Why Your Child Needs to Write Before Learning to Read

Learn why your child needs to build words with a moveable alphabet before learning how to read. #montessori #preschoolactivities

Why Your Child Needs to Write Before Learning to Read

When you think of writing, you probably imagine the act of forming alphabet letters with a pencil on paper.

But instead of handwriting, I'm actually talking about "writing" in terms of word building.

In the natural sequence that leads to reading, "writing" comes first because it's much easier to encode words than it is to decode words.

To write means to express your own thoughts, which you already know because it comes from within. The encoding process requires segmenting the word in your mind into its individual sounds, finding the letter symbols that represent those sounds and then building the word by putting the letters in a row. 

Reading requires your child to work towards the unknown, deciphering another person’s thoughts.

Until the process becomes automatic, your child needs to pull apart each word to sound it out and then put the word back together again to understand the meaning.

This decoding process is a lot more work than writing your own thoughts!

Most children will learn to read during the process of putting sounds in a row to build words.

When your child suddenly realizes that he or she can put sounds in a certain order to make a word, you'll see an explosion of writing.

This can be quickly followed by the realization that any words that are written can then be read. It might happen soon after your child starts to work on word building or it might happen a few months later, but rest assured that "writing" will naturally lead to reading.  

A moveable alphabet can facilitate "writing" before your child is totally comfortable with handwriting.

Using a moveable alphabet, your child can begin to "write" words while he or she is working on developing the pencil grip.

Often a child is capable of putting sounds in a row to build a word before his or her hand is physically ready to form the letters of the word with a pencil on paper. A moveable alphabet takes the pressure off!

What, exactly, is a moveable alphabet?

The traditional Montessori moveable alphabet material is a box divided into compartments that contains cut out lowercase alphabet letters. The vowels are blue and the consonants are red. The cut out letters may be made of plastic or wood. Usually there are 10 of each vowel and 5 of each consonant. An alternative version of the moveable alphabet has letters printed on tiles or heavy card stock, and they may include the 16 key phonograms.

Montessori moveable alphabet

When will my child be ready to use a moveable alphabet?

Once your child has played sound games to hear and identify the sounds in words AND your child knows most of the alphabet letters and the sounds they make from playing the letter-sound association game , then it's time to introduce a lowercase cursive or print moveable alphabet.

If your child is already totally comfortable with handwriting, then he or she probably won't be interested in using a moveable alphabet. If that's the case, you can skip this material and instead focus on encouraging your child to handwrite words to express his or her own ideas.

During any writing activities (whether or not it's with a moveable alphabet), the focus is on encouraging your child to express his or her own thoughts. Writing at this stage is NOT a spelling activity!

Dictating consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words for your child to build with the moveable alphabet can quickly turn this pre-reading activity into a chore.

Instead, try asking leading questions to help your child think of ideas of words to write. Engage your child in conversation and invite him or her to write one or two of the words mentioned. Or, maybe your child will be interested in writing a list of animals, favorite foods or things you've done or are going to do today.

Expect that your child will write words phonetically. Don't correct spelling at this stage! If your child wants to write “bird” and sounds it out, the sounds in a row will be “b r d”. Similarly, “elephant” will be “e l e f n t”. This is perfectly normal in the early stages of writing. 

Writing with the moveable alphabet as a pre-reading activity. #montessori #homeschoolpreschool

The more your child builds words with the moveable alphabet, the closer he or she will get to reading.

You'll also see which sounds your child struggles with when sounding out words to write them. Often children are strong with beginning and ending sounds, but they need more work with sound games to hear the middle sounds in words. Or, your child may need to learn the 16 key phonograms to be able to write (phonetically) any word that he or she desires. 

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Montessori moveable alphabet as pre-reading activity. #montessori #homeschoolpreschool


About the Author

I'm Lisa Adele, an AMI-trained Montessori teacher and the creator of The Playful Path to Reading. I help parents of preschoolers use hands-on activities to develop early reading skills.