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