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.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dwyer and AMI Primary Language Album

In the last couple (now 3-4) weeks I have taken quite a few questions along the same lines and thought a blog post might be a great place to sort it all out ;)

1/7/12 - let me just reiterate right here - YOU have to decide what will work best for your family. My experience is my experience; while much of my opinion is based on a seriously high amount of observation, even I find myself outside of statistics many times, so I will not lock anyone into them ;) I can only help guide you based on your situation ;)

Within the English-speaking Montessori homeschool world, there are 3 language development "schemes" (anyone have a better word for that!?) that are most prevalent. I am sure there are many variations on these, but as a homeschooler coming to the internet getting started on Montessori, here are the three you will find most often, of late:
(when I was first getting started and before I went to training, #3 was not readily available and I never came across #2, though it was available)
  1. Pink/Blue/Green - altogether the most prevalent. It was developed specifically for the English language  and is heavily promoted by AMS (the Montessori organization with the strongest presence in the United States; and the most accessible to homeschoolers and new Montessori teachers). This system has to work because it is so prevalent, but it can be very overwhelming for new homeschooling parents, and tends to be heavily modified by each user because of these overwhelming aspects. It was not developed by anyone in the Montessori family (Maria, Mario, etc.), but is a specific response to the English language, in a Montessori-inspired manner. History is sketchy on the internet, but it seems to be in response to American-English, versus English in general or British-English (can someone please verify this for me!?). In any case, it may be more appropriate for schools (over homeschools) when seeking to apply it in a pure form. But I would personally not send my child to a school that uses this approach, if I want a true Montessori school.
  2. Dwyer Pamphlet - published by NAMTA - becoming more prevalent as families are really getting burned by the p/b/g work. I wrote up my first post about it here: Analysis of Dwyer booklet compared to AMI Primary Language Album. The emphasis of her pamphlet is "The Exploration of Language" - utilizing keys to unlock language. Keys - what Maria Montessori called her sensorial materials (keys to the world). And while it simplifies the process, it potentially over-simplifies it by mentioning some topics without going in-depth. The reason is that Muriel Dwyer summarized the approach that AMI uses; this booklet was never meant to be a complete step by step guide. 
  3. AMI Primary Language Album - growing in prevalence only because certain AMI-trained Montessori teachers are taking AMI out of the cloistered elite and sharing it with the world. However, picked up straight by a homeschooling parent without Montessori training - it can feel almost as overwhelming as the p/b/g work. If you have a detailed scope and sequence with the album, you're much better off, but there can still be questions. Support and understanding of how the album works is growing. 
  4. There are other resources as well, that seem to be variations on the above: Gettman, Montessori Read & Write, Hainstock's books, and the like. Much more user-friendly and designed to speak to the homeschooling mom, but not as complete as they could be. Excellent filler resources. 
So overall - no one perfect solution for the homeschool mom who would like to pick up a straight-forward guide and run with it. Why is that? Because every child is different, thus modifications are necessary. The nice thing? There is plenty of online support available through e-mail groups and generous Montessori-trained teachers who want this work in the hands of homeschoolers. 

Some other bloggers who have posted fantastic resources or reviews on the differences between pink/blue/green and the Dwyer pamphlet: 
There are many more - and you are welcome to add your link below if you have a blog post/series up about it :) 

Who developed each approach? 

The booklet by Muriel Dwyer appears to be a(n excellent and useful) summary of the AMI approach, which would have been approved by Maria Montessori (2020 edit: Muriel Dwyer worked with Mario Montessori on this approach that works for *any* language for AMI to continue to use in non-purely-phonetic languages). The AMI language album is not heavily focused on learning a language in the same style as Italian - instead is truly keys-based in its exploration of any language. There are conflicting sources for who developed the pink/blue/green series and it seems to be a collaborative effort. I am unfortunately short on time to look much further at this time, but would love if someone else could share this information if they know it for sure :) (see comments)

I think that clarifies most of the questions I have received thus far, except one other main one: 

If I want to follow your recommendation to use the AMI Primary Language with the Dwyer booklet, how do I do that? 

ANSWER: The Dwyer booklet is like the framework, the how-to, and the areas of absolute emphasis; and most parents who are interacting with their children right now, will be able to apply it right away. However, there are some "meaty details" that, if you have the Primary Language album, you will have so many aha moments, that your children will wonder why you're so excited! ;) 


The Dwyer booklet corresponds with large portions of the Primary Language album in the following manner (see the chart below)
As you can see, the Dwyer booklet gives the framework and the main things to emphasize, allowing for you to see at a glance what is most important within the foundation. From there, you can better apply the primary language album pages. Best scenario: use a detailed scope and sequence with ages to determine what should be done within a general time frame (parallel works); then use Dwyer to see where in the framework that is, so you have your "place in the grand scheme of things"; and use the language album for your actual presentations.

I hope this all helps! Keep asking questions as they come up!

Dwyer on the left; AMI Primary Language album (Keys of the World modified) on the right.
Note that where it says "mentioned" or "listed" in Dwyer, it means she refers to it, but provides no or very few details. 

(not included)
Education as an Aid to Life
Development of Language (from Theory)
Introduction to Language
Introduction to Spoken Language

Aural Development (ages 0-4+)
Spoken: Vocabulary Enrichment
Orientation Game
Naming Objects in the Environment
Collecting Classified Objects
Practical Life Objects
Parts of an Object
Language of the Sensorial Materials
Three Period Lesson
Classified Cards - Social
Related Objects Game - Presentations A & B
Description/Definition Game
Stories – Biological Classifications
    The Story of Living and Non-Living Matter
    The Story of Plants and Animals
    The Story of the Five Classes of Vertebrates
Sorting Game – Biology Classifications
Nomenclature Cards – Scientific
Life Cycles
Oral Language Games

Aural Development (ages 0-4+)
Spoken: Language Development
Reading and Books in the Library
Question Game
Cultural Folders
     Extension: fictional story telling
Land and Water Form Folders
Land and Water Form Outline Maps
Biome Folders
Art Folders
My State


Introduction to Writing
Aural Development (ages 0-4+)
Sound Games

Sensitizing Fingers
Symbols for the Sounds (3 1/2 or so + )
Sandpaper Letters
Done WITH the above individual letters
Sandpaper Phonograms (Additional Sandpaper Letters)
Typically around 4, earlier or later
Movable Alphabet
Separate development (not in Dwyer)
Metal Insets (12 Stages)
Small Metal Insets
Map Making

Writing - Art of Handwriting
Lightly touched on (hinted at) in Dwyer booklet
Sand Tray
Paper Material (10 stages)
Initial Strokes
Green Boards (Initial strokes)
Handwriting Charts – 6
Book Making

Reading: Phonetic Reading
Introduction to Reading
Dwyer: Object Box 1
Phonetic Object Box
Dwyer: “Beginning of Reading”
Phonetic Reading Cards
Dwyer: “Activity Word Game” (part 1)
Phonetic Reading Commands
Dwyer: “Beginning of Reading”
Phonetic Booklets
Rhyming Words

Reading: Phonograms
Dwyer marks this as Object Box 2
Phonogram Object Box and Alphabet Boxes
(only hinted at)
Phonogram Shadow Box
Dwyer has “folders” for a version of these
Phonogram Booklets
Phonogram Cards
(not covered in Dwyer???)
Phonogram Alphabet Exploration
Dwyer: “Activity Word Game” (part 2)
Phonogram Commands
Dwyer: kind of the Phonogram dictionary, but a bit different – would be great to do both versions



Personal Dictionary

Reading: Puzzle Words
Puzzle Words in Dwyer, under “The Test” (introduced with the movable alphabet according to AMI)
Puzzle Words

Reading Classification
Mentioned in Phonogram Dictionary and Dictation as parallel work.  
Presentation I – Classifying the Environment
Presentation II – Cards with Labels
     A. Social
     B. Scientific
     C1. Biology Classifications: Living and Non-Living
     C2: Biology Classifications: Plant and Animal
     C3: Biology Classifications: Five Classes of Vertebrates
     Extension: Mix and sort - work up to 5 sets
Presentation III – Definition Stages

Reading: Function of Words
Mentioned in Phonogram Dictionary and Dictation as parallel work.  
Introduction to Function of Words and Background
Logical Adjective
Detective Adjective
Logical Adverb
Continuation of Commands
Symbol and Phrase Game

Word Study
Further exploration of reading skills and language exploration – much of this can and should be done orally to begin with (with some details left out to be discovered when the child can read for himself), so that the reading portion becomes a deeper work for the children as well as a way to enhance whole reading skills with something familiar.

Mentioned in Phonogram Dictionary and Dictation as parallel work.  
Introduction to Word Study
Compound Words
Word Families
Singular and Plural
Animal Collectives
Animals and Their Young
Animal Sounds
Animal Homes
Animal Families

Reading Analysis
Dwyer: Listed under “Dictation”
Introduction to Reading Analysis
Simple Sentences Stage I
Simple Sentences Stage II
Simple Sentences Stage III

Musical Expression
Not touched on in Dwyer’s booklet.
Introduction to Musical Expression
Notation with the Bells: whole step, half step, tetrachord
Note Names with the Bells (Name Lessons with the Bells)
Introduction to the Musical Staff: Staff, Ledger Lines, G-Clef
Note Names on the Numbered Staff Board
Note Names on the Unmarked Staff Board
Unmarked Staff Boards – Parallel Exercise 1: Matching Cards with Bells
Unmarked Staff Boards – Parallel Exercise 2: Nomenclature Cards
Unmarked Staff Boards – Parallel Exercise 3: Grading
Unmarked Staff Boards – Parallel Exercise 4: Descriptions/Definitions
Composing on the Bells
Reading Music

Language Extension
Much of this work falls under real life experiences, aural and oral language development.

We want the children to have real experiences so they have something to write about with the movable alphabet.
Who Am I?
How to Teach a Song
Clapping – Rhythm
Introduction to Biology
Introducing Animals
Plant Study and Experiments
Telling Time

Additionals particular to Keys of the World albums - not included in straight AMI albums or in Dwyer's booklet.  
Language Scope and Sequence
Language Materials List
Master Copies

I am getting a lot of off-blog questions - mostly along the same lines. I get wordy in my responses, but here is a quick response ;) 

Can I just use the Dwyer booklet and not use the (AMI) primary language album at all? 

Yes. *If* you are looking to just focus on learning to read and write, and that's it. As a homeschooler you are probably already providing a rich language experience, just living life, using real vocabulary, reading with your child and having lots of real experiences. 

Slightly longer answer: As you can see, the primary language album also includes music, science, as well as all the language studies that come after learning how to read and write. Yes, there are variations on these in elementary, but these are primary level lessons here, and if you have time and a ready-child, the primary language album will serve you well. There is SO much more available in the AMI Primary language album.

It just depends on your situation :)

1/5/12 - See My Boys' Teacher's comment about the albums. This answer also depends which albums you are using.

Click here for a link to the Montessori Trails page correlating Dwyer with AMI with Pink/Blue/Green - aligned next to each other according to stages. 


  1. Hmmm. One more thought - within a classroom, learning opportunities have to be arranged, specifically chosen. Within a homeschool, they happen more naturally. Thus, many of the primary language album activities are fantastic, but are probably already happening through the parent reading books with the child, going to the park, taking walks, playing with friends, traveling together --- most of the early language work is culture and science experiences - to increase vocabulary, label the objects in the environment, look at the parts of objects....

    The sound games.

    Then it gets into the preparation for writing and for reading. From there you are exploring language that the child has been using for 3-5 years as well as the language the child is now discovering through their writing and reading - word study, reading analysis, function of words. These are the areas mentioned in Dwyer in passing, but not delved into. Because her focus was on the process of getting the children writing and reading - her focus was not intended to be on what happens afterward ;)

    All this as a roundabout way of saying - the Dwyer booklet gets a person organized to do the learning to write and the learning to read - and may or may not require the use of more detailed notes (album pages), but there is definitely more in the language album than just learning to write/read.

    1. And those additional things may or may not be needed by any particular adult to provide the richest possible experience for the child.

      But take a look at the table of contents above and each person can decide for themselves :) I have been asked off-group, if a parent could purchase the other albums, but not language, use the Dwyer booklet and be fine. Well.... yes if your goal is just to get your kids reading --- and no... because the AMI primary language album includes the language of music, science studies, culture, book-lists, and all the stuff that comes *after* learning to write and read. Sorry!

  2. Jessica,

    A couple of things.

    One, when I read your "PBG not for us" post it referred to this post and I couldn't understand how I missed it. I popped back to your blog to comment on PBG and then read this post as well. I just noticed right now that THIS particular post did not report to my reader. If it didn't post to mine, it probably didn't post to others either. You should repost this or something because I bet most people missed it. If you repost, e-mail me and I let you know if it showed up in my reader.

    Two, you said " I have been asked off-group, if a parent could purchase the other albums, but not language, use the Dwyer booklet and be fine." You are right that the answer is kind of "no." However, you don't say whether that is specific to buying YOUR albums or albums in general. If the person is buying AMI albums (your albums or someone else's), the answer is "NO" because all of that reading classification and music content, etc., If they are asking you just "in general" the answer might be "yes" if they are buying AMS albums. My AMS albums have everything divided up. All of that reading classification is in the botany and zoology albums. Music is in music. They MIGHT be missing the grammar depending on the set of albums but some people (ahem, me) don't get to that in primary and if they are continuing with AMS albums they can pick it up in the elementary album. Or get grammar free online. If someone asked me if they could use Dwyer instead of the entire Karen Tyler language album I would have said "yes."

    1. MBT,

      I wondered why the response was a bit quieter than I expected - I thought it was because it was too long and boring ;) It came through to my alternate e-mail, but I didn't think to check readers.

      I will set it to re-post on Monday morning.

      Thank you for pointing that out!

      And thank you for the tips on the albums! I get myself so wordy of late, I miss my point! And you've said it well :)

  3. Thank you so much for this information! I have been trying to work out a language curriculum but have been so confused by the conflicting information on different websites with different orders for things! Only now that I have found this I realise that AMS do the pink/blue/green and AMI has their own system! So it seems that AMS introduces reading earlier on, before much writing? Or perhaps simultaneously?
    Earlier I was trying to decipher where the pink blue green fit into AMI albums! And I could not find anywhere that gave a comparison between AMI or AMS and what each album contains, until now :) I think I will stick to AMI!

    But I still have a question - is there a place for the 'indirect preparation' exercises that I often see on non-AMI websites? Those that aim to refine visual discrimination and picture interpretation, such as go-togethers, opposites, associations, patterning, sequencing, part-whole matching, object and picture matching, rhyming objects, what doesn't belong? Or are these perhaps found somewhere else in the AMI curriculum, such as sensorial?? Thanks again!

    1. These are kind of found in the AMI album, but not specifically listed. Rhyming isn't so much in objects, but is found in the phonetic rhyming cards (some objects can be used). The rest are found in the "spoken language".

  4. Jessica, in over-excitement, I already started my 2.5 year old on recognizing alphabets and their sounds about 6-12 months ago. I've even started him on some sandpaper letter tracing.

    If I wanted to transition to the Dwyer/AMI method now, do I continue to show/work the SP letters along with the sound games, or should I give the SP letters a break until he's 3.5 years old?

    TIA for your advice, and thanks for your excellent articles!

    1. Yes - he has them, so you'll modify how you approach the sounds games: "you know how to trace the sound /e/ - let's see what words we can find that sound in" - and explore the variety of placements of the sounds.


    2. OK. Your's and MBT's articles have been very helpful and articulate, so I *think* I know what to do as a sort-of transition. Since he already recognizes the letter sounds, I'll add the SP letters along with the objects for the sound game and put them side-by-side. The work will include both the sound game and tracing. I'll basically do this for about 1-1.5 years until he's ready for the movable alphabet. Is that what you would do too?

      Thanks!! :)

    3. It may or may not take a full year or year and a half. When he is starting to put sounds together, he is ready for writing with the movable alphabet.

    4. Awesomeness!! Thanks sooooo much for your help! I can see clearly now our path on Language, you've helped to move away a lot of fluff and distraction for me :) God bless you!!

  5. I'm an AMI trained 3-6 teacher and I've posted a bunch of things on my blog that you might find helpful:

    It's so great to see so many people trying so hard to offer children the best program they can.
    Julia Volkman