Language in the Primary Classroom

by Lydia Mirocha

Before a child enters the primary classroom they have already begun the process of learning the language around them. From 0-6yrs. Children have an intrinsic sensitivity that draws them to learning the language they hear around them. In the Montessori primary environment we provide many activities on the spoken and written level to enrich each child’s language experience during this critical time in their acquisition of their language.

In the primary classroom there are two guiding principles we use when organizing and preparing our language materials:

  1. Experience precedes language
  2. Spoken language is the foundation for written language

With these principles in mind, we provide activities for Spoken Language, Writing and Reading. The Spoken Language activities are how we provide the foundation for written language. In theory, everything we provide in the classroom is part of the spoken language curriculum. Not only does each material have a specific name but we also focus on the language of relationships between materials. For example, once a child has had an opportunity to construct and explore with the red rods they have begun to develop an abstract idea of length and relationships between different lengths. We then attach the language to this experience so that children may easily access the abstraction they are developing in their mind of length, “find the longest red rod”, “find the shortest”, etc. By attaching the language to the activity, children are then able to organize and utilize the abstractions they are beginning to create through their concrete experiences with the work on the shelves.

Our Spoken Language activities don’t just include naming objects and relationships between objects but also focus on vocabulary, word categories, grace and courtesy lessons and true stories. Our classrooms are equipped with a wide array of vocabulary cards that touch on many different categories. As a child begin the process of reading we then can present the same vocabulary cards but also including labels for them to decode. This decoding process is made easier by the fact that the child is familiar with the words and understands their meaning.

Typically children develop the ability to compose words before they are able to read them. Providing children with a rich experience of vocabulary words prepares them for composing their own written work. The guide in each classroom has two goals when starting the writing curriculum in the primary class. First they want to make sure the hand is prepared for writing. We provide many activities that strengthen the hand and the muscles that will be used for an appropriate pencil grip. We also must make sure the mind is prepared by filling the child’s experience in the classroom with lots of spoken language games, knowledge of the phonetic sounds of the alphabet and games that bring awareness to the component sounds in a word.

Children tend to be cognitively ready to compose words before their hands are ready to write. That is why we introduce work with the moveable alphabet before we often introduce writing with paper. When children can hear the component sounds that make up words and can recognize the letters that make those sounds they are ready to build words! When they have the appropriate hand strength and coordination than they can begin recording (writing) their work as well.

The writing process typically comes before the reading process for most children. Once a child is able to successfully build words, including most of the component sounds, then we begin to introduce Reading activities. We always start by having children sound out labels that match familiar, phonetic, 3-letter objects. Sometimes it takes a lot of practice just to learn how to blend sounds to form a word. Children often do not even know that they are reading when they begin these first reading activities. As their skill grows we offer more opportunities to read, using a variety of materials. Concurrently we are also presenting other tools to help them unlock the world of reading, including phonograms (blended sounds such as “sh” and “or”) as well as puzzle/sight words.

Once a child has a certain level of comfort and fluidity with their reading we begin presenting activities that help them understand word meaning. Many of the games we played at a spoken level now became material for reading. For example, exploring rhyming words, conjunctions, opposites, etc. We also begin the progression of materials that help children understand the functions of an article, adjective, noun, conjunction, preposition, verb and adverb.

After a full 3 or 4-year cycle in a Montessori environment, most children leave the primary classroom proficiently reading. The Montessori primary language curriculum is designed to meet the intrinsic desire that primary age children have to acquire and master their language. These activities help them construct a strong foundation and love for reading and writing that they will carry with them through the rest of their lives.

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