Part Four of Many: The Montessori Life: Teaching Letters and Numbers to Preschoolers

As established in earlier parts, children as young as 2 can start recognizing and associating letters to the sounds they represent and numerals to the numbers they represent, but you have to move from the concrete representations into the abstract symbols for them to catch on. There are a number of methods for teaching letters, but the following idea is what I use to help convey letters and sounds. I’ll go on to numerals after.
Letters and Sounds:
You can use alphabetical order to get kids to learn sounds, but because in so many circumstances, they are exposed to the alphabet, in order, particularly through song, it’s a good idea to mix it up a little bit both so they can focus on the individual meanings in the letters and they can start building, spelling and reading words right away. I split the alphabet into 7 groups and teach those groups in this order: AMST, EFPN, BCHI, KLUW, DGOR, JQV, XYZ. I also start with the lower case letters, since more often than not those are the ones they will see in reading and use in writing. They tend to pick up the uppercase letters through osmosis without much effort leaning in that direction.
Those are for the individual letters and sounds. The letters are divided this way both because of commonality in the English language, ease of pronunciation and the ability to start building words with only the first group. mast, mat, mats, sam, sat, at, am, as…If you start with the first four letters of the alphabet, your word building is pretty limited: ab, cab, cad, dab, bad and that’s pretty much it. Also, three of those words will be unfamiliar to most of your preschool age kids. So, you work for a week on the first group, and then the next week, introduce the second group and add it to the first. This works great in tandem with Spaulding’s phonogram system. So, we teach the phonograms in the groups listed above, but including all of the sounds those letters can make: A: At, nAvy, fAther, operA. So when a kids sees the letter a, he will recognize that letter as having one of the sounds a makes in those 4 words. M only has one sound, but S can sound either as “uS” or “aS”. T has only one sound. E:end, me. F, N and P only have one sound each. Then at the end of the first two groups, we break into the vowel combinations: EA: EAt, hEAd, brEAk. EE: sEE. And adding an E to the end of a word with an A in it assures the sound of the A: mAtE, tAmE, fAtE. Demonstrate the difference between mAt and mAtE, and fAt and fAtE. After you teach the third group, you show what happens to other letters when you add an H. T to TH (both THis and baTH), S to SH, P to PH, C to CH. If you can teach the children all 70 phonograms, they can read and spell roughly 80% of the words in the English language.
To help them learn to write as well as spell, I recommend buying or making a set of sandpaper letters. They help the children learn how to make those letters with the different tactile sensations between the smooth of the board and the rough letters. If you’re setting up a Montessori classroom and you need the letters to last through several hundred pairs of little hands, invest in a nice set from a good Montessori materials company. A google search will give you a decent idea of materials manufacturers. If you’re only thinking about a few children right now, Lakeshore Learning makes a cardboard set of sandpapers letters which is significantly less, or you can make your own from cardboard, sand and glue.
A great Montessori work is the spindle and box work. It has single digit numerals 0 through 9 on the back of the box with slots in the box and a set of 45 spindles to associate the numeral with the amount. So, in the 0 slot, they put no spindles. In the 1 slot they put one, in the 2 slot two and so on. You might have to do this work with them several times before they get a handle on it. Once they’ve grasped the idea, you can help them learn to write the numerals using sandpaper numbers. Again, if you need them to really last, buy a nice set from a Montessori material manufacturer, but if you’re only talking about a year or a few children, Lakeshore has a nice set that is much cheaper because it’s made from cardboard. Again, you can make them yourself with cardboard, sand and glue. Help the children reinforce their reading and writing numerals with hashmarks on a paper (make sure not to cross for #5, just make them count) and having them count them and write the number they found. This works great for single digits.
Whether you’re homeschooling your little ones or you want to help reinforce what they’re learning in school, you should get yourself involved in their schooling. I prefer to homeschool and using this method works best for me, but any combination of these methods with traditional schooling still helps.
List of Spaulding phonograms (I made these into flash cards with the phonogram on one side and the sounds it makes on the back. Remember if you want to make these cards, make the letters on the front in lower case only):
A: At, nAvy, fAther, operA
M: haM
S: uS, aS
T: baT
E: End, mE
F: iF
N: wiN
P: maP
EA: EAt, hEAd, brEAk
B: riB
C: Can, Cent
H: Him
I:bIg, sIlent
SH: diSH
TH: THin, THis
CH: muCH, sCHool, CHef
AI: pAInt
PH: PHone
IE: fIEld, pIE, lilIEs
EI: vEIl, concEIt, forfEIt
SI:sesSIon, viSIon
TI: naTIon
K: inK
U:Up, mUsic, pUt
W: Wit
UI:frUIt, sUIt
EW: grEW, fEW
WH: WHen
CK: neCK
AU: AUthor
G:baG, Gem
O:Odd, Open, dO
R: Rat
OU:rOUnd, sOUl, yOU, cOUntry
OO:bOOt, fOOt
NG: raNG
ED: gradED, lovED, wreckED
OA: bOAt
GU: GUess
GN: siGN
WR: WRap
QU (or Q): QUit
V: ViVid
X: boX, X-ray, Xylophone
Y: Yet, gYm, mY
Z: Zest
EY: thEY, kEY, vallEY


6 responses to “Part Four of Many: The Montessori Life: Teaching Letters and Numbers to Preschoolers

  1. Do they get confused by the mixture of big and little letters in a single word?

  2. Sorry, I should have specified: the upper case letters are only for you to look at on the back of the flash card, so you know which sound you’re teaching them for that phonogram. Only show the children lower case letters while they’re learning. And only show them the lower case letters included in the phonogram, rather than the word.

  3. Pingback: Part Four of Many: The Montessori Life: Teaching Letters and Numbers to Preschoolers | Sesasha Says

  4. Thank you so much for posting, I found it very interesting. I am about to embark on homeschooling my 5 and 3 year old daughters using the Montessori method. They have both had 1 year of being in an actual Montessori school. I would be grateful if you could clarify the flash cards for me. Would the child only see the phonograph in lowercase letters? So for example with the EA phonograph., on the side of the flash card that the child would see would be the letters “ea” then on the back would be the EA: EAt, hEAd, brEAk, which I would read to them? At what age would you suggest introducing the various phonograms? I would have assumed that they would be a little confused hearing the various words and not being able to see where the letter fits in.

  5. yes, the lower case letters are the only things on the front, and then you read the words on the back. Initially, your kids won’t understand what you’re doing. As they are introduced to words that utilize the phonograms, they’ll get how they work. They don’t seem to get confused, so much as they have trouble remembering the rules at first. As they practice with you, they’ll catch on. You can start with phonograms flashcards as soon as you think they’re ready. A friend of mine is a nanny for a 2-year-old who recognizes some letters and sounds. All of that is up to you.

  6. I think this is the very best “advised knowledge” I have come across yet!! Thank you for Soooo much good info!!

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