Lower School Blog: Exploring Language at the Primary Level

Lower School Blog: Exploring Language at the Primary Level

As humans, we have an inner drive to communicate. We want to not only express ourselves, but we also want to understand others. Maria Montessori saw language as an instrument of collective thought, a gift that allows us to pass on culture and information. And the young child is absorbing the full spectrum of language during their first 6 years of life.

The adult must remember that they are the major language material for the child. Therefore, it is essential that the adult supplies the child with rich vocabulary, meaningful conversations, and ears ready to listen to the child's self-expression. 

Spoken Language

The adults in the lives of children must be careful how they speak, since they are modeling proper grammar.  In other words, the adult is constantly giving a lesson, whether they speaking directly to a child or speaking to someone else while the child observes.

There are three conditions that can impact the child’s language development: self-confidence, enriching experiences and vocabulary, and opportunity for expression. Here’s how to support each one, remembering that consistency is key.

  • Self-confidence: At school, the key to self-confidence is found when a child is connected with the materials. They are oriented to the environment, which builds competence. Also, their ability to freely choose their work naturally creates independence. 
  • Enriching vocabulary: Give the child vocabulary that matches their experiences. We are helping the child so they can talk and express their thoughts about their discoveries. Therefore, we must provide language that has meaning. 
  • Opportunity for expression: The child must be given a chance to express themselves. In the classroom, the children have the freedom to talk with each other. The teacher, assistant, and visitors must make themselves respectfully available to the child. Children live in the moment; they have the urge to talk and often can’t save their thoughts for later. So, though we must model appropriate communication and help the child learn grace and courtesy in conversation, it is important to listen when possible to give the child an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings.

Written Language

When Maria Montessori started in the Casa de Bambini, she had no intention of giving writing or reading lessons as part of the children’s day. In fact, she thought it was an incredibly difficult task. After designing materials and watching the children use them, she noticed that some four-year-olds were writing and that some five-year-olds were reading. She realized that children at this age could simply absorb the spoken language if given to them properly. 

Therefore, she had the idea that children should write first because writing is simpler than reading; it is easier to express your own thoughts than it is to interpret the thoughts of others. Children are able to write if given the tool to self-express (Movable Alphabet). There are two aspects of writing: the ability to express yourself through the analysis of sounds and the mechanical aspect of writing (the ability to use a pencil). 

Phonetic sounds of the alphabet

a = apple, alligator

b = bubble, brown

c / k = cat, pick, kite

d = drink, desk

e = egg, elephant

f = family, fig

g = grape, gum

h = happy, house

i = igloo, it

j = jump, jet

l = lollipop, long

m = monkey, mommy

n = nice, noise

o = octopus, olives

p = pen, picnic

q = queen, quiet

r = run, red

s = scissors, soup

t = turtle, twist

u = umbrella, under

v = violin, violet

w = winter, watermelon

x = box, hexagon

y = yogurt, yolk

z = zero, zipper


Reading is not necessarily taught directly at school; it is a series of preparations that teachers put together in the classroom for the child to discover. After doing regular work with the Movable Alphabet for a few months, there’s a good chance that the ability to read will naturally emerge. At the beginning when the child is using the Movable Alphabet, they don't know it’s something that could be read—they are simply expressing their thoughts. Reading is something that will happen spontaneously. Maria Montessori talked about the concept of total reading—the idea was to give the child all the tools they need to deepen comprehension and the ability to interpret. 

Self-Expressive Writing

At this point, the child has all the tools for reading and they might be able to use them in their writing. The child will use writing as a way to materialize what they are thinking. Through the use of their writing supplies, they will have opportunities to express themselves. We do not make them write, but we do offer opportunities or make little suggestions. At a certain point, the child might be writing words, then eventually phrases. They also enjoy illustrating their stories.


Claudia Caihuara, Mulberry Lead Teacher

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