Foundational Reading skills are one element of Literacy Development in the VELS. While humans are hardwired to learn spoken language, children must actively develop foundational skills for engaging with written language (both reading and writing). By the time a child completes Kindergarten, they should demonstrate certain print concepts, including phonological awareness, phonics and word recognition, and fluency. Age appropriate print concepts include understanding that spoken words are represented as written words by a unique sequence of letters and that individual words are separated by spaces, tracking print left to right and top to bottom on a page, and recognizing the name of all upper and lower case letters.
From the moment a child enters the Primary Montessori classroom, the environment and lessons provide direct and indirect preparation for the print concepts needed for literacy development in Kindergarten and beyond. Materials and lesson are organized to mimic the movement of our eyes when tracking print on a page. For example, when a guide demonstrates the use of a material, she sets up the activity so that materials are used in a logical order from left to right and top to bottom. Long before a child begins formal language lessons in the Montessori classroom, their eyes and mind are learning to instinctively organize movement from left to right.
Children can be much more receptive to certain language concepts prior to Kindergarten. Children of all ages play the Sound Game in the classroom, similar to I Spy using the sounds in the name of objects, which helps children to hear the component sounds in words. Young children may only hear the first sound in a word, but older children practice vocalizing all the sounds in order. We begin teaching phonemes (letter sounds) as soon as a child demonstrates they can isolate the first sound in a word. Often, this is when a child is three or four. Phonemes are introduced in the Montessori classroom with sandpaper letters, which do double duty by teaching both the letter sound and the tracing pattern for writing the letter. Parents may notice that Montessori guides emphasize the letter sound much more than the name of the letter, since this is more useful for literacy development. The sandpaper letters are the first hint offered to the child that written words can be used to represent spoken language.
These foundational skills are utilized when a child begins composing words with the Moveable Alphabet and when writing letter symbols with chalk and pencil. Their hands have practiced tracing the shapes months before using a writing utensil to copy the symbols. They have also ideally internalized the sound associated with each symbol. When they are in Kindergarten, or even younger, they are prepared to ‘hit the ground running’ with reading.
You can support development of foundational reading skills at home as well! In addition to reading aloud regularly with your child, you can play games that will help your child begin to notice letters in the world around them. Look for letters on signs as you drive around with your child. You can also try creating an alphabet book with your child, drawing or pasting pictures from magazines for each letter. Try playing the Sound Game at home: isolate about ten familiar objects and say, “I’m thinking of something that starts with the sound…….” If your child has a hard time with ten objects, you can isolate a few in your hand to make it simpler. An older child may enjoy family game nights with Boggle, Scrabble Jr. or Bananagrams. And remember to keep it light and have fun!