The child can only develop fully by means of experience in his environment. We call such experience 'work.' Such Experience is not just play . . . it is work he must do in order to grow up.
LANGUAGE for 0-3
LANGUAGE for 3-6
LANGUAGE for 6-12
Excerpts from the book The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three, with permission of the author
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. (Page 9)
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. (Page 10)
Age One to Three: Language
Long before the child expresses himself clearly in language he has been listening and absorbing everything he hears. Often we are not even aware that the child is doing this, but once he begins to speak it becomes very clear. Three times in my life, with each of my three children, I have purposefully polished my language as they repeated everything I said! In a rich language environment adults 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. (Page 115)
A Second Language
The language must be used in the child’s 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 of life. —Silvana Montanaro, MD, AMI Montessori 0-3 Assistant to Infancy, Teacher Trainer (Page 116)
(DVD) Wonderful Two's: Montessori
I had seen this at a parent education night some 12 years ago when my youngest was in an Infant Community and have been waiting for the DVD for sharing with my child and adolescent psychiatry residents for their "Neurotypical Infant Development Course" taught each summer. This excellent introduction to Montessori A to I practices in the USA and Japan will now be shown during the lecture series. Thank you, Susan Mayclin Stephenson for this enchanting glimpse into what the youngest children can do with the support of prepared adults and a prepared environment!
Listening and Including the Child in Conversation
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.
Years ago I was having lunch at the home of my Montessori teacher-trainer Silvana Montanaro in Rome. Present were her daughter and her very young grandchild Raoul. After we had finished eating I was holding Raoul in my lap as we were conversing. Silvana saw that he was intently watching my mouth as I spoke, perhaps because he was used to Italian and I was speaking English.
I turned away from him to answer a question and Silvana signaled me to keep looking at him. She said that I must maintain eye contact with him until he was finished watching me. I could talk to him or to anyone at the table, but my face must be turned to him. This went on for some time, and it was clear to all of us when he had finished watching my face.
I have never forgotten this lesson and have shared the advice with many people. It is surprising to see the pleasure on the face of babies, even strangers in a grocery store or on a bus, when one makes eye contact and does not look away. It is all too often a new experience for the infant, but a pleasant one. (Page 117)
One of the favorite poems I have always done with children is “Jack be nimble, jack be quick, jack jump over the candlestick.” I place an unlit candle in an old-fashioned candleholder on the floor. I say the nursery rhyme, and as I say the word “jump” I jump over the candlestick. Children love to do this and will repeat if over and over, first you saying the words and then he jumping. And we all know the fun of “falling down” at the end of the song “Ring Around the Rosie.”
But beautiful adult poetry is enjoyed just as much as rhymes for children. They can provide images, an introduction to metaphor, and they do not have to rhyme! A good example is Carl Sandburg’s poem Fog:
The fog comes
Storytelling, Reading and Writing
Most children will also 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.
The foundation for a child's love of reading begins with seeing others around him reading, and enjoying reading, even when they are not reading aloud to him. And even though many of us do our writing on the computer these days, it is important for the child to see us writing on paper with a pencil or pen, thank you notes, birthday cards, grocery lists, and so on. 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. (Page 125)
Supporting Language Development
As I have said, the adult, the human environment, is the most important consideration in the support of language development for a young child. The adult and older children will be the main models for listening, speaking, writing, reading, loving language.
We can help the child's language development with listening, eye contact, speaking well in his presence, and 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 on experience.
First this is inside the home, but soon it can be out in nature to experience, and talk about, the flowers, trees, animals, and then to the grocery store to experience foods, and so on. 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 can share good literature in the form of rhymes, songs, poetry and stories, which will greatly increase the child's love of language.
All of 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. (Pages 132)
LANGUAGE MATERIALS: first year Language
LANGUAGE MATERIALS: 1-3 Language
The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three is available from Michael Olaf, Amazon.com in many countries, and from Montessori book and material suppliers. It is available wholesale to Montessori schools, parent groups, and schools, and is being translated into other languages.
BIRTH TO THREE YEAR DEVELOPMENT
Excerpts from the book Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+, with permission of the author
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.
We puzzled over it for a long time. Only after repeated experiments did we conclude with certainty that all children are endowed with this capacity to absorb culture. If this be true—we then argued—if culture can be acquired without effort, let us provide the children with other elements of culture. And then we saw them ‘absorb’ far more than reading and writing: botany, zoology, mathematics, geography, and all with the same ease, spontaneously and without getting tired.
And so we discovered that education is not something that the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.
For success in language a child needs to feel that what he has to say is important; he needs to have a desire to relate to others; he needs to have had real experience on which language is based; and he of course needs the physical abilities necessary for reading and writing. There are several things that we can do to help. We can stop what we are doing whenever possible, listen attentively and with eye contact, and speak to the child in a respectful tone. We can provide a stimulating environment, rich in sensorial experiences and in language—language is meaningless if it is not based on experience. We can set an example and model precise language in our everyday activities with the child. If we share good literature, in the form of rhymes, songs, poetry, and stories we will greatly increase the child's love of language.
The most important first vocabulary at this age is of items in the home environment—clothing, kitchen objects, tools, toys, and so forth. Your child will be thrilled to know the names of the things he sees and uses every day, and to be able to use them correctly. All we need to do is to use the correct names, and the precise language for objects and activities, in the presence of the child. Eventually, as he joins us more in conversation, the words of the child's environment will be there.
In any good language environment, in as many situations as possible, the teacher makes sure that experience precedes vocabulary and pictures of objects. She will introduce real vegetables before vegetable cards, real actions before verb cards, real music before composer picture and labels, real shells before shell cards, and so on. At home parents can do the same thing—show the kitchen objects, the office or bathroom objects, and then give the opportunity to handle these objects and to learn the names. In this way the child learns that language is connected to the real world.
A rich and enjoyable vocabulary, and an interesting introduction to the structure of English, is available through poems, finger plays, songs, fables, stories, and even great literature. There is only so much time in a day for reading to children so we should make the best of these times by selecting books with care, books that will provide the best in literature and nonfiction available.
There are three main areas where we can help children prepare for reading and writing. When the ground is well prepared over the years before writing and reading are attempted, acquiring these skills is very enjoyable.
1) Physical Skills—balance, using the hands, coordination of eye-hand work, learning to concentrate and focus on practical life activities, recognizing sizes and shapes, working with knobbed puzzles, crayons and pencils, and practice in speaking.
2) Mental Skills—absorbing and using language, learning the sounds that each letter makes (not the names of the letter) and playing games to break up words into sounds—the "I spy" game.
3) Social Skills—living in homes where people talk at the table, sit down and have conversations, and read, instead of watching television or "learning language" on a computer.
Children should never be forced to read aloud, or to write, at a young age. But the tools to learn these skills provided, offered, demonstrated. This is the sensitive period in a child's life for knowing the names of everything, including the sounds of letters, and for touching and feeling. To meet the child's need to touch and feel, and to learn the names of the sounds in his particular culture, we use sandpaper letters. The child feels and says the sound, repeating many times. The traditional sandpaper letters used in the 3-6 class are very sturdy and expensive, but it is possible to make some at home, or for the child to trace letters in corn meal or sand. Sometimes one can find a book that gives this tactile experience.
Lower Case Letters
When prepared by means of the I spy game (described in the book) and sandpaper lower case letters, children sometimes spontaneously "explode" into writing, and almost always “write” for a long time before they spontaneously read. This is not writing as we usually think of it, with correct spelling, space between words, correct grammar, but it is a first experience of expressing oneself with letters with great joy and enthusiasm. It is very important the child's first "writing" is from her own head, and not from objects and pictures. In fact one of the first “writings” done by a child in one of my classes was, “dontuchthiswrk iewilbeeritebak” (Don’t touch work, I will be right back). I got the message.
To prepare for this experience verbally, ask questions like "What did you have for breakfast?" or "What did you see on the way to school?" Then when the child is ready to “write” with movable alphabet you can ask the same questions. Do not begin with easy three-letter words, or give pictures of objects with simple words, such as hat and cat, for the child to make. Written language, just as spoken language, should come from the child’s own experience and desire to express himself.
When a child first begins to recognize the sounds of letters in groups—words—he is doing this silently in his head. Saying these words aloud complicates the process, especially if someone is listening. So a child is never asked to read aloud at this early state of reading in the 3-6 Montessori class. To provide practice with this new, exciting single-word skill, give the child pictures with separate labels for objects for which he already knows the names. He reads each label and matches it to the picture. Then, if the names of the objects have been written on the back of the picture cards, the child can turn the pictures over to see if he has placed the labels correctly. Children love reading and checking their own work and will repeat over and over again till they get it exactly right. Hundreds of meaningful words can be added to the child's reading vocabulary in this way. Just as with giving spoken vocabulary, the most important words to give the child when beginning to read are the labels of the common objects in the home or classroom.
Above all, this early introduction of the world or language must be offered in a spirit of enjoyment and not imposed. We have to put behind us memories of the painful way most of us learned to read and write and enjoy the joy of discovery children experience when language is given to them in this way.
LANGUAGE MATERIALS: 3-7 Language
The Joyful Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+ is available from Michael Olaf, Amazon.com in many countries, and from Montessori book and material suppliers. It is available wholesale to Montessori schools, parent groups, and schools, and is being translated into to other languages..
List of All Michael Olaf Newsletters:
NOTE: Newsletter #10 above, Montessori Grace and Courtesy, is especially applicable to the subject of Language.
Excerpts from the book Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+, with permission of the author
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.
Etymology, the origin and historical development of words, is fascinating to children at this age. It is a fine basis for learning to spell, and contributes to understanding the history of cultures. When our children were growing up we always kept a very large dictionary always available on a special table in the living room. It was not allowed to place anything else upon the table so that the dictionary was always easily opened and usable. We often looked up the etymology of words even more often than the definitions. If you are planning to purchase a dictionary I recommend that you make sure that the origin of words is included along with the pronunciation and definition.
Children often take names of people and places for granted, assuming that they existed from the beginning of time. Imagine the amount of history and geography one can learn from stories of how people and places were named. Studying the history of names, first names and last names, is a wonderful way to interest children in language and history. Most of us have completely lost touch with the history of our families for more than two or three generations, and have no idea how and why we are named what we are. This information can inspire a never ending study of language. Every year I took my 6-12 school children to a local cemetery. I just showed them a few gravestones, and each group became interested in a different aspect of this experience. Some wanted to make a list of the countries and languages represented. Others wanted to make a timeline of the very earliest date to the present. One child wanted to figure out the age of every single person when he died, and others to make rubbings with paper and crayon of some of the raised pictures of letters. This is a perfect example of how children quite naturally move from one academic area of study to another from their own curiosity.
As adults we may have unpleasant memories of learning grammar. Usually these studies were considered very difficult and taught at a period of life when we were not really interested in language. It works best to follow the child's interest and this is the time of life when children are very interested in the progress of civilization, including language—including the structure of their own language.
Many great educators and philosophers have stated that there is nothing that cannot be taught if the student and the subject matter are well understood and creatively put in touch with each other. We try to make everything interesting, so that it will be enjoyed and retained.
I write and I understand. —Chinese Proverb
A child who has had an active physical and mental life, using his hands in more and more refined activities such as running, hopping, balancing while walking on a thin line, spooning, pouring, cooking, sewing, drawing, digging, playing with clay, will usually find writing easier than children who have been more passive in their learning.
When the child first begins to write we do not make corrections with either grammar or spelling. We "teach by teaching, not by correcting.” Instead we teach all the necessary skills through activities that are completely unrelated to the creative writing effort, as indirect preparation. We do not give the traditional spelling word lists of words that will never be in the child’s writing vocabulary. There are really three different kinds of vocabulary. The first is the one we use in our everyday talking. The second is the one we use in our every day writing. The third is the one that we use in reading. All three are constantly expanding, but it is the second that we need to focus in helping the child with learning to spell. The following is a suggestion for teaching the spelling of words one will be most likely to use in writing.
A child’s personal spelling dictionary: Most of the words in the spelling lists usually given to children to learn are seldom really used. In Montessori classes the child constructs his “spelling dictionary” of words that are a part of his individual writing vocabulary. For this you can use a simple address book, preferably one without any writing in it, just the alphabetized tabs. But since such books are not much used these days it is better to make one by cutting tabs into the pages of a small notebook, or buying alphabetized tabs to fasten to the pages. Whenever a child comes to you for the spelling of a word, or if he asks you to check the words he has written and you find some misspelled, write these words—beautifully of course because you are the model for writing —in his spelling dictionary, words beginning with 'a' in the 'a' section and so forth. But it is not enough that these words be identified and beautifully recorded by the adult. The purpose is that they are learned. This is done by looking in the personal dictionary when the word is needed, and by having little tests, and some children learn best by writing these words multiple times. The next time he wants a particular word for his own fiction or non-fiction writing, he will be able to find it in his own book.
To learn to spell the words in one’s personal spelling dictionary in class the children can have spelling tests among themselves to learn their own “writing” vocabulary. I suggest beginning these spelling tests when there are only 2-3 words in the dictionary, then regularly from then on as the list becomes larger. This shows the child, with each test, that he has indeed learned to spell some of his favorite words. He will discover that there are not so many words one really needs to learn in order to express oneself. This will gradually give the child confidence to learn and to use more and more words—they will have been collected in his own book. I find that this inspires confidence in spelling, makes writing fun, and challenges some children to start to use a continually growing writing vocabulary, which can sometimes grow by leaps and bounds.
Beautiful writing has been a lost art in our country for many years but it is experiencing a resurgence. Children feel very good about themselves and tend to write far more when they have been taught beautiful handwriting. Giving a child a new alphabet and a different kind of writing utensil often does wonders to inspire writing. The Italic script is very beautiful and a link between cursive and print. I have seen a child's cursive writing improve dramatically as he casually worked through a set of Italic workbooks over a period of months.
Brain research today helps us understand the process of learning, of making a new skill a habit. It is important to understand this when helping a child learn to write. The cortex is used in learning to write. The formation of each letter activates a specific set of neurons in the brain. As the formation of a letter is repeated over and over gradually it is “learned,” and the neurons needed to form letters are now those in the lower part of the brain, the habit area controlling activities that have become automatic. At this point the neurons in the brain that were previously activated in the cortex shrink and prepare for new challenges, new skills to be learned.
Think about this. Each time a child writes a letter badly, repeating it over and over, the ugly way of writing this letter become more and more “learned” and eventually is related to the lower part of the brain. It will be very difficult for him to ever write that letter beautifully.
When I learned this I understood why my teacher Margaret Stephenson said to never ask a child to write anything that he cannot write beautifully. And do not criticize ugly writing because after all it is the adult that allowed ugly writing to develop. Instead she suggested that at this time, the beginning of the 6-12 stage of development, we introduce a new script. If the child had learned print before this, introduce cursive. If he has learned cursive, introduce italics. This helps him slow down and work carefully on the formation of letters. She suggested that we introduce colored inks to make the process even more carefully with the results being even more beautiful. I followed her advice, even giving beautifully written short poems for the child to copy, and to decorate the margins with these same colored inks.
One day an 8-year old who had been asked to write every day in a journal in his previous school, asked me quietly if I would help him learned to write “better.” He was very interesting to talk to, and had original ideas on every subject, and loved to share them. But he could only do this verbally because he said he hated to write. I gave him a lined piece of paper and at the beginning of the first line wrote, as slowly and beautifully as I possible, a cursive letter. I asked him to fill the line with that letter as slowly has I had done. When he was finished together we studied each letter he had written, discussing each in detail. “Had it touched the base line? Had it reached the top line? What do we think of the slope? And the width of the loops?” Then I asked him to circle the letter that he decided was closest to the model. After several letters I asked if he would like to write some words using these letters, or a sentence. I should not have done that; it was too early. His face fell and he said, “I can’t and I hate to write ugly!” He was a perfect example of someone who had, because he was required to write when he had not been taught to write beautifully, learned well how to write badly, and he now had to completely rewire parts of his brain. Not an easy task.
Many great educators and philosophers have stated that there is nothing that cannot be taught if the student and the subject matter are well understood and creatively put in touch with each other. We try to make everything interesting, so that it will be enjoyed and retained. (Pages 106-116)
Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for 2-12+ is available from Michael Olaf, Amazon.com in many countries, and from Montessori book and material suppliers. It is available wholesale to Montessori schools, parent groups, and schools, and is being translated into other languages.
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These books and the DVD are used in university classes, teacher education courses, parent groups, and in many other ways. The creator of The Joyful Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+, Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+, and the DVD Wonderful Two's:
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