Montessori Elementary Homeschool Blog - with documentation of our infant Montessori, toddler Montessori, and primary Montessori experiences; as well as preparation for the upcoming adolescent Montessori homeschool years.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Our Journey to Writing

Chronicling our experiences - as they are - un-edited. Caveat: things do change over time and one does learn from past experiences!

My son was just-turned 1 when I first started making primary and elementary Montessori materials for my daycare children. Clear the clutter of our home just to add more stuff! ;) But I turned a lot of the clutter into Montessori materials, so it worked out in the end! My daycare children at the time were infants through age 11; I started part-time and was subbing at a Montessori school, but only in infants, toddlers and elementary at the time. 

By this time, I'd made or fanagled most of the infant-toddler materials as outlined in Montessori from the Start (see other posts). So that age was set. 

For preschool and elementary materials, in addition to Montessori's writings, I had the books Montessori in the Home: School Years and Montessori in the Home: Preschool Years. I was too overwhelmed at the time by Advanced Montessori Method to figure out what was primary and what was elementary and when and how and compare it to the various schools I'd been to, so I made do with the little bit that was available online at the time and the above two mentioned books. Livable Learning and were both available at the time. I am pretty sure I was part of montessorimakers Yahoo group at the time (I have printouts of some of those files, so I am pretty sure!).

My first material creation for primary was the lowercase and uppercase sandpaper letters. I used the patterns the Preschool Years books, using old-style posterboard (thick stuff!), sandpaper cut and mounted, and construction paper for the colored backgrounds. I was and am satisfied with the results - they were sturdy, but I would never do it that way again:
  • construction paper fades over time
  • the letters were too small for most of my daycare children - not enough movement of the whole arm
  • the colors did not match the movable alphabets that were most readily attainable (colors reversed)
  • the letters were mounted at the bottom of a tall card; rather than placed in the middle or to the side of a "wide" card (the child should have a place to lay his unused hand to hold the board down)
  • they were print
  • capital letters in sandpaper letters aren't really necessary
  • I should have asked to visit the primary room at the school to see what they used. 
But they got the job done. And now, years later, they are serving another homeschool family. Not perfect, but functional to an extent. 

Later, I printed a set of cursive movable alphabet that could be printed on cardstock - the children were all over these! Spelling things out, copying them down, trying to link up letters.... I had picked up just one tacklebox (Livable Learning - now Teaching from a Tacklebox style!), and went back to get another and they'd sold out. I couldn't easily find it online at the time, so I picked up another two boxes (because just didn't have enough compartments) and those two boxes have been a nightmare - until I recently replaced them with the proper tackleboxes and turned those flat-bottoms into a phonetic object box and a phonogram object box (yes, just one box of each for the AMI environment). 
(at first, I did not print the capitals on the back - we needed them right then, so I didn't take the time to do it; but the capitals should be on one side and the lowercase on the others; and you can have punctuation)

My son had some speech development set-backs, and it wasn't until I started giving him naming lessons Montessori-style that I discovered how much he really knew already. We found other ways for him to communicate with me what he knew (colors, quantity (not counting!), shades of colors, Latin (another story), etc. He took everything in, he just wouldn't speak it. 

So we played a lot of language games, but I didn't know enough then to understand how important they were. He indicated in various ways where he heard certain sounds, without speaking a whole lot himself. Yes, I'd had him tested for speech delays, but every test said he was still in the normal range - the Montessori activities clearly indicated he was NOT in the normal range, and we are still suffering the consequences of delaying therapy today - but that is another post). 

So he started the sandpaper letters at 2 1/2 - just lowercase - I never did show him the capitals (and my daycare children didn't really use them, preferring the lowercase). He'd been around all the other children using them and other sensorial materials that when he showed an interest, I just went with it; if I knew then what I know now, I'd've emphasized more of the sound games FIRST - and had the phonogram cards made. 

About this time, we purchased the wooden movable alphabet because many of my daycare children had some troubles with the cardstock version - they needed something bigger and the connections between the letters were easier to see with the wood version. I was also becoming more and more troubled by "how do I go from sandpaper print to movable alphabet cursive???" That is when I made the discovery that Maria Montessori gave the children cursive to begin with. Well, I was too busy with other materials to replace those sandpaper letters..... It's one of those things that as a parent, I let slip by. 

That Christmas Grandma received a request for an all-wood, no bells-whistles-gizmos-gadgets-electricity-or-batteries barn. My son explained time and again, "I need a home for my animals." (We had a lot of Toob animals and others for language lessons and for play.)

She waited until the last minute and couldn't find one, so she got him a preschool laptop instead. Hm. bells-whistles-gizmos-gadgets-electricity-AND-batteries. Not to mention all capital block letters. The mouse broke within 2 weeks, the batteries died about that time and I just wasn't excited about it; and he was still asking for a home for his animals. 

For my birthday, she got him the barn (Melissa and Doug - PERFECT!). He still has that barn and now the co-op children use it (many times it goes back and forth between home and co-op). 

At 3 1/2 my son started a Montessori school while I was in the primary training. Finally, he could get a proper sequence from someone who knew what they were doing! They had lowercase *cursive* sandpaper letters. 

That Christmas, I handed him a set of blank cards to draw in to use for thank you cards for Christmas gifts (we did this every birthday and Christmas since his first Christmas). I was busy in the kitchen when he asked me "How do I make a K?" I came over to show him, wondering what on earth he was doing, when I saw this on the card: 
T H A N 
(capital block letters)


So I showed him on another paper how to make the K. He then asked how to spell "you" - I told him the letters and he wrote them down (I was back to working in the kitchen). He brought it to me and I saw this: 
T H A N K   Y O i

I said, "Honey, this is an 'i' and you want a 'u'". He responded, "I like it better."

I smile and nod. And spend the next week wondering where he learned to write in capital  block letters. 

Then we unpacked a box and found the old laptop. Capital block letters, with lowercase letters on the same key. 

There are still unanswered questions, that get into the absorbent mind. Enough said 

His teacher couldn't get him to use the movable alphabet at school, and then she had serious health problems off and on the rest of the year. When I covered for her and when we had another long-term sub, all the children got into all the material like they'd never had it before - it was great! Even my son was working with the movable alphabet. 

Flash forward to the following school year; we'd had some issues with the reading (another post), but we'd caught up to par; moved to another state; started another Montessori training; and was beginning a job at two local churches. My son attended a 3-half-day a week preschool program run at one of the churches; the teacher allowed me to have him there for both morning and afternoon on those 3 days and I'd join him for lunch in between classes since my office was right there and the school didn't typically have children for lunch. 

This school emphasized print. And worksheets. And getting a piece of candy or a sticker after completing every single teacher-required activity. I love the teachers - they are so wonderful and compassionate, but we were only there because it was the only local option next to the free-for-all babysitter across the road (who we used on occasion as well). 

So writing and reading fell away again. He'd write in print, but there was no joy in it; and so many times he'd make up a symbol and say it was another letter. We spent that summer working through some of that lack of joy. 

The "kindergarten" year, I long-term subbed at a Montessori school and my son was able to attend in the primary classroom. They did handwriting sheets, but they also heavily used all the Montessori materials. When we finished up there and officially were at home full-time again for the first time in 2 1/2 years, we started to use Our Lady of Victory handwriting books, starting with the second half of kindergarten, because they start cursive at that point and the layout is not like typical handwriting where the child just traces and re-creates, so the lines were sized to his ability - this book also asks questions and expects the child to answer the question in his own words with neat handwriting. Combined with the banded line Montessori paper, we finally got back to being on par. He would write short cards or very quick notes; I required at age 6 that he write the grocery list and I'd ask him to make notes for me now and again - anything to make it applicable to real-life, interesting and not a chore. At first, he was still writing in print, and I'd keep saying, "I prefer cursive; you have such beautiful cursive and it will organize your words better" (his print letters looked like one long run-on word). 

Then one day. It took off. And now I can't stop him. Everything is in cursive. 2 years later, we have a house full of notebooks, charts, graphs, lists, stories, more lists, timelines, labels, more lists (he loves lists - elementary children are collectors of things - words being one of those things!). 

If I could do it all again - it would be cursive from the beginning; much more emphasis on sound games; and a polite request at the preschool to NOT do the worksheets. Otherwise, things needed to proceed at his pace, as they did. Without force or coercion. 

I am finding a similar outcome with the co-op children. They know that cursive is required in our classroom and they are trying it out at home too. They know I respect their past and present experiences, and they also see that I have provided tools in the classroom to adapt from print to cursive. One 7 year old boy who was initially "hostile" to the thought of cursive asked me one day, "Could we please just get rid of all the cursive in this room?" I took him on a tour of the classroom, with a piece of paper, noting each thing that was in print or cursive. We did a mathematical calculation to determine that 95% of the written materials in our classroom were in print, not cursive. I didn't judge him or become upset. We just looked at it all unemotionally. He said, "Hm. That is interesting." The next class, he came back with the news he'd started writing in cursive at home, "but it is slow and hurts my hand" he said. So we then worked on writing grasp - along with all the children. And they are all writing so beautifully now! 

Cursive is an art-form and when children are creating art, it is no longer a chore, but a joy. 


  1. Great post Jessica!

    I agree, I would TOTALLY do cursive first if I could start over. Kal-El had already learned all his print letters by 2.5. I swore I would do cursive first with Me Too, but he got really angry and wanted "the same as Kal-El" and wanted so badly to have the same things as his big brother. I would have had to remake SO many materials I just wimped out.

  2. I'm with you on the materials - once they are made, it is so hard to justify re-doing them, no matter the intention!

    We adults put our hearts into the material-making... I do this with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd materials as well as the Montessori materials - even when I figured out the grammar box material, it took me a couple of years to change everything - so hard!

    Thank you for posting! You're my first commenter! Yay!