Phonemic Awareness is the First Step Towards Writing and Reading
The Montessori approach to writing and reading begins with phonemic awareness. Your child needs to hear, identify and work with the individual sounds in words and understand that words are made up of sounds in a row.
The Montessori Approach to Learning the Alphabet
The symbols of the alphabet and their names are arbitrary. What's important for your child to learn first is the phonetic sound that each letter makes.
A phonetic sound is the sound made by each letter of the alphabet. The word “cat” is made up of the phonetic sounds for “c”, “a”, and “t”.
Phonogram sounds refer to a letter or a group of letters that make a different sound when combined in a word compared with the phonetic sounds that they make individually. Some examples are "sh" and "ing" and "ou".
Montessori sound games (also called the I Spy game) draw attention to the phonetic sounds at the beginning of words. Eventually sound games can be played with phonetic sounds and/or phonogram sounds at the beginning, middle, or end of the word.
Usually children who are around 2.5 to 3 years old are ready for Montessori sound games.
Prepare yourself by memorizing the phonetic sound made by each letter of the alphabet. When you say each sound, make it short as opposed to drawing out the sound.
The phonetic sounds are mostly straightforward. Note that the sound for the letter "q" can be pronounced as "qwuh" (as in quilt or queen) or "kuh" (as in quinoa or quarter). The sound for "o" is pronounced as in otter, octagon and octopus. Examples of words that begin with the sound "e" are elephant, embroidery and eggplant. Examples of words that begin with the sound "a" are astronaut, apple and asparagus.
Many parents who use Montessori at home collect small alphabet objects or beginning sound objects to facilitate sound games and other early literacy activities.
You can be frugal by using common household items to start your collection of language objects.
Download the sound games cheatsheet to get a big list of common household items to use as beginning sound objects for most letters of the alphabet.
You can also buy sets of alphabet objects and save the time it takes to search for hard-to-find phonics miniatures for sounds such as "i", "u", "e" and "q".
How To Play I Spy Sound Games
- Sit with your child and identify the objects as you take them out of a basket.
- “I see something that starts with the sound “p”. Do you know what I’m thinking about?”
- Continue for as long as your child is interested.
You might be wondering about the order in which to introduce phonetic sounds. There is no right or wrong way. It's more important to just get in the habit of playing sound games with your preschooler.
Sound games should be played every day and as often as possible because they are critical to your child being able to write and read.
Anytime and anywhere, you can also play I Spy sound games with articles of clothing and other things you see when you are in the car, eating a meal, or at the park.
Once it’s clear that your child hears and can identify the beginning sounds of words and understands that words are made up of sounds in a row, then the next step is to introduce sandpaper letters to begin to associate each sound with its symbol (alphabet letter) using three-period lessons.