A child’s language development begins in infancy, long before he joins our program. Our role is to provide a language rich environment and age-appropriate materials that will allow that development to continue and flourish.
Our youngest children in the Iris class are just starting to say individual words. Teachers speaking slowly and clearly assist that development. Teachers use correct terms for vocabulary, read stories, use sign language, sing songs, and enjoy finger-play. Some children in our youngest class start to recognize and respond to their name and may start to follow one or two step directions. They may be putting a few words together by the time they move up to the next class level.
At around age 2 most children start speaking in short sentences and have a functional language. Teachers in the toddler program continue to model clear spoken language. Children are encouraged to verbalize their needs. Naming actual objects or pictures of objects helps to increase vocabulary. Children build visual discrimination skills through matching objects and pictures and by learning to recognize colors and shapes. Learning to listen is part of language development. Reading to the children, engaging them in conversation and giving them short verbal directions to follow enhance listening skills.
The pre-reading lessons in the older toddler class and in the 3-6 classes include more visual discrimination practice. Matching, sorting, classifying, patterning, and go-together cards are used. Rhyming and opposites will be introduced. Vocabulary work is done not only in the language area, but also in the sensorial, science, cultural and geography lessons. Pre-writing work is done with lessons that help children learn the proper way to hold a pencil. Pencil control and fine-motor skills are practiced. Preparation for writing includes sandpaper letters that the children can feel and trace.
Our language curriculum in the 3-6 program is phonic based. Children learn letter sounds starting with lower case letters. Once they know 10 or more sounds, they are introduced to a word building lesson called the movable alphabet. They learn that putting sounds together creates a word. Children are often ready for word building before they are able to write so the movable alphabet allows them to “write” without paper and pencil. It isn’t long before they start sounding out 3 letter words. They match words to objects or pictures, increasing their understanding that a word has meaning. In keeping with the Montessori philosophy of allowing children to progress at their own pace, lessons are presented according to a child’s interest and readiness. When ready, a child will progress to reading short sentences, sight words, and may start reading emergent reading books.
Both receptive language skills and expressive language skills are important milestones. As the children get older, they will be given opportunities to follow 3 or 4 step verbal directions. Sustaining attention in a group, answering questions with an appropriate response and staying on topic while carrying on a conversation will be expected. They can listen to longer books and start to retell a story. Older children can be asked to predict an outcome or next event in a story.
Vocabulary and expressive language skills increase as children are allowed to converse and interact with adults and peers throughout the day. Show-n-tell is a great way to help children become comfortable speaking in front of a group. Creative writing can start by “writing” stories with the movable alphabet or dictating to a teacher. Using phonetic spelling, some children start writing stories themselves and illustrating them as well.
Even after a young child learns to read, it remains important that they continue to be read to daily. At around age 4 or 5, you can start reading chapter books that may take several days to finish. Ask your child what happened previously in the story before continuing from one day to the next. Choose books that don’t have a lot of illustrations, allowing children to create their own images as they listen to the narrative. Include poetry, fiction and non-fiction on your child’s bookshelf. Have multi-cultural books and books that include characters in non-traditional gender roles, for example a male nurse or a female fire fighter. Biographies of famous people are popular with young children.
Be prepared to read the same story numerous times – children love the repetition. Change the wording in a sentence or the ending of a story to add a new challenge as the child listens for those “mistakes”.