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About Teaching the Alphabet Montessori
Montessorians teach the alphabet by introducing common letter sounds rather than letter names. Teaching the two simultaneously, tends to confuse children because of the existing discrepancy between some letter names and their actual sound. For example the letter 'C', phonetically put, sounds 'sss' but its most common phonetic usage, sounds 'k'. The Montessori approach, therefore requires that teaching of letter names is postponed until later. Similarly, for letters which can have two different sounds, the least frequent sound should also be introduced later, for example the 'sss' sound of 'C' in 'cider' or 'cedar'.
The main purpose of teaching the most common letter sounds to young children, is to make them able to decode words independently and more rapidly. Because eighty per cent of the time, letter use conforms to their most common (C for K or G for Gue rather than Gee) or unique phonetic sound (M for M, T for T etc), introducing the alphabet in that way, is bound to facilitate the onset of reading skills in young children.
Mastering a single sound for each letter is prone to make them able start reading simple words without too much difficulty, or the added fear of getting it wrong. Exclusive phonetic introduction of letters is therefore the best method to teach toddlers the alphabet in the Montessori curriculum.
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Montessori Multi-Sensory Approach to Learning
Doctor Maria Montessori (1870-1952), to whom we owe the Montessori curriculum, believed in the importance of using all senses in learning, even in learning the alphabet. Learning letters involves audio-visual input at first. Montessori believed in the importance of the sense of touch, or kinesthetic learning as well. Letter shape familiarization and association to sound, has an essential bearing on further writing ability.
Learning practices should therefore include different types of activities stimulating toddlers senses all round. This is prone to contribute to a strong base from which reading and writing will be built on.
As a result of such thinking, Maria Montessori designed a series of educational resources and associated activities used to introduce and develop children's all round understanding of letters. Several resources and materials suggested by Montessori are used around the world today and held as rich educational resources and effective materials to teach young children reading and writing. The following resources and materials have long been perceived as integral parts of the best method to teach toddlers the alphabet using Montessori methods.
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Montessori sandpaper letters have been used for centuries to introduce and teach letters and further reading and writing to young children. They consist of protruding sandpaper letters mounted on thick and hard cardboard for backgrounds; pink or red for consonants and blue for vowels. Montessori teachers tell children what each letter sound is with these cards. Children have the opportunity to have a physical feel of the shape of the letter, which is also used to demonstrate the writing direction of letters. Although this resource has been classified as suitable from 4 years old by some retailers, Dr Maria Montessori used it with children as young as 2. Montessori identified the sensitive period corresponding to a child's peak and learning ability, and 2 years old is one of them.
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plastic or cardboard letters, (plastic is recommended for toddlers who have a tendency to put things to their mouth), which are kept in a compartmentalized box. Toddlers can hold these letters and get familiar with the letter shapes.
Consonants are pink or red, and vowels are blue, like the sandpaper letters. Although toddlers may be too young to put letters together to compose words, it is a good idea to use this resource alongside the sandpaper letters. Toddlers can start comparing letters from the moveable alphabet to the sandpaper letters, which will deepen and reinforce their understanding of letter sounds and letter shapes.
A variety of games can be played with both the sandpaper letters and the moveable alphabet, like associating letters to small objects or pictures of things starting with a particular letter etc.
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Letter Sounds Songs or Rhymes
Songs or rhymes, which focus on letter sounds rather than letter names, may also be considered as effective ways to teach toddlers the alphabet in the Montessori way. Toddlers usually love music and dancing. Ideal phonic songs will allow for movement and the ability for toddlers to touch or do things which start with the letter sounds covered in the song. A combination of these activities and resources consist of some of the best methods to teach toddlers the alphabet using Montessori methods.
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Nabil Montessori School, no author, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nabil-Montessori-School-Jorethang-Sikkim-05-Nursery.JPG
Maria Montessori, Bain News Service, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maria_Montessori.jpg
Sandpaper letters Screenshot by author
C sandpaper letter Screenshot by author
Moveable Letters Box by Valilouve, http://www.flickr.com/photos/8471692@N07/533270966/
Moveable Letters with Girl by Valilouve, http://www.flickr.com/photos/8471692@N07/1412554516