Montessori Language: exploration of letter and sound
In the previous Montessori sequence, we talked about Oral Language with 11 key lessons, such as storytelling, classifying, matching, and rhyming.
Now we’re ready to move on to the following sequence in the Montessori language curriculum: Exploration of Letter and Sound. By this time, your child is ready to explore and play with sounds and letters of the alphabet.
As a Montessori teacher, I found that the kids were so excited to play sound games randomly throughout the day. The first game that comes to mind is dismissing the children from circle time by saying the beginning letter sound of the kids’ names.
For example, I would say, “I spy with my little eye, someone who begins with the sound, “/a/.” Then all the kids would say, “Annie!” or “Angela!” or “Alex!” Then those called would line up at the door to go outside to play.
My almost-four-year-old daughter, Annie, also loves to listen to and repeat sounds at home. She’ll randomly say, “puppy begins with /p/” or “carrot begins with /c/.”
In this post, I will briefly summarize the 4 Montessori language lessons from Exploration of Letters and Sounds. In the coming weeks, I’ll go into further detail on each lesson in future posts.
These 4 lessons mainly focus on activities and games recognizing the individual sounds within words, such as the I-Spy Games. Later we focus on associating those sounds with the letter symbol, with the Montessori sandpaper letter lessons.
In This Post
Why is sound and letter exploration important?
In a previous blog post, I talk about the importance of rhyming in the oral language sequence. Rhyming activities help develop auditory discrimination by listening to words that sound the same at the end.
Rhyming is an essential skill that prepares for work with phonemic awareness, such as with the game I-Spy, the first lesson in the Montessori exploration of letter and sound language sequence.
Exploring with letters and sounds helps your child to:
- develop auditory perception
- understand the concept of a word
- recognize that sounds have order in words
- have an interest in sounds
- prepare for writing and reading
- recognize the differences between vowels and consonants
What is phonics and phonemic awareness?
In this sequence of language activities, we’ll talk about several terms relating to phonics. Below is a helpful list of definitions:
Phonetics is the scientific study of speech sounds, how the sounds are made vocally, and the relation of speech sounds to the whole language process.
Phonics is a way to teach children how to read using speech sounds.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear that words have individual sounds.
A phoneme is a single speech sound. This is not the same as a letter of the alphabet.
There are about 40 key sounds (phonemes) in the English language represented by single letters and different letter combinations.
- the word dog has 3 letters and 3 sounds: /d/ /o/ /g/
- the word boat has 4 letters but 3 sounds: /b/ /oa/ /t/
- the word toy has 3 letters but 2 sounds: /t/ /oy/
- the word church has 6 letters but 3 sounds /ch/ /ur/ /ch/
These sounds with a single letter or different letter combinations are called phonemes.
Associating letter sound with the letter symbol
One of the primary outcomes of the letter and sound sequence is your child’s ability to connect the sounds with the letter symbols.
According to VeryWell Family’s article, The Stages and Awareness for Learning to Read,
Here are the 4 Montessori exploration of letter and sound activities
I-Spy is a fun game that introduces the concept of a word to your child by distinguishing the different sounds you can hear in a word.
I-Spy emphasizes that the sounds she hears have an order in words; a beginning sound, a middle sound, and an ending sound.
Here is how to play:
Pick an object. Put the object in your hand for everyone to see and name each object. If it’s just you and your child, you will each have one object in your hand.
Then say, “I-Spy with my little eye, something in Annie’s hand that begins with the sound /f/.” Annie says, “fox!”
After you work with the beginning letter sounds several times, and your child gets the hang of it, you can move on to isolate the ending sounds next. Then you move on to isolating the middle sounds, which is the most challenging.
There are other variations and techniques to try, and I will go over all the details in a future blog post!
Tip: Practice I-Spy for as much as possible before moving on to sandpaper letters. I see many teachers rushing through I-Spy because they are excited to get to the sandpaper letters as soon as possible. Take your time and be sure your child has a solid practice of phonemic awareness through I-Spy games first.
After exploring extensively with sounds with I-Spy games, your child moves on to work with the sandpaper letter lesson.
The sandpaper letters are one of the most iconic Montessori materials. Traditionally, you make the letters cut from sandpaper and glue them onto a piece of wood.
There is a sandpaper letter for each letter of the alphabet, a-z. The vowels are blue, and the consonants are pink. Plus, there are the green double sandpaper letters. For example, /ch/, /ae/, /ie/. Sandpaper letters come in print or cursive, depending on your preference.
As the adult, you model tracing the letter and saying the sound that goes with the letter. Your child then traces the letter and repeats the sound.
The purpose of the sandpaper letters is for your child to trace the tactile letters with her fingers to get a hands-on and sensory experience of the letter symbol. It helps your child to get an internal impression of the letter shape, which prepares her later on for writing.
You can even make DIY sandpaper letters. In a future blog post, I’ll go into more detail about how to use the sandpaper letters and different ideas to make your own set at home!
Tip: Your child chooses the letters in the order she likes. For the first letters, try to select letters she’s drawn to, like the letters in her name. It’s okay if they are not in alphabetic order. But you can go in alphabetic order if you prefer.
Tip: You can also use the three period lesson to help your child to learn the letters.
After working with the sandpaper letters, your child begins work with the sandpaper letter with object lesson or matching objects with beginning letter sounds.
Young children love small objects. I remember my first year of teaching as a Montessori intern; the children gravitated toward matching objects to the letters. Objects truly bring the sandpaper letters to life and allow for more independent work for your child.
While doing the first presentation of the sandpaper letters in the previous lesson above, the teacher modeled tracing the letter shape and said the corresponding sounds, this time, the child gets to explore on her own with the objects.
You could also use pictures for this lesson, but young children at this age love to hold little objects.
Look around your house for objects! In the photo below, we looked around the house for objects that begin with the sound /j/, like juice, jar, and jam.
To read more about the letter and objects lesson, go to my blog post:
Tip: You can group 4 or 5 letters with a box of mixed objects so your child can sort the objects next to the correct letter. Alternatively, you can also have the objects and letters displayed separately for your child to choose whichever letters she likes to sort the objects.
Tip: Use only the letters and sounds your child knows for the sandpaper letter and object lesson. Go back to the first presentation of the sandpaper letter lesson (#2 above) to learn new letters first. Then you can move on to matching those letters with the objects.
As your child goes through each sandpaper letter with the matching objects, you can create a page for that letter in your letter sound book.
You collect all of the pages and put a book together from A to Z that your child can refer back to. The letter sound book will be helpful when they are ready to move forward with writing words with the moveable alphabet.
To learn more, check out my blog post about the letter sound book:
When your child has worked extensively with the sandpaper letter and matching object lesson, she may be ready to start writing words with the moveable alphabet. At this point, she knows the sounds that go with the letter symbols.
The moveable alphabet is another iconic Montessori material used to write words. Traditionally, it is a wooden box with 26 compartments containing each letter of the alphabet. There are several letters in each box so that you have enough letters to write words.
The consonants are pink or red and the vowels are blue. The letters are made out of wood and they are shaped in print or cursive. The cool thing is that your child can feel the shape of the letter in her hand.
When introducing the moveable alphabet to your child, you can explain that a moveable alphabet letter is the same as a sandpaper letter, but there are more letters so that we can make words.
According to the Montessori method, the child writes before reading because, in a sense, writing is easier. It is easier for the child to write her thoughts and words rather than reading someone else’s thoughts.
But before we can move on to writing, we need to transition from the sandpaper letters to the moveable alphabet.
To do this lesson, your child chooses about 4 or 5 sandpaper letters she knows and matches the same letters from the moveable alphabet.
Some teachers I’ve observed skip over this lesson and go straight to writing words with the moveable alphabet. However, this transition lesson helps get your child used to the smaller letters of the moveable alphabet.
Your child has likely spent weeks or months working with the sandpaper letter lessons, so now you want them to get familiar with the moveable alphabet.
You can purchase a moveable alphabet or make your own set at home. Look out for future blog posts about the moveable alphabet to learn more!
Tip: Once your child knows more than half the letter sounds (about 15-19 letters) from working with the sandpaper letter lessons, you can start this transition lesson. But, it also depends on your child and your preference. You could also wait until they know all the letters and maybe some combination of letters (green double sandpaper letter).
Concluding Thoughts about Sound and Letter Activities
I hope this overview of the Montessori language sound and letter activities is helpful and inspiring to you. Learning the letter sounds and associating the sounds with the letter symbols will look different for each child.
Remember to be patient and follow your child’s lead. It may take a few weeks to several months to a year or more to get through all the sounds and lessons. It’s okay. Have fun with it!
I will write more detailed blog posts about these lessons in the upcoming weeks and months, including how to change them up and make them more interesting. If you’d like to learn more, keep an eye out for those!
Have you practiced any letter and sound lessons with your child? How did it go, and what are your favorite activities? Leave a comment below!
More Montessori Resources
If you liked this post, you’ll also like the blog posts below from the Montessori Oral Language sequence:
- How To Increase Phonemic Awareness With These 4 Sound Games (I-Spy Games)
- Montessori Sandpaper Letters: 3 Easy Ideas To DIY At Home
- Easy and Fun Beginning Sounds Game (Letter Object Matching)
- DIY Letter Sound Book: 1 Brilliant Idea To Keep Track
- Simple Letter Recognition: 4 Engaging Moveable Alphabet Ideas