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How is language encouraged in Montessori prepared environment?

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Language is the ability to understand speech and a desire to convey one’s feelings and thoughts. The learning of language is truly the child’s most remarkable intellectual achievement and is amazingly accomplished rapidly in a very short time span.

“By mere living and without any conscious effort the individual absorbs from the environment even a complex culture like language”

E. Hainstock, The Essential Montessori. – Pg. 81

Since the child builds himself from what is around him, the environment becomes an important factor. The environment must be prepared, aiding in the process of language development and support the child’s expanding consciousness.

How is language encouraged in; Montessori prepared environment?

The human civilization for as long as it has been existing, has been creating, developing and innovating different modes of communication. The early humans known as the “Homo Habilious” whose remains were discovered in the Olduvai Gorge site in the 1960 lived about two million years ago; and they are said to be one of the early generation of man who started language; they used or made different sounds and body gestures to convey messages. In other parts of the world, men have also found prehistoric drawings on cave walls that were used to convey messages; these drawings dates back approximately 30,000 to 32,000 years ago.

The Oxford Dictionary defines language as; “the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.” As described in the first paragraph; language is a system of communication in which he human being interact with each other. When a collection of sounds have an agreed meaning in society; it becomes the ‘language’ or mode of communication that will be used in that society or community. This mode of communication is how humans exchange their thoughts and feelings and it also enables one to understand the other. Without the existence of language, the human race would not have been able to disseminate knowledge from one generation to the other.

A human child begins his encounter to the first of four aspects of language when he emerges out of his mother’s womb; “listening”: the child listens to all the sounds around him in his environment. The sound of his parent’s voices and their spoken language will most probably be the first language he absorbs, and it becomes imprinted in his unconscious mind. Moving on in this essay we will see how in the Montessori Environment a child is introduced to the four aspects of language which are “listening”, “speaking”, “reading” and “writing”.

When a child comes into a Montessori environment during the age’s between zero to six years old, he is in his Absorbent Mind period. A period in which he takes impressions from the environment are from the ages of 0-3 years old and these impressions are translated into concrete and tangible actions from ages 3- 6 years old. That is why it is an important period where the child has to be exposed to language in its many forms.

“The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.” –

The Absorbent Mind, pg.56

In the Montessori Environment, a child is first introduced to Practical Life Exercises (PLE). This is the first set of activities a child gets involved in hands-on, and the beauty of the Montessori education is that a child is given the freedom to explore his environment and learn at his own pace. Language just like any other skill, is not forced into him, in fact Dr. Maria Montessori herself has not written a manual as to how a child is taught how to read or write. The child goes through a natural process of exploring and learning from the environment and he gathers all the skills that are needed to learn a language. However, in the Montessori education, the “suitable environment” in which a child can explore and develop himself to his fullest potential is provided; this environment consist of essentially: his educator (teacher/directress), and the materials that are prepared for him to work with.

“Montessori children typically do not remember learning to read, nor does the teacher remember teaching any particular one. The environment is so designed that all activities feed naturally towards the development of the skill required for reading, and thus reading is experienced a part of the process of living. –

Montessori – A Modern Approach, Pg. 122

When a child enters a Montessori Classroom, it provides him an orderly environment, in which materials are all arranged on shelves that are at his eye level. These materials are arranged according to activities in which they are introduced to a child from left to right and accordingly in different coloured trays or baskets to indicate the activity. The materials are real and not fake, these materials are what the child see not just in his classroom, but also in the environment in his home and other place.

Practical Life Exercises (PLE) provide the foundation in which a child can start developing his language skills. When we see the first activities that involve spooning; the child learns how to first hold the spoon with his right three dominant finger. And why does the directress make it very clear that only three dominant fingers have to be used when holding the spoon? This is to give the child a feel as to how writing tools will be held. The child also learns that when spooning beans from one bowl into another, it is done in the left to right direction, this too is how writing is done from left to right. Why does a teacher when teaching folding of napkins stress on the lightness of touch, and evenness of pressure when tracing the lines on the napkin folds?

This too is to ensure the child has this skill when he writes, he should know how to control the pressure used when he uses a writing tool to write on paper. In each and every activity, in PLE act as a basic for language, when a teacher introduces every activity, she uses pure and simple language so that the child is able to grasp the vocabulary used. The child listens to the instructions given by his teacher and follows them accordingly. He is introduced to nouns (cup, bowl, jug, beans, etc) and adjectives (spooning, pouring, transferring, etc) without it being forced to him. A child learns the non-verbal form of language during these period.

The child is also thought to have social grace and courtesy in Practical Life Exercises (PLE); these are skills that are important when living in a society and also is an essential part of language skills. He learns how to greet according to the time of day, shake hands, say “thank you” and use phrases and words such as “May I” and “Please” when interacting with others. All these give the child the basis and foundation to live in accordance to the norms of the society he lives in. “He should not be kept apart from social life even as a tiny infant, but included in all the family does. He should be talked to and listened to with patience and interest. He should be given the names of the things in his environment…., for this is the period of the Absorbent Mind, when he learns these things naturally.” –

Montessori – A Modern Approach, Pg. 122

Just like Practical Life Exercises (PLE) activities, Sensorial activities also help enhance the language skills of a child. A child is introduced to Sensorial activities in the Montessori environment when he is at the age of 2 ½ to 3 years onwards, he not only develops his fine motor skills but also develops his senses. His visual sense is enhanced with activities such as the knobbed cylinders, he learns how to observe and match the corresponding knob to the right socket. The child learn to identify the minute differences in the materials. And through repetition the child learns to perfect each skill he is taught.

The child is introduced to the names of colours in the Sensorial activity, here there is the use of the three period name lesson for the first time when the teacher introduces the names of the primary colours. It is amazing how the 3 period name lesson is designed to introduce the name of the object/material, the it helps the child associate to the material then identify the material and last but not least the teacher reinforces what has been first introduced again before she winds up the activity. During the process of the 3 period name lesson it is very important for the teacher to give a clear and crisp master presentation with simple language so that the child is not distracted by extra movement and unnecessary words; the child learns each skill through repetition and observation. We will continue to use the 3 period name lesson in most of the Sensorial and later the Language activities.

The tactile activity where the child first is introduced to the rough and smooth surfaces through the sand paper touch boards is a very important lesson the child learns. He learns to feel the surface with the tips of his right fingers. And again he is thought the use of lightness of touch and evenness of pressure. This activity will later help the child when he is introduced to the sandpaper letters in Language activities. Where the child will learn to trace the shapes of letters and how it is written. Language is given to the child from the very beginning when the child enters the Montessori Environment. When the child moves into the language activities at the age of 3 years onward, he is introduced to writing activities.

The first activity in Language is the insets for design. A child is given coloured pencils to trace shapes of Inset frames onto paper sheets and draw horizontal lines from left to right inside the shapes. Since the child has already got the foundation of how objects are grasped with the 3 dominant fingers of the right hand when doing the Practical Life Exercises; it will be easier for the child to hold the coloured pencils and draw the lines. “Writing is a complex act which needs to be analysed. One part of it has reference to motor mechanism and the other represents a real and proper effort of the intellect.” –

The Discovery of the Child. Chapter 15, Pg. 203

During this period when a child is learning to write, it is a time when he learns to be creative, and activities that involve art and craft should be introduced to the child to evoke the creativeness in him and also help explore, experiment and build his curiosity, think become a more confident learner. As the child moves from writing and is slowly introduced to reading, he starts with activities in the Pink Scheme. Here the child is introduced to the Sand paper letters. The child is introduced to writing the shapes of the letter and pronouncing the sounds of the letters. The child traces the letters with his 2 dominant right fingers to feel the shape of the letter and in this process he is taught how the letter is written, simultaneously he learns the sound each letter carries. This is a concrete manner in which the child learns to write the letters and learn the phonic sounds of each letter.

When the child has mastered this he is introduced to the concrete together with abstract material, this is when he is introduced to the Large Movable Alphabet (LMA) box. The LMA box has a number of all the 26 alphabets all in small caps in individual compartments in the box, and the vowels are in blue whilst the consonants are in red. First the child will see how the Sand paper cards and the letters in the LMA box are similar, by picking out the similar sounding letter from the LMA box to match the Sandpaper letters. Next he will learn how to build words with the help of objects in a box and then picture cards. It is a beautiful way how the child learns to build his vocabulary and at the same time he is being led from the simple activities towards the more complex activities. This LMA box is an amazing material in which the child learns how to use the letters to build words.

When the child has learnt how to build words, he moves on to the abstract, in the pink scheme, the child is introduced to two or three phonetically sounded meaningful words with a vowel preferably at the centre or at the beginning. And the child learns these words through tangible objects that are prepared in a box by his teacher. The child learns to spell the words together with the teacher. Since he already knows the sounds of each letter, the child will know how to spell the words with this knowledge. Next the child is led to much more complex activity in which he learns to match picture cards to the correct name tags. Here the child should already have the knowledge of what the names of the objects are so that he is spell, read and match the correct name tags to the pictures. When we give children picture cards and picture sheets we must make sure the pictures or illustrations are clear and precise. It is important because it helps a child listen to you read as she begins to read himself.

“In reading, however, we are engaging in purely intellectual work; but it should be evident that our method for teaching writing prepares the way for reading so that the difficulties are almost unnoticeable.”

The Discovery of the Child. Chapter 16, Pg. 229

As the child moves on from picture cards and name tags, the teacher prepares word lists with three letter words according to the pink scheme rules, the child will read these word lists and this will help him build his vocabulary and enhance his reading skill. After the word list the child is introduced to a booklet with these words. A child will learn how to flip the pages of the book as he reads the booklet. The child is also introduced to the sight words in the pink scheme which are ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘is’ and ‘his’. These sight words are non-phonetic sounding words that assist in building sentences, and the child learns them from the environment by looking at the words. When the child has been given the knowledge of reading and has a bank of vocabulary in his mind now, he is able to read more complex word structures.

He is introduced to Sentence cards with attached pictures, and after that he moves on to read sentence cards with detached pictures where he first reads the sentence card then finds the matching picture. When the child is able to read sentences, then we move on and introduce him to the pink scheme story booklets, here the child is allowed to read independently with minimal assistance, this is because by this stage the child should already have the knowledge of the words in the pink scheme and reading the book will be a very interesting activity because the child will be able to look at the picture and relate it to what he reads and understand the story. This is a very complex activity and the child will feel that he has accomplished something great when he is able to read a story booklet by himself.

Once the child has completed the activities in the pink scheme, he will move on to more complex words that have more than 3 letter in the blue scheme and finally when he is ready he will move on to the green scheme where he will learn phonograms. Phonograms are a combination of letter sounds that do not always sound phonetically correct. The child is introduced to each and every stage of the words according to the level of difficulty. When the child has a knowledge of the words and has the ability to write and read. Then he is introduced to grammar. Grammar is something every child finds difficult to learn, however in the Montessori environment, it is given to the children in a fun and exciting manner, in which nouns are introduce through the things in the classroom, where the teacher plays games with the children to name the objects and place name tags to the objects.

When the child is introduced to adjectives, the children play games where actions are acted out by a child while the other in the classroom try to guess what action that is. This is a fun way of learning and the child will remember what nouns and adjectives are. Even singular and plural are introduced in a concrete manner in which on object is brought forward when it is singular, and when it is plural, more than one of the same object are brought forward.

Similarly when introducing verbs, the children are thought with object of model animals in the farm together with nouns, adjectives and the addition of verbs. The children are taught to build sentences together with these words in a grammatically correct manner in an easy approach. The Montessori Method of teaching language is one that is very organized. A child learns the skills to master language even before he knows that he is learning it. This is because of the prepared environment he is given by his teacher in his classroom. Therefore when he is in his sensitive period where he is able to learn the language, he is able to absorb from the environment all that he is exposed to. This enables the child to reach his fullest potential and develop his language skills.

“I am also convinced that literacy is the only way for children to burst out of the cultural and social bindings which constrain their lives, to lift their sights and extend their horizons, and ultimately to play their part in advancing our society.”

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