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, May 4, 2012

Our Journey to Reading

What did we use for learning to read?

The longer post: ;) 

I originally found the pink/blue/green series before I went to AMI primary Montessori training. I printed out all the cards from a site that offered them for free (thank you to all you WONDERFUL resource providers out there! low-cost or free - I owe each of you so much!). I had some instructions for their use and several blogs and sites with further ideas; but since I couldn't combine that information with anything in any of Montessori's writings, or any other Montessori-topic books I could purchase at the time, I was LOST. It just didn't connect with any Montessori experience I'd had and I didn't have a chance during that time period to get into a school to see what it was I missing.

So I took the printed words and sorted them out by the lessons I did have in books like The Advanced Montessori Method - and tried to adapt them to fit what I could grasp at the time.

It worked, but I still found myself combining it with learning-to-read series like Catholic Heritage Curricula's Little Stories for Little Folks, graded readers and other non-Montessori reading lessons. I was not entirely satisfied. And I was SO looking forward to learning to use the "real Montessori learning-to-read materials (aka pink/blue/green series)" when I got to primary training.

Was I in for a shock!? They didn't have it! NO pink/blue/green!? I asked about it and my trainer said, "Well, I have looked into it and considered how to use it within our environments, but we find it to be too curriculum-like, too scheduled, too much for the child; therefore too slow and inappropriate." Well, that explains why it wasn't in any of the writings I'd read - because Maria didn't develop it! It was developed later to deal with our English language rules; and AMI considered it and passed it by. Interesting.

I couldn't discuss it in detail with her to get more specifics, because I still didn't have much experience with it at the time. And I had to set it aside because AMI training is intense (and I was a single mom and working part-time at my son's school). What I DID discover while I was in training is that my daycare children had received from me something that looked VERY much like the AMI layout for reading. Both my methodology and Montessori's methodology as laid out in the AMI albums were based on careful observation, providing the keys, and providing real life experience - no dumbing down, no graded stages.

So where did things go askew with my own son? ;)

My son followed the AMI way perfectly his first year in primary. He began reading (and writing) at home and at school, until a little girl told him, "You can't read; I'll read this book for you." She was playing around, he took her seriously. And told me at home, "I can't read yet." Uphill battle until the following summer we worked through some of the issues and he was reading again.

The following school year, we were far away from any Montessori school and he was attending a part-time very non-Montessori preschool. The children LOVED that he could read to them. Until one girl said, "We're not supposed to read until we're in Kindergarten!" So he told me just that line at home (he did not know I was in the room next door to the preschool and heard the whole interaction). We spent Thanksgiving RE-training his confidence. But it just didn't really pick up again.

We started again that summer just after he turned 5. He was picking it up. Then for 2 1/2 months he attended a lovely AMS Montessori school that used a very nice combination of reading strategies, but my son's confidence was shot at this point, so he would do the minimum requirements for the day and no more - he was busy in other areas. When we were back home full-time and I was actually home with him full-time, we delved into the reading sequence, starting at the beginning of the AMI language album.

There were some struggles - because he was honestly far beyond the work I was presenting; but his confidence and BELIEF in himself needed to be nurtured, as well as conquering his insistence that he would not be "ready for Kindergarten until I'm 9 or 10" (a bit of confusion set in when the one girl told him that children don't read until kindergarten). Yes, he told me that when I told him he would be starting Kindergarten at the one Montessori school. He has his hand up, palm-forward, and everything - so serious! Speaking to me like I was the child! Well, he got over that in a hurry!

The first "book" he truly read independently at this time was not a booklet from any of the reading activities (AMI, Dwyer, etc.), but it was the first of the Biological Classification booklets - about living and non-living matter - he just went in to his room (the school room was in his bedroom), picked it up and started reading it. Prior to this, during his bouts of reading, he had made up some words as he went along, but it always sounded good, even if not correct. The story or narration made sense. But now he was really reading! Word for word, entirely accurate! And it wasn't lesson time!
(interestingly enough, his "mis-read" words from before not only made sense in context but were ALWAYS a synonym-of-sorts of the same word - so he would exchange feline for cat; God for Jesus; Jesus' mother for Mary; fled instead of ran; leap instead of jump - usually using the more "complicated" version of the word - this was EVERY TIME he mis-read a word --- clearly he could truly read the words in his mind).

But by January of that school year, the frustration level was high, because he just kept having an attitude about "I can't read" (even when he was!); attitude was a serious issue. Then he really wanted to read Magic Tree House and I kept holding him back, because I wanted him to be successful with them (and I didn't like them to begin with). And the attitude continued, until finally I said (not so nicely, I must be humble and admit), "Fine. You may read one chapter. You may not ask me for pronunciation, you may not ask me for help. If you want to read any additional chapters you will need to work through x-amount (I actually specified at the time) of the other work, including y-number of the booklets."

He took the book into his room and I sat in the living room wondering if I was really cut out for this. Whatever "this" is.

He read his chapter.

He calmly returned to me and requested the next booklet. He completed the expectations I laid for him. He read the next chapter. Within 48 hours, he had finished the book and 4 months of typical language album work.

After finishing everything else in the primary album over the course of the next week, he picked up The Oz Chronicles Volume 1 (set of 7 Land of Oz stories written by L Frank Baum - 5th grade reading level - NOT the paperback Oz Chronicles you might find on Amazon). And ate it up.

He then proceeded through the Narnia series.

He then read through a pile of books I can't even list.

And 2 1/2 years later - he hasn't STOPPED. At last "testing" he was reading at an 8th grade level.

For his 6th birthday, just a couple of months after bursting into reading, he received a set of "readers" from 2 friends of his, that were far below his reading level (they'd read them at age 7 so thought they'd be at his reading level ;) they meant well! and the stories were lovely! But the readers were read in a matter of an hour or so). 

This experience is typical. Children who learn to read the Montessori way, will READ. There aren't levels; there aren't experiential steps; they just READ. They need some additional cues now and again in specific areas, but when they start to read, they READ. This happened with my daycare children, my tutoring children, other children I've worked with; it happens throughout Montessori's books and books about Montessori. They go from no reading level to 3rd grade in less than a week or two; then steadily increase from there.

Mama's lesson learned: don't hold them back. Yes, build the foundation; but don't let strife enter into the picture. BEFORE strife sets in, allow them to move forward while making an agreement of continuing to build the foundation.

LESSON FOR EVERYONE: do not make the child read the words aloud until they are ready. There are times it is natural to read the words aloud (phonetic object box, the child will end up saying the name of the item while placing the ticket with the object, for example), but even then, the child has "read" the word in his mind at least a few times before saying it.

If I had it to do all over again, I would utilize the AMI sequence to a T, supplementing only with the Little Stories for Little Folks because of our family's faith, OR (with other children) utilizing a series of books I need to re-find. One Montessori school I worked at had them, and they are the perfect supplement for those who need the "comfort" of a graded reader without unduly burdening the child. I'll post them here if and when I find them!

Now the main point is not for the child to parrot back the story; but to have a logical discussion about it. They should be able to not only tell what happened, but think through the story or the reading - how does this apply to another experience, or what can we learn from it, or how was it interesting/boring/funny/mind-boggling.
  • When children are free-reading, we let them just read; but bring up something from the book in a casual conversation at another time. 
  • Use sentences and phrases from their reading selections when doing language work (sentence/reading/logical analysis, etc)
  • Use artwork in other ways throughout the room - bring out materials to create a particular art form seen in a book. 
  • Experience something in the book (does it have a new food? Redwall books are GREAT for that!)
  • Talk about the author and his style. 
  • Etc. etc. etc. 
  • Keep it natural and integrated into the rest of life. 

Now the funny thing is, he loves to read the Clifford books at the library. Right now, he has taken a break from his bird studies (he drew out some birds he saw, brought the drawings and notes to the library to use bird books to identify their names, what they eat, and types of nests; wrote up some charts on them - some serious deep work), and why take a break from such excellent work? to read Clifford's Christmas. It's "candy" - it's a fun break ;) And he's elementary so I don't have to worry he's going to confuse reality with fiction (no dogs bigger than human houses around here!). I just think it's funny that my 8 year old wants to read Clifford books. 



  1. Wow! I am so impressed and encouraged! I am wondering what you mean about his school being in his room though! Can you elaborate sometime?

  2. At that particular time, his bedroom was set up as the school room with his bed (actually a loveseat) in the corner, a small shelf with personal items and a bin of stuffed animals. His clothing was on a low rack in the master bedroom walk-in closet. We take a minimalist approach to clothing so it makes sense to group that all together and save space.

    His toys were (and are) in a corner of the living room in stacks of plastic drawers. The lower half of the entertainment center holds some items which change as them months pass, sometimes blocks, sometimes games. The top half used to hold our art supplies until I thought to put a small tv in there and watch old home videos; so now art supplies are in our very large bathroom with the art easel.

    He never worked much in his room; rather he would obtain a material and work in the living room or hallway.

    I always thought about curtaining the two areas off from one another, but never got around to it.

    We have a small, tight apartment, with my bedroom serving as sewing room, library (I have a LOT of books), supply room and bedroom; the master bedroom closet holds clothing and seasonal storage. And our hallway now holds our keyboard.

    This leaves our living room mostly free for one side as a dining room and set up my laptop; a large floor space for working, two bookcases and comfy couch and chair for reading together.