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.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Literate Environments

When I was working on my child development degree, there was so much talk about "literate environments." Most of it made sense; but I have to admit, a good deal of it was so utterly contrived.

And then I met a little girl. She was this sweet little thing with something of an "uppity" attitude. The other teachers at the daycare were relatively annoyed with her, but they "put up with her". This sounds worse than it was; let's just say they didn't think much of her personality most of the time. She was 3 when I met her and 5 when I last saw her.

And now that I know many homeschoolers... she reminds me of homeschoolers!

NOT because of the "uppity-ness" which was mis-construed. In reality, it was a sign of normalization among children who were not normalized.

She reminds me of homeschoolers because she had a VOCABULARY. She didn't say "kitty and doggie" - she said "kitten and puppy" (and even those words she said in a sweet little voice that just made your heart melt!).

She used the word "persnickety" to describe another child's bristliness after nap-time. She was 3 1/2 at the time. And she was spot-on!

She could describe nuances of color to you - if it was gold, it was NOT yellow; and it wasn't just gold either: there could marigold, antique gold, tarnished gold, pyrite gold.... these were HER descriptors.

She loved play on words (sounds, rhyming, songs), was trying to start reading at age 5 (hindered by the environment we were in).

She had little interest in "pure fantasy." It truly turned her off (this is where part of the uppity label came in. She would say very politely, "This book just isn't for me; thank you."

Honestly, I can't believe the child didn't go to a Montessori environment.

But she did.

She had parents who developed an environment at home that centered on the following:
  • observation of the child
  • following her needs
  • fulfilling those needs 
  • respecting freedom and responsibility at appropriate times
  • providing limited choices so she could take "safe risks"
  • did not hand over all control to the child
  • did not hold back all control from the child
  • encouraged role-playing - not "fairies" but real-life-style situations. 

Included in all of that, as part and parcel: 
  • They spoke to her in REAL LANGUAGE. They did not give her the birds and bees sort of talks, but they did speak to her as a real person with a real love for real language. 
  • As she started having interest in reading and writing, her parents responded by playing labeling games at home. So things were not labeled already in the environment (as in a contrived literacy-based environment), but labeled at the time she would actually care - and get it. And she was part of it. 

So yes, she had a Montessori environment at home. And it was language-rich, and rich in so many ways, because it was an intentional environment that met her needs. 

Not because it was contrived. 

Now, her mom was an artist and her dad a musician. So, before we start worrying about lack of creativity because she didn't want anything to do with pure imagination, let's consider that she was still in the first plane of development where she's not supposed to be drawn into those things of her own accord; and that her parents certainly would have been encouraging creativity and imagination in appropriate ways. 

I wonder if they ended up homeschooling her.... :) 

So how do we create literate environments as Montessorians? 

  • real language - BIG words; WIDE vocabulary - don't dumb down the language because a child is not yet speaking. 
  • real-life situations
  • lots of real-life role-playing (grace and courtesy comes in here; but also letting them be creative and play)
  • solid foundation in reality
  • oral language games starting very young (1, 2, 3 years old)
  • continue oral languages games indefinitely
  • invite writing skills when the child is interested and at the right sensitive period
  • as they start with the movable alphabet, invite them to label items around the room
  • invite reading skills when the child has been writing for a while and you see signs that they are on the verge
  • now they can read labels and place them - with small objects, with items around the room, with items they need to illustrate themselves
  • read-aloud to them every day
  • have conversations with them
  • have lots of experiences - occurrences they can TALK about, that they will want to WRITE about, that as they learn to read, they will want to READ about to expand their knowledge in that area and build into even more experiences. 
  • Under experiences: garden, have pets, paint, listen to music, go for walks, go camping, travel on occasion, include the child on grocery store trips and other errands, visit family and friends
  • TALK (just not during a presentation that needs few words and more gestures ;) ). 


  1. Wow. This reminds me of my barely 2 yr old. I was just wondering how a Montessori enviornment would handle a gifted toddler and this helped explain it since my particular child is verbally gifted.

    1. The real trick, if you are looking for an out-of-the-home-Montessori environment is to assure you have teachers who are thoroughly immersed in the theory, not just "know how to apply the principles and use the materials" in general.

      The materials are DEEP; and the set-up of the environment SO important. Yes, modifications can and need to be made for some children in some cases, but for the most part, a teacher who thoroughly lives the theory will be make these adjustments with ease.

      Keep up whatever you're doing at home :) I love verbally gifted children and the joy they have!