Friday, February 3, 2023

How We Teach Reading in the Montessori Environment


Montessori programs use a blended approach to reading. We start by emphasizing phonetic work but later introduce sight words and other letter combinations for memorization. But before the child is introduced to reading there are many pre-reading preparations that include working on the following: 


·         Developing rich vocabulary and precise pronunciation. This is an area where parents can help the most! The young child has a natural ability to absorb language and so it is best to avoid any "baby talk" and teach children many descriptive words. Children can also easily absorb other languages at this age (0-6 years).


·         Developing phonemic awareness with sound games. It is so important that children learn to hear and isolate individual letter sounds. This can be achieved with games such as name all the words that start with "b" sound - baby, bottle, blanket etc. Or line up some animals and ask the child to pick out the one that starts with the "z" sound (like zebra). (Ages 2 to 4 years)


·         Introduce Phonetic Alphabet work:  This work begins with an introduction to the phonetic sounds of the alphabet with cursive lowercase Sandpaper Letters. These are given 3 at a time with the easiest to trace first. The child learns to trace the letter in the same way it is written and to associate the basic phonetic sound for each. Letters are introduced in small batches at a time and not in alphabetical order. (Ages 3 to 4 years)


·         Form Phonetic Words - We use letters from the Moveable Alphabet which are all in lowercase cursive. The child learns to form words spoken by the teacher by listening, identifying the sounds heard and laying them out in the correct sequence.  Children are first given small words like 3-letter and then 4-letter phonetic words.  To succeed in this work, the child needs to be able to hear and recognize the individual phonetic letter sounds in simple words. This paves the way for reading. (Ages 4 to 5 years)



After all this introductory preparation, many children begin to spontaneously read small phonetic words on their own and show a readiness for further work with reading. 


·         Beginning Reading is all phonetic – We start with 3 and 4-letter phonetic words in lowercase cursive. Activities include matching to a picture, matching to environment and reading sets of word cards with no picture cues, etc. (Ages 4 to 5 years)


·         Basic sight words. Once children begin to be comfortable reading small phonetic words then we introduce memorizing a few basic sight words like "the, a, of, is, he, she" etc all in lowercase cursive. (Ages 4.5 to 5 years)


·         Read small phrases and sentences- Now the child begins to be able to read a small string of words both phonetic with some introductory sight words mixed in. These materials continue to be all in lowercase cursive. (Ages 4.5 to 5+ years)


Phonogram Work
·         Phonograms. Since English is not phonetic and it would be cumbersome to memorize every single non-phonetic word, we introduce common letter combinations like "ee, oo, sh, th, ch" and long vowels. This work takes time and repetition to memorize these common combinations. Materials in this area are still all in lowercase cursive. (Ages 4.5 to 6 years)


·         Begin small first readers – Children are introduced to beginning readers which are all in cursive with increasing levels of difficulty like Rhonda's Readers and the Peacekeeper series (Ages 4.5 to 5+ years)


·         We introduce reading in print only after the child has gained some comfort with reading in cursive. Once children have gained a basic comfort level reading in cursive, the transition to reading in print is usually easy.




Handwriting is parallel to this and is always in cursive. Metal inset, tracing letters, writing first letters eee, iii, mmm, ccc as foundational forms for all the other letters is the prerequisite for being able to write words.  Children usually learn how to write their own name as well.

Phonetic Vowel Sounds

a as in apple

e as in elephant

i as in igloo

o as in octopus

u as in umbrella

Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School of Atlanta, Georgia USA

Copyright 2023 







Sorry is Just the Beginning - A Story for Children


Sometimes we accidentally hurt our friends or worse, we might argue or fight with them.  

It brings up feelings where we don't feel good. We may become angry or sad. 

Boys Cooperating

It helps to remember we aren't all the same, we don't always feel or think the same as others. And that's ok. We can be different and still be friends. 


People are most happy when they feel valued and that they belong. 

So, if we accidentally bump our friend - maybe even knock them down we can show them we care.  Many people say "sorry" and that is a good place to start but it isn't the end. We need to back up those words to show we really mean them. So, the next step that can help repair our bond would be to ask "How can I help you feel better? What can I do?" 


This shows our friends we are willing to put forth more effort - that we really see and hear their pain and are willing to listen and respond. This makes our friendship stronger! 


So even if you start to argue and someone's feelings get hurt. You can stop, take a breath, say "I'm sorry we are fighting.” and ask "What can we do to make this better?"  


And then we listen and try to understand their viewpoint. We can explain our own viewpoint as well "I feel ___ when you do ___."


We can engage everyone in finding a peaceful solution. Because we don't have to figure out everything alone - we can involve our friends and the adults around us. 


We can discuss what we think is fair. There might be a creative solution that makes everyone happy or at least ok. 


Such a simple thing to say that can help us repair the bond of friendship! 


Say it with me!


"I'm sorry. What can I do to help you feel better." 


Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School of Atlanta, Georgia USA 


Thursday, June 3, 2021


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Exploring the “Why” Behind Behavior

In Montessori Education, we do not advise using Reward and Punishment systems to mold behavior. While these may work short term to bring about the desired behavior, they do nothing to address the reasons behind that behavior. This is why, whenever I encounter challenging behavior with young children, especially if it is recurring, I like to examine if their basic needs are being met as outlined in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

(Please note: This article does not address extreme situations of physical/emotional abuse or neglect;  parents/caregivers who are addicts or suffer from severe mental illness;  families that suffer severe or sudden financial hardship or homelessness.  It is meant to address common issues that could affect almost any family.)

Physiological Needs

  • Sleep: Is this child sleepy? Is sleep a chronic issue? It is very hard to act one’s best if suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. So many adults and children are not getting enough sleep. And effects spill over into home and school life making children cranky, moody, overly sensitive, unable to focus etc.
  • Rest/Down Time: When children are habitually rushed from one activity to the next without enough unstructured down time, they don’t get to fully access the areas of the brain for reflection and creativity. This may also affect mood, contributing to tantrums and outbursts.
  • Exercise: Children need to move their bodies on a regular basis. They need opportunities to play and be boisterous. They may become overly active or agitated if they are not given enough outlets for their energy. They may act out or have trouble concentrating at school.
  • Nutrition: Is this child hungry? Are basic nutritional needs being met? Eating too much junk food affects mood and energy. Children who skip breakfast may have trouble concentrating.

Safety Needs:

  • Predictable Routines and Schedules: Children have a hard time relaxing and “going with the flow” if there is too much chaos. Children thrive on routine and schedules. They may become anxious if there isn’t enough structure in their lives.  And conversely, they may suffer if there are too many rigid routines.
  • Age-Appropriate Boundaries on Behavior: If boundaries on behavior are too loose or too tight regarding expectations, rules and consequences then children may rebel, becoming demanding or withdrawn.  If there are too many freedoms, children may try to fill the role of the adult themselves. Ironically, some parents offer too many freedoms in an attempt to bolster a child’s self-esteem, but this often backfires into creating anxiety and poor behavior.

Love and Belonging:

  • Affection: When children don’t get enough basic attention and affection, they may act out in many ways to get that. This can include when a new baby arrives, one parent must be away for work, or a divorce.
  • Positive Interactions: Children need to know that their fears and emotions will be taken seriously by the adult and responded to in compassionate and empathic ways. They also need coaching and encouragement, especially when they try something new or scary to them.
  • Belonging: Children need to know they can turn to adults when they have problems they can’t solve on their own. They need to know they have a safe “home base” in their lives.

The 4th tier of self-esteem often blossoms naturally when the first three tiers have been sufficiently met. This easily leads to a balanced curiosity and desire to learn and explore the world around them, part of the 5th tier of self-actualization.  Learning progresses so much more easily when the first 4 tiers have been met. Children want to grow and learn. If they are not sufficiently challenged, they can also become destructive or mischievous when bored.

Sometimes it may take a bit of exploring to see if there are underlying unmet needs. Young children want to please the adult and rarely act out or misbehave just to cause trouble.  So, the next time you find yourself faced with a recurring issue, take some time to reflect if there might be an unmet need that is driving it. It may take time but will reward you with a happier and healthier child!


Marla Nargundkar, AMI
Tree of Life Montessori School of Atlanta


Friday, April 10, 2020

Helping our Children Cope

During this time of COVID-19 with widespread sheltering in place, we are all experiencing a great amount of stress. Uncertainty about when we will return to “normal” routines, fears about loss of income, fears about loss of friends or family to this illness are all in play. So many stressors are pushing on all of us from so many directions. It can be hard to manage our time wisely, especially if we must juggle working online and caring for our children. Here are a few tips that may help you through this time.
  1. Set up a daily routine – it doesn’t matter what – just create a predictable structure for your child. Figure out what works for you. Predictable routines help ease anxiety.
  2. Focus on keeping the household running – cleaning up, picking up, assigning tasks, etc. We are all together in our households and cannot really escape for long. We’ve got to keep our living spaces sane. Enlist your child’s help in as many areas as possible.
  3. Don’t stress academics at this time. Focus on doing the minimum needed to keep their skills fresh. This isn’t the time to introduce a lot of new concepts or put pressure on any new skills. Everyone in the nation is experiencing this together, so you don’t need to worry your child will “fall behind.”  Academics are not what matters most at this moment. Use this time for enrichment activities but only if your child is really enjoying them.
  4. Try not to use electronic media too much. Hands on experiences are the most beneficial activities at this time. Use electronic media wisely and in limited amounts each day. The growing child’s brain needs all the neural connections that are formed from actual real world hands-on experiences.
  5. Get exercise daily. If it is safe to go for a neighborhood walk, then take a daily family walk. Have exercise time at home, too with dancing, obstacle courses, calisthenics like jumping jacks, hopscotch and more.  Be sure to include some calming breathing exercises as well.
  6. Focus on connection and emotional support with your child. Create fun and memorable activities for all of you to do as a family. This is a scary and confusing time for your child, even if they don’t show it! Help your child have virtual “playdates” with other children. You can video conference with others for an hour while children do similar activities in their own homes. Call grandparents and other relatives frequently with your child. Help your child talk about his/her feelings and acknowledge them as valid. Don’t diminish/dismiss your child’s fears. Let them know that you are there for them and willing to help them get through this. 
These are just a few ideas but I hope they help us all find a liveable  and happy medium during this time. 

Marla Nargundkar, AMI
Tree of Life Montessori School of Atlanta

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Verbal Activities to Prepare Your Child to Read

Parents often ask me what they should do at home to support their child’s learning at school. They often want to jump into teaching their children letters and numbers. But one very important aspect of preparing children to learn to read is the verbal side of language.

First and foremost, a strong vocabulary is essential to laying a strong foundation for reading. Don’t shy away from using “big” words with children. Use many descriptive terms in your speech and don’t water down language into “baby talk.”
Reading to Children

Read a variety of books to enrich your child’s language. Be sure to stop and discuss the meaning of words in the text. Discuss the story and ask questions to test your child’s comprehension – not only the facts of the narrative but also any underlying themes and messages. Invite children to think about the story from the character’s point of view. Ask them to imagine they were one of the characters and talk about how they might think or feel. You can even invent alternate endings or variations of the story for fun. The goal is to keep children engaged and developing not only vocabulary but critical thinking skills as well.

While it’s tempting to teach the alphabet to children, it’s better to focus on pre-reading skills such a games for phonemic awareness. This helps children hear and isolate the sounds (phonemes) that are in words, preparing them for sound and letter recognition later. One game to play at home is a very simple verbal game that can be played anywhere. The adult thinks of a 3-letter phonetic word with the CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant pattern). Examples include hat, dog, wet, big, fun, zip, vet, log, etc.   The adult says the word out loud and asks the child “what is the first sound you hear in cat”? The adult should keep repeating the word out loud, even emphasizing the first sound. Once the child can say /k/ is the first sound in cat, then move on to another word.

Once the child has mastered identifying the first sound in words, then ask the child to identify the last sound in the word. Work with that until the child is comfortable. This could take days or weeks. Just keep practicing.  Once the child is comfortable identifying the first and last sound, then ask the child to identify the middle sound. Like the others, this may need to be repeated for days or even weeks. If the child cannot guess/isolate the sound, then simply say it out loud for them.  The final goal of this is for the child to do all three parts with a single word. Once a child has mastered naming all three parts of a CVC phonetic word you can even introduce advanced variations that are still 3-sounds but are not phonetic, for example words such as home, line, foot, dune, shine, that, etc  as long as you can isolate to just 3 sounds/phonemes.

In further blogs I will give more ideas to support pre-reading skills. 

Use rich language, read and discuss books with your child, play some phonemic awareness games and your child will have a strong foundation to prepare them for learning the skills needed for reading!

Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta, Georgia USA  

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Does Montessori Teach Social Skills?

An older child helping a younger one learn letters
I've heard some parents criticize Montessori environments as not teaching social skills because of the emphasis on individual work. Sometimes parents will visit and when they see children quietly working independently, they mistakenly assume that social skills are not taught in the classroom. What they don’t necessarily see during their visit is all the work that made what they are seeing possible.

Montessori teaches children to be individuals, but responsible within a social framework. So yes, children are expected to learn how to pursue independent work, but it is within an entire social structure that helps them get along with others. 

Here are common principles and practices within Montessori classrooms that promote social development:

1. Children are expected to learn how to conduct themselves, to be responsible for themselves, including knowing basic self-care skills and how to clean up.  In general, even though they can work in small groups, they should be able to pursue independent work for quite a while each day.

2. Children are expected to respect the work of others by not disturbing or touching their work. They learn how to watch quietly if interested. They must respect that some children may not want to be watched.

3. In the classroom there is generally only one copy of a given material. This teaches patience to wait for a turn with the desired work by choosing other work to do (if someone else using it). It also forces children to choose a variety of work and not monopolize one material.

4. Skills are taught in an ongoing fashion about conflict resolution. Lessons on recognizing emotions, expressing feelings appropriately, and coming up with solutions are all taught to the group and reaffirmed on a regular basis. It is expected that after lots of guidance, that children will begin to attempt to resolve conflict on their own before rushing to the adult. 

5. Language enrichment is an important part of the Montessori classroom. Children are coached on how to speak politely with others and to express themselves. There is no “baby talk” in the Montessori classroom and children are encouraged to extend their vocabulary in many areas including using the Vocabulary Cards to learn the breeds of dogs, local bird, names of flowers, names of instruments of the orchestra, etc. There also daily singing, movement and group lessons at circle time. 

6. Politeness is emphasized in Montessori classrooms. Children learn such basics as how to get the teacher's attention and how to wait if given a signal to wait.   In group lessons, children learn how to wait while another has a turn speaking.  Children learn many social graces such as basic table manners, how to stand or walk in a line. They also learn through various responsibilities in the classroom how to be a leader as well as a follower, taking turns leading and letting others lead when it is their turn.

7. Children learn many social skills by being in a classroom of mixed ages. There is no uniform expectation that all children of a certain age will all have the same level of skills. With mixed ages, the older children often mentor the younger children and learn to accept differences. This reduces competition and conflict.

8. In Montessori classrooms there is an acceptance of diversity because no one is made to conform for the sake of conforming. All rules are in the context of respecting other people and enabling a smoothly functioning classroom. Gender norms are expanded to include flexibility in skills such as not reinforcing ideas that sewing or cleaning is for girls, and that working with tools is for boys. Cultural study throughout the year emphasizes acceptance and inclusion. Various abilities are accepted because there is no standard expectation of skill or ability.

9. Montessori classrooms promote self-evaluation and self-esteem because children learn how to judge their own progress. Many works have a goal where children are able to self-check and thus don't need to rely on another person's assessment of them. There are no daily stars or stickers or grades to motivate them.

In my own experience Montessori children are very good at communicating with both children and adults. They usually make appropriate eye contact, know how and when to ask for help. They tend to exhibit good listening skills and can engage well in conversations. They tend to have good self-confidence because of their mastery of basic tasks at school.  All in all, Montessori children learn many great social skills that serve them well in life beyond school with their friends and family as well as their community.

Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta, Georgia USA 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

To Follow or Lead?

One of the most misunderstood principles of Montessori is the caveat by Maria Montessori to “follow the child.” This is not a directive to make the child the leader with the parents following behind. This kind of permissiveness would abandon children to their own whims and desires. Children do not know what is in their best interest and are not ready to take on the responsibilities of the adult world.  Parents must lovingly guide and set firm boundaries - and an attitude of confidence is needed to get the full message across. When a child senses too often that the parent is timid, questioning or unsure, then that can create anxiety and even fear.

Parents make the main decisions in life and confidently express their choices for the child. It is the parent who decides what’s for dinner on a daily basis. It’s the parent’s decision what time to go to bed, what time to get up in the morning etc. The child cannot possibly know what is in his best interest in these types of matters. The child gets to make choices within limits set by the parents. So, it could be appropriate for a child to choose which book to read before bed, to choose between cooking carrots or green beans with dinner, to eat breakfast before getting dressed or after. But all of these options are presented by the parent to the child. The parent has made the decision of which options are acceptable.

So, what does it mean to “follow the child”? In the Montessori realm, it means to pay attention to the child’s interests and signs of readiness because these guide the adult in what and how to teach the child. It does not mean that we allow the child to totally steer their learning – but that we observe for ideas on how to potentially approach teaching them. For example, if a child is really interested in animals, when we teach the sounds with the Sandpaper Letters, we can utilize this interest and give lots of examples of animal names for each letter sound we introduce. The interests of the child can flavor our approach to the subject. Then, we observe the child for readiness before teaching any other new letters. We teach the child something when we observe that the child is ready.

Sometimes, it’s ok to let our observations guide us to step back and let the child pursue his current interests. In Montessori we pay attention to the Sensitive Periods for learning because children’s interests often closely follow the Sensitive Period they are in. For example, the Sensitive Period for Order often becomes very strong around age 2. It may be typical to see a child insist that everything must be lined up and put a certain way or they will not be satisfied. So, in “following the child” we understand that this a developmental phase, one that doesn’t last forever and we are not worried or upset by it. This is a case where we “indulge” the child’s desire because it is in alignment with proper and healthy developmental stages. We know it is best to step back and allow the child to line up all the toys or hang up the coat “just so.”

Another example includes when the child begins to insist on doing things by him/herself. This is also a developmental stage and we follow the signs of readiness by helping him/her learn how to do things by him/herself and then stepping back to allow that to happen. We stop doing for the child what he or she can successfully do for him/herself. If we interfere too much and put our own will/desire before the child’s in this area, then development does not proceed as smoothly as it can. Tantrums and power struggles can erupt.
So to “follow the child” means to learn how to be a good leader - to set limits and to let “signs of readiness” guide our approach.  This allows kids to relax and just be kids, confident that Mom or Dad will handle the big stuff.

Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta, Georgia USA