sounds until your child hears them well in every word. It is also important to note that learning to read is at the beginning very sensory because the child has to hear sounds. Once again it is between 0 and 6 years old that the sensory development of the child is at its maximum. It is therefore essential to find all the possible training to make your child even more efficient.
Some ideas for some games with sounds:
What do you hear at the beginning of « Alexis »? You hear « A ».
What do you hear at the beginning of « Mom »? You hear « mmm. »
What do you hear at the beginning of « bike »? You hear « B » … It starts with simple sounds like « mmmm » « oooo » « aaaaa » « dddd » as « Dad » and not by complicated sounds as « tr », « pr » « pl », … etc.
You can repeat the questions until he finds on his own the sound that begins the word.
Then you can do other games that entertain a lot, children, « show me all the objects in the room whose name begins with the sound » a « , » seek a toy in your room that starts with « o », etc….
Once the child has understood the sound that begins a word, you can ask about the sound that ends the word.
When you have checked that the child hears well, sounds in words, you can go on to learn letters (an article on learning letters will be written soon).
The advantage of doing these exercises early, may also allow detection of hearing problems, dyslexia, etc. … The more early a problem is revealed and treated, the more likely it can be resolved. Often it is when the child is at the end of kindergarten and he cannot read or he has great difficulties that teachers begin to ask questions. Then parents are asked to make different exams. What a shame to have waited so long! What a pity to put a child in failure! This 6-year-old child now realizes that he is not like other children. They move through pages of the book while he is unable to do it. He feels very bad. This triggers a malaise, loss of self-confidence, sadness, a sense of injustice that could have been avoided by starting the learning process much earlier and individually (at their own pace).
To teach to learn letters, I was often in conflict with what is done in the National Education because I have always advocated learning script letters, not cursive. Why? Because everything around us is written on billboards, in newspapers, in books, on restaurant menus, etc … in script letters and may I remind you that the purpose is to allow the child to read everything that surrounds him. What is written in cursive letters today? Even computers that children use earlier than ever are using script letters.
In addition, in the Montessori method, children learn to compose words and thus writing before reading. But the very young child (about 3 years old) has not always fine motor skills (manual dexterity); sufficiently developed to draw thick and thin strokes. He is once again in a situation of failure; so if it is too difficult, give up.
While tracing letters in form of a stick, is much simpler. Tracing an « I » is so simple, or a « b » or an « m » while doing all the loops of a « b » or an « m » in cursive is often very difficult for a young child.
France is one of the few countries that still ask his students to write in cursive. In all Anglophone countries in particular, students write in script letters. In my school, since children learn to read in English and French at the same time, it was essential to have consistency in the type of letters taught.
Of course, to respect the French culture, when we felt that the child was ready and eager to learn cursive, we presented him the pretty writing books so that he can draw beautiful letters. He could then choose between the two writings which one he liked the most.
The child will learn letters that correspond to sounds, will form words that he will then read. Learning speed is very different from one child to another, and it should never be forgotten that all this learning must remain a game, fun and the worst thing to do is to put pressure on children. We must trust him, always finding entertaining ways to help them learn. I will soon give you future games with sounds to make at home and I will also give you attractive ways to teach him his letters.
After 20 years of experience as a headmistress in daily contact with children, I can assure you that this is the best method to make children learn how to read, in the fastest way and with delight. And it makes their parents very proud of them, which is essential to the self-confidence of the child. My five children were all able to read between 3 and 4 years old. Since then they read with great pleasure. This learning has always happened with joy and without any constraint.
For me it is a serious mistake to wait until the child is 6 years old to start learning to read.
One more thing is very important: never accept the teaching of reading with the whole language! This method consists in learning by heart whole words. It was declared mandatory. In 2005, Gilles de Robien (Minister of National Education) had asked that it be abandoned permanently because it was proven disastrous for all children (in 2002 17.5% of children are illiterate 6th). Children could not read the words they had not memorized and had disastrous results in spelling.
The Ministry did abandon the whole language but some schools continue to practice it. A survey conducted by FIFG-SOS Education published September 11, 2006 reported that 93% of kindergarten teachers continued to use it.
In Montessori schools, it was never a question, we have always used synthetic phonics at an early age for the greatest success of all our students.
In conclusion, keep in mind that reading and writing are the « primitive arts » of Man used as a unique and very precious component within all creation. The five senses are put to use, first of all, sight and hearing which are frontline, the touch then, of the writing tool and the writing medium- in Montessori, while a young child touches the sandpaper letters it allows him to learn to read and write in several languages at an incredible speed – then the smell of books and paper, and ink or chalk and even their taste at the end of their fingers. All sensory and emotional environments offered to the child at an early age, will develop his abilities and his phenomenal power to use gradually these acquisitions in favour of concept and intellectual abstraction.
Without writing and without reading, the path of creation, the one that goes from concrete to abstract, from the hand to the mind, is interrupted; in their late learning, it is significantly slowed and will remain clumsy and incomplete.
So the question remains: Why wait until the sensitive period of the language and the “absorbent mind” is over, to teach our children the tools of knowledge and creation.