Our Montessori classroom is rich with language, from the casual conversations children enjoy between friends and teachers to the formal lessons in decoding, reading, and writing.
Our language materials are quite simple; early materials introduce children to phonetic sounds while later materials build upon those sounds to put together simple words.
The Moveable Alphabet is an early example of word-building, supporting the child as he or she begins the arduous tasks of deconstructing ideas into the individual letters that comprise their names. Children begin with accessible, three-letter phonetic words, sounding out each comprising part, identifying the letter in the box of moveable letters, and placing it in its appropriate place on the mat or table.
By beginning with just three letter words, children are able to see patterns in their own world-building: consonants often precede vowels and vowels are usually followed by a second consonant. Building words with the moveable alphabet pieces allows children to focus on the word rather than the formation of the letter shape with a pencil, so a child’s understanding of word construction isn’t limited by his or her fine motor control. As throughout our materials, even these alphabets focus on only the skill the child is learning, isolating that concept so that it can be fully mastered.
The Montessori materials share certain qualities: they are hands-on, beautiful, and self-correcting. They isolate concepts to be explored and they allow children to understand independently whether they have done the work “correctly.” Many of the materials also include implicit lessons, concepts that are consistently applied in the design of the lessons such that certain relationships are internalized for children before they are ever explicitly taught.
For example, the materials throughout the Sensorial area are presented in series of tens, in which each cylinder or cube or prism differs from its neighbor by a value of ten and in which there are ten of any of those pieces. The Pink Tower, for example, is a series of cubes from 1cm in width to 10cms in width, with each cube 1/10th smaller than its larger neighbor. This orderly internalization of the relationships of tens is an implicit foundation for the Base Ten system, the relationships of numbers in our most commonly used number system. Children learn that units can be counted up to 9, but that once you have counted the tenth of a series, you are working with a new kind of set. Whether you are counting units or tens or hundreds or thousands, you can only count 9 of those things before you have to bump up to the next kind. Nine units plus one equals one ten. Nine tens plus one ten equals one hundred, and so on.
Working with larger numbers, then, is far more manageable for young children in our classrooms. We know they are motivated to operate large numbers (just ask your child how many jelly beans he or she thinks are appropriate for dessert- you are likely to hear something like, “One majillion and eighteen.”) The Golden Beads, then, allow children to combine their internalized understanding of the Base Ten system with materials that let them count very very high. The result is work with naturally motivating materials that supports their developing understanding of numeracy and mathematical operations.