The following is the text from this section of the 2009-2010 edition of The Joyful Child, Montessori from Birth to Three
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AGE 1-3 LANGUAGE
Listening - the Child
Long before the child expresses herself clearly in language she has
been listening and absorbing everything she hears. Often we are not even
aware that the child is doing this but once she begins to speak it becomes
very clear. Three times in my life, with each of my three children, I
have purposefully polished my languageas they repeated everything
We can talk to the child from birth on, not in baby talk, but with respect
and with a precise vocabulary. If we want to help our children be well-spoken
we must model this long before we might have previously thought necessary.
A Second Language
The acquisition of all languages spoken in the environment of the child
begins in the womb before the child is born, and continues to be an important
part of the child's experience in the first months and years. At this
age children show an uncanny ability to absorb language in all its complexities,
and not just one language!
Here is some advice which supports the learning of more than one language
at a time:
The language must be used in the childs environment in the first
years of her life, in the sense that one or more persons should speak
the extra language to the child and in her presence.
If we could have two, three, four or five different persons speaking different
languages around the child, she could easily absorb all of them without
any particular effort, provided that each person speaks to her ALWAYS
AND ONLY in their language. But this is possible only in the first years
In Japan, a course was recently developed, consisting of playing English-language
cassettes three times a day to infants from birth to the age of six months.
When, at the age of three, four or five years, these children come into
contact with an English teacher, they learn the foreign language much
more easily than other children.
Dr. Silvana Montanaro, MD, Montessori Teacher Trainer
Listening - the Adult
The attention we give to a child when he first begins to talk to us is
significant. Often a child is so excited about talking, about being able
to express himself, than he stutters. This is a very natural stage in
the development of verbal language and a sign for the adult to stop, look,
and listen, NOT to supply the missing word, or to comment on the stutter.
When the child is sure that he will be listened to he will usually calm
down and learn to speak more clearly.
Including the Child
Language development begins before birth and continues to be a major part
of the child's development for the first three years of life. We can best
help a child develop good language by including the child in our conversation
from the very beginning. I once learned a beautiful lesson about including
One day as I was working in an intensive care nursery for infants, I observed
a six-month-old boy who was lying on a floor mat next to three doctors
who were seated on chairs discussing his case. The head nurse noticed
that the pediatricians were ignoring the child, and she asked them to
remember their policyto include him in a conversation.
The doctors knew instinctively that she was right. They did not simplify
their vocabulary or artificially raise their voices to address the child.
They changed their visual focus so that the child was included, as any
adult would have been, whether or not he was contributing verbally to
the conversation. They continued their discussion, including the child.
The self-respect of the child was immediately evident by the happy expression
on his face and in the way he kept glancing from face to face as though
he knew that he was part of this important conversation.
There is nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses.
The experience of real objects should come before pictures or names of
these objects whenever possible. For example, if you have a new book with
pictures of fruits and vegetables, take the child to the kitchen and handle,
smell, cut up, and taste a piece of fruit; then go look at a picture of
it, and other fruits, in the book. Then the intelligence is built upon
a wealth of experience.
A child wants to learn the name of every object in his environment, and
the meanings of the words he hears others using. He wants so much to be
able to communicate about daily life with his family! Give him the names
of kitchen objects, toys, food, vehicles, dogs, etc.anything found
in the home and the community.
There is a 'sensitive period' for naming things . . . and if adults respond
to the hunger for words in an appropriate way, they can give their children
a richness and precision of language that will last a lifetime.
Dr. Silvana Montanaro
Pictures & Books
When the child has learned the names of many real objects, we can extend
this vocabulary with pictures. Vocabulary books and cards are valuable
educational materials for the children at homeand they love them!
The selection of books is as important as that of toys. Library visits
are very important, but there should also be favorite books in the child's
own library. Sometimes a child in this critical or sensitive period for
language will want a book read over and over again. At other times he
will just want to hear about the pictures and talk. A child also loves
to be shown how to turn pages carefully, to pick up, hold, carry and put
away a book.
Most children will sit enthralled for hours if we read to them, so this
is our chance to pass on the love of literature and of reading, to teach
facts, values, and the pronunciation of words, even those not often used
in everyday speech.
An effort should be made to provide books that show children from all
cultures, and that do not stereotype situations and people. The language
of the book should show respect for the child, his emotions, and his intelligence.
Make careful selections of books and provide a book rack or some other
easily accessible place to keep them, so that the child can always find
the one she wants, can care for them and put them away by herself.
Be picky! Even many simple vocabulary books are crowded, full of overbright
colors, and too stimulating for the child. It is far better to have only
a few beautiful books to be loved and respected, than to have many which
are unworthy of the developing mind of a young child.
At this age the subjects in books should be based on reality because the
child wants to learn about the real world. When a child is intensely interested
in learning everything about the real world, we provide stories and books
about reality, saving talking animals, such as in Aesop's Fables for example,
till later. Fantasy is very interesting to the older child, but only confusing
to the very young. A rich foundation of stories about the real world is
the best preparation for a creative imagination.
We should check that they [books] present reality, since at this age children
are trying to make sense of the environment and the life around them.
There is nothing more extraordinary and interesting than our own daily
life. Fantasy can come laterafter reality has been experienced and
Dr. Silvana Montanaro
Reading and Writing
The foundation for a child's spoken language ability is aided by making
eye contact as we listen and speak respectfully to her from birth on,
by setting a good example in our speech to each other, and by reading
aloud to her from an early age. The child's spoken language is the foundation
for her later ability in reading and writing.
It is no accident that some children are good at reading and writing and
others are not, that some find joy in this work and for others it is tedious.
The joy of exploring language begins early, and is the most intense, throughout
the first three years of life.
A very young child whose older sibling is learning to read often becomes
interested in learning about the alphabet. In order not to cause later
confusion, we offer this child the sound of each letter and use only lower
Think about it. When a child learns capital letters, and the names of
the letters he is not at all prepared to learn to read and write. Almost
all writing and reading is of lower case letters, "b" instead
of "B," and the sounds are what we need to read, "sss"
instead of "es," for the letter "s." Learning capitals
and names of letters, although taught first for many years, is what makes
learning to read and write so difficult for children.
The most important thing to remember is to follow the child's interests,
and to keep learning natural and enjoyable.
The development of the child comes, not in predictable steady path, but
in spurts, sometimes called explosions. There is a dormant seemingly inactive
period and then bang, a new ability. One of the exceptions can be the
explosion into speech. Usually sometime in the second year the child begins
to understand many many words and have a lot to say, but be unable to
mouth the words or sentences. This can cause acute frustration that sometimes
is expressed in biting - in appropriate use of the mouth! This is not
being bad, but we must protect other children as we sympathize with the
frustrated child. In order not to cause a aggressor-victim relationship
the best thing to do is to give sympathy to both children equally "I'm
so sorry you are hurt: I am so sorry you are frustrated." Most of
all, one must make every effort to recognize the frustration building
and remove the child who might be about to bite.
Which is which? For the child at this age there is no difference. Sometime
around age 5-7 is the time when the child becomes interested in fairness,
morality, truth and she will explore such concepts in depth. But at the
end of the period form birth to three and during the fourth and fifth
year, a child's attempt at communicating should not be interrupted with
questions about truth.
When the child, perhaps because of having a good audience at hand, goes
on and on with a story that starts out connected with reality and turns
into a whopper, it is a good idea for the adult to say something like
"Wow!, what a great imagination you have!" or "What a wonderful
story!" In this way you validate the child for using vocabulary,
imagination, verbal skills, and at the same time introduce concepts such
as imagination and story, which will eventually help her sort out the
difference between imagination and lying.
The Adult's Help
For success in language a child needs confidence that what she has to
say is important, a desire to relate to others, real experience on which
language is based, and the physical abilities necessary in reading and
We can help the child's language development by providing a stimulating
environment, rich in sensorial experiences and in language, providing
a wealth of experience, because language is meaningless if it is not based
We can provide materials such as nursery rhyme blocks and books, vocabulary
cards, books of subjects that are real and are related to the life of
the child. We share good literature in the form of rhymes, songs, poetry
and stories, which will greatly increase the child's love of language.
This will set the stage for sharing our favorite poetry and great literature
with the child as he grows.
This is the time, rather than in school, or university
time, when humans really learn language.
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© Susan Mayclin Stephenson, 2010 (www.susanart.net)
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