Dear Ask a Montessorian, I have a first year Early Childhood student who says he wants to learn to read. He’s attracted to the works his older friends are doing in the Language area, but I want to introduce him to the Practical Life and Sensorial materials first. What would you suggest?”
Dear Melissa, I wonder many things about this new first year student. How old is he? Is his interest genuine? Does it come from his hearing his parents say that he will learn to read at school? Does he just want to hang around the big kids? Does he have older siblings who read and he wants to be like them? Or is he truly interested in the reading process as a few children as young as three year old truly are.
I think the answer to this dilemma is trial and error, observation and balance. We do want to ground our first year children in the basics of Practical Life and Sensorial, helping them to develop those all critical skills of coordination, concentration, order and independence but we also want them to do the things that are calling to them. So I think with a child like this the key is to really observe and do both! Offer the most beautiful, well timed Practical Life and Sensorial lessons you can and watch how the child responds. See if he goes back to them in subsequent days and repeats them. Do the same with the Sensorial lessons.
And at the same time, offer Language activities to this child as well. From there he will probably begin to recognize the name of a few classmates as well. When you show this child the basic pre-reading activities such basic object-to-object matching or picture-to-picture matching, offer to write labels for those items as a way to satisfy his interest for words. If, after he matches, and you offer to write the labels, he declines, then you might see through his comments that his desire to learn to read is not as intrinsic as the words imply. Highlight with delight everything that includes words and watch for his level of interest. When he finds his own name in the snack basket, or the folder basket, comment, “You just read your name!” In this way, he will begin to see that he is indeed reading even if it is just his name. Again, observation is your friend.
Sandpaper letters are also appropriate for a child who is telling you he is interested in reading. Offer a lesson and see how it goes. Some three year olds love these lessons and learn their sounds effortlessly. Others find this first lesson tiresome, so for them, this work is better left for some time in the future. If you offer a lesson and it goes well and the child comes to you and asks for another lesson, you know this interest is genuine and you should proceed.
Observe as he watches the older children do their Language Arts work and see how long his observations last. Does he watch with true interest or does he want to distract them to interact with him? If the latter is the case, then you can find things they can do together that are mutually beneficial such as having snack or laying out a set of nomenclature cards.
I wish I could meet this little guy and see what he is all about. But time and reflection will let him unfold himself to you and let you see whether he is truly interested in learning the mechanics of reading at such a young age or if he is just mimicking the words he has heard others say. Have fun figuring him out!
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