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, January 4, 2013

Pink Blue Green - Why It Is Not for Us

This post is back to just us - our journey through Montessori. Well, in this case it is my journey and the journey of my poor tutoring children in those early days. ;)

Years and years ago, I started doing Montessori at home and located a wonderful person online who shared her word lists for the pink/blue/green series. I had not seen this work done in the Montessori schools I had worked at, couldn't find it in Montessori's books, but I also knew that I didn't "know" all there was to know about Montessori and perhaps I'd just "missed" understanding what I was seeing. At this point, I was doing full-time daycare in my home and didn't have time for subbing or for observing; the few teachers I was able to contact told me they didn't use pink/blue/green but couldn't explain quickly what they did use - I remember phrases like "total reading" and "exploration of language keys" but I just didn't get it. One online acquaintance said, "There is something far better than the pink blue green series for Montessori language - I'll send you information." I never did receive anything :(

So I tried to sort it out with currently available resources online; the one album I had didn't explain it well; and the Montessori books I had didn't even MENTION it. (see update below). I tried combining Montessori Read and Write with the pink/blue/green ---- I was just not feeling comfortable with our odd blend - it didn't feel right - not in the same way our other Montessori work just felt right. I finally gave up and used the p/b/g cards as reading cards and modified the materials to suit the elementary children who came to me for tutoring - and made up my own activities.

When I got to AMI primary training (hoping to learn how to use this p/b/g material) I was not only astounded to learn it just wasn't used, but also that the trainer was adamantly opposed to it!!! The methodology actually used in AMI was SO simple - SO basic - SO straight-forward, that it was almost TOO simple! No wonder the p/b/g was developed I thought to myself - because we adults struggle with simplicity ;)

That conversation with my trainer was so freeing!

But don't you need all these word cards to learn to read?

If you might be offended by my answer, please come back tomorrow :) Really, it's ok :) I want to be totally honest and say what needs to be said, but I understand that it won't make everyone happy!

I respect the intentions of those people who created this pink/blue/green series; I respect them as people without having to agree with their outcomes. I also respect the people who learned this system and know no other way, thus continue to pass it on. I can respect them as people without agreeing with the use of this learning to read plan.

4/1/2015 UPDATE: The chapter on reading in The Discovery of the Child mentions an English language materials using a set of drawers. The way that AMI sets up writing/reading experiences and the way that PBG works - what Montessori describes could seriously go either way. I am awaiting hard facts, information, proof on the recently learned connection that Montessori worked WITH someone to create the PBG (The Discovery of the Child seems to suggest Montessori did not collaborate but gave blessing). 


ALL OPINIONS AND FACTS EXPRESSED HEREAFTER ARE SOLELY BASED ON my own experience as a past homeschooling, Montessori-wanna-be mother; past/present AMI trained primary and elementary teacher, and continuing homeschool mother using pure AMI Montessori at home and in a part-time co-op. I AM NOT AN EXPERT. I can only express what I see through my own observations and experiences.

Do you  need all those cards? Those booklets? Those dials?
(Correction 1/4/12: FIVE HUNDRED SIGHT WORDS - 25 that must be learned before starting the blue level; the rest to be learned before starting the green series)


Just because learning to read and write is less of a tedium at this tender age, doesn't mean we make it a tedium. Kids learn to read and write with a variety of programs but why strive to take the fun out of it?

I have recently been the grateful recipient of a set of album sections that thoroughly cover the pink/blue/green series. As I read I kept grimacing and thinking, "OUCH!". My primary trainer was SO right when she said "too curriculum" like. MBT and others online who have expressed their utter relief in finding Dwyer's booklet are relieved for a *very *good *reason.

It is my firm belief that the reason for the confusion and for the relief when finding an alternative Montessori approach, is that the pink/blue/green series does not utilize all the proper Montessori principles that should be applied to the area of language exploration at these ages (before age 6).

I was more appalled as I read along. I started creating a long detailed analysis, but I will stick to some main points for this blog post. My full list is a book in itself.
  • There is far too much material. Classroom or otherwise. This ignores the need for essentiality - keys - simplicity - the Montessori principles of isolation of quality and isolation of concept. 
  • The whole plan insults the intelligence of the child. It implies that they cannot move forward in any of the reading/writing areas without the adult to be there with him. Montessori principles mis-applied: independence; exploration; follow the child (not follow the adult). 
  • Part 2 to insulting their intelligence: with p/b/g, when the children are allowed to begin work with the movable alphabet, they've not even been given all the keys. So, they've received too much of the wrong kind of "food" and not near enough of the right kind to balance it out - and they are stuck now needing to use lots of objects and pictures to create words with the movable alphabet, when work with the movable alphabet should be about them writing what is in their OWN heads and hearts - the movable alphabet should NOT require objects and pictures  Montessori principles mis-applied: Follow the child; independence; exploration; creativity; imagination. 
  • Continuing on the same vein: the children are far too tied to the materials. Montessori principle missed: the materials should be helps/aids, not crutches. 
  • SUMMARY: This whole system does not trust the child, or the innate depth of the few necessary materials. And with so many "levels" and "stages", it cannot possibly be following the child.

  • The aural development (sound games) are labeled as age 4 and are listed in the album after physical preparation of the hand for writing. To the contrary, the sound games can begin in older infancy or toddler-hood, definitely the moment a child walks into primary at 2 1/2 or 3. Sensitive periods are in use right now - let's use them! 
  • I have to be careful how I say this, or the soap-box will start flying: if I am reading these pages correctly, there should be more green sandpaper letters (phonograms, digraphs, dipthongs), than pink/blue letters (individual letters). One word: NO! We have one green sandpaper board for one key sound; we have simple material later that ties those related letter combos together. Simple. 
  • While there seems to be some leeway for not finishing up pink before going onto blue and then to green (child can be going back and forth), my experience over and over again is that children who learn to read with a "holistic approach" described by the teachers I mentioned above, fly from no reading to 2nd/3rd grade reading level within a week - somewhere around the 5th birthday (could be a bit sooner or a bit later) and within a year are up to middle school reading level - both in skill and comprehension (because they have continued on with reading analysis, word study, function of words, etc.). I am not seeing the possibility of that occurrence with the pink/blue/green. Oh - and these children have been writing for a long time already. 
  • Indeed what I hear from many people is that the children are reading before they are truly writing, with the p/b/g series - and there is a minimal or very quiet burst into either writing or reading; whereas experience time and again with the AMI approach when done to its fullness results in a huge explosion very similar to what is described by Montessori. 
  • The blue series (consonant blends - not even phonograms yet) is noted as ages 5-6. Yet, these are phonetic words - just "longer" than cvc (consonant-vowel-consonant). A child given the keys to the English language (40-44 key sounds depending on the dialect), he can work with these words with ease the moment he touches the movable alphabet at around 4 - 4 1/2. At 5-6, he should be beyond the need for a "learning to read scheme" - he should be actually reading! 
  • The green series is also noted as ages 5-6; in the Dwyer booklet or the AMI primary language album, a child who has been in a Montessori prepared environment since age 2 1/2 will be well beyond this reading stage at age 5. Again - it happens SO FAST when the keys-based foundation is laid. When a normally-developing child enters at 4 or 5 or 6, they are still reading within a few months, not years. 
  • Yet, interestingly enough, those people I know who do use the pink/blue/green series consistently from age 3 onward,  have children entering elementary at 6 1/2 and almost 7 who are not "done" with the green series. The parents feel totally worn out by the process, the child is not full of joy in reading. And the idea of using elementary albums that suggest "remediation" (which would actually return that joy to their work because it will ditch the pbg, pick up the real keys, and move forward) makes those parents cringe because of all the energy they've already spent. I don't blame them! I'd be upset too! But consider what is best for the child. 

Is it possible that those people stating they no longer seeing the explosion into reading aren't setting up the situation for it to happen? I see the explosion happen over and over and over. With the same results. An EXPLOSION - full of JOY! And EXCITEMENT! 

The pink/blue/green must work somewhere and create true joy in the children, but I've really not heard about those successes yet in homeschools. I hear about the tedium, the materials, the energy drains, all the angry-sounding statements from people "defending" pink/blue/green - yet they have children reading before writing, and doing so at later ages (even Montessori noted that children aged 5 and older who are just starting out, will READ first, and they have missed sensitive periods - so if a child is reading first, is it possible the child was older when beginning or was given the wrong keys?). 

And the whole situation fills me with sadness: the situation of this work not being appropriate. But when I am honest about it, I risk offending someone. It is so hard to be honest and not take flack, so I'm choosing honesty and am praying for peace!

Why am I so sad? Because now I understand why I just didn't "get it" despite my years in a Montessori school (almost none of which would have used something like this!), but there are SO MANY people out there who think that the pink/blue/green series is the only Montessori way to learn to write and read in English. It is just NOT the case! 

There IS a wonderful option available - it requires fewer materials, much JOY, much exploration, creativity and imagination, leads to successful writers THEN readers --- and, well, after being so sad today, I just can't say enough: there is ANOTHER way! 

It was developed by Maria Montessori and works for ALL languages, despite what the creators of the pink/blue/green scheme thought.

Click her 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. I just recently gave up using the p/b/g series!! Before finding the Montessori Method I always used Hooked on Phonics with much success. Even though Hooked on Phonics is lacking it was still something that I found confidence in using after the children were writing and recognizing sounds through various games.

    I have had one child who was successful, but I believe it was just one of those "lucky" stories.

    My kindergartner that I am teaching right now, enjoys learning to actually read through word families, I still know there is something missing.

    In your Primary Language Album do you have the Dwyer method that includes the key presentations? If so I need to purchase this! If not could you send me in the right direction.

    In one of your other post you mentioned it, but I couldn't find a direct link to finding the presentations.

    Thank you so much for sharing Jessica this post was very helpful.

    My training involves learning the p/b/y scheme:(

    1. I wondered what was included with NAMC. Thank you for letting me know!

      My post from yesterday includes a chart showing how the Dwyer booklet can be used as an outline for the AMI primary language album - does this answer your question?

      So my primary language album doesn't include the Dwyer booklet, but seems to be fully fleshed out version of it ;)

      The more I look at it, the more I really do think that Dwyer wrote that booklet to summarize the AMI language album specifically for writing and reading, with the key sounds specifically for English and Swahili - without actually sharing the album pages themselves. The intention of her booklet is to show this process can be used for exploring *any* language, and I am sure she didn't want to tangle with AMI over published album pages either ;)

      I do offer my primary albums at - I have the TOC posted for each one and am still deciding which samples to put up for each one ;)

    2. NAMC language practical life album is so poor in content. When I saw what they put there - I was so upset, i even emailed the course to tell them that it is really appalling that they release it as Montessori method. Even the presentation of metal inset they have there is all wrong. Lots of important steps and information missing. Maybe they applied some changes now, but I was really really sad when i saw their practical language album.

    3. I am updating my response to this comment to update the link I provided above!

      The primary albums I reference are available at Garden of Francis ( as well as The above link itself is no longer valid!

  2. Great posts Jessica :) I have to spend some time this weekend linking up your posts to my blog in the Dwyer section. I have an AMI language album and I still MUCH preferred the Dwyer pamphlet. Both boys learned to read using the pamphlet and no album...I never cracked it open. So, whatever is "missing" we didn't seem to need :) To each their own I guess.

    1. MBT -

      If I'd had them both in front of me prior to going to training, I think I would have preferred just Dwyer too ;) She just lays it out so nicely! The complete overview; where the language album does not really give that good overview of the progression of things. Even in training, I had to create the scope and sequence to really get a feel for what goes where - I wish I'd had the Dwyer booklet then!

      And who knows now if I would have noticed anything about the things she mentions in passing - would I have honed in on those and said, "What is that?" or would I have just passed over it or thought it meant something different (and just as good)?

      So I can only speak for now ;) I see little nuances in the booklet that tip me off that the booklet is a summary of the language album.

      And I can say I still really love how she lays it all out. I was so mentally stuck on "scope and sequence" to help with the overview, that now I am wondering if I could find a way to do something similar with the other subject areas - especially in regards to elementary... where the hardest part is trying to "see it".

      And hey - if an overview can provide the necessary keys, how wonderful is that? Then the albums are just icing on the cake ;)

      Also - you are a very responsive mom when it comes to tweaking for your children, and you'd already been working with the pink/blue/green, so I can see where you definitely could just use the booklet!

  3. I should say more specifically that I preferred the Dwyer pamphlet to a particular "chunk" of the language album. It certainly doesn't replace the rest of the language album. Just one tiny example, I obviously did all of the music things you mentioned which are part of the language album and not covered in the Dwyer. I know we are supposed to look at the big picture and it is the big picture that created readers here. Still, I realistically feel like I can label a certain part of the album the "reading scheme" and we were able to use the Dwyer to replace the "reading scheme" portion. The Gettman or my AMI album filled out all of those other activities. There are some activities within the "reading scheme" (for lack of a better label) portion of the AMI album not covered in the Dwyer and my point is that I didn't miss those at all.

    Anyway, I think you know what I meant, but for anyone else who reads this who might personal experience was that the Dwyer replaced the "reading scheme" chunk of the language album nicely but I still used the language album or Gettman because there is more to "language" than "reading." Because I think of the Dwyer as a "reading scheme" pamphlet and not a "language album" I never had an expectation that it would contain music or handwriting presentations or the grammar work for example.

    I think the main thing I don't like about the AMI "reading scheme portion" (again, for lack of a better term) of the albums is that the way it is organized makes phonograms look like a special event instead of an organic part of teaching reading right from the beginning. Even if they didn't mean to they way all the activities that include phonograms are grouped together makes them feel "later" and "more advanced" than the single-letter activities when really you are doing both side-by-side all the way along. My album even has a page right before the sound games,sandpaper letters, MA chunk titled "the sounds of the alphabet" that doesn't include the phonograms. It gives the impression that you only teach the single sounds. The "phonogram alphabet" page is 25 pages later after a TON of work is done including object boxes.

    1. PERFECT! You said it just right! ;)

      I get a LOT of questions personally - and I've seen a lot of questions on more public groups - about "when to introduce those "additional sandpaper letters" or "phonogram sandpaper letters" or whatever each album wants to call them.

      And you're so right - the AMI layout DOES make it feel like you're supposed to do the two sets of letters separately - "more advanced". I tried to make clear notes in my modified album about that, but straight from training all it says is in an endnote - not even up-front top of the page. I'm going to check to see what modifications I made for the sound charts....

      (actually - if you have any other thoughts on the usefulness of the AMI album - let me know - because if one person has a question, others do too ;) ).

    2. I found it! When MBT pointed out a source of some of the confusion about phonetic/phonogram study, the list of sounds for the sound games tipped me off to something. Sure enough, I hadn't even put some of the "supplemental" material into the albums I have available for purchase either! Oops!

      So in it goes! It is a chart that shows which sandpaper letters we use, their sounds and samples, along with which sounds we do not have a sandpaper letter for.

      I will adapt it a bit (it's more of a material-making guide and I was going to include it in the support album), and add it to the sound games pages. Why I didn't notice those sounds weren't there is beyond me! But this is why I need everyone else's eyes to see what I "assume" ;)

  4. I didn't realize I'd not put ages with the tables of contents of all the albums on Montessori Nuggets - I only did it with math! So I did update this one on language:

    It's not a perfect scope and sequence, but perhaps it will be of use to someone trying to figure out where things fit together with whatever albums they have :)

  5. Hi Jessica, in relation to your update note it is my understanding (but I have yet to have this verified) that Margaret Homfray (possibly with Phoebe Child) developed the Pink, Blue, Green materials. I am quite keen to discover the origins of this material as I suspect it has evolved into something more complicated than it needs to be. It is not the method I was trained in so it is only through my observations of others that my opinions are formed on PBG. I often refer to this post when I find myself caught in the debate between methods.

    1. That is what I am hearing as well, but I have not *evidence* - and when I ask the only two people I know of who could potentially provide this evidence, the one points me to the other and asks for my Facebook PM information (which is kind of a given...) but never sends me anything; and the other hasn't yet responded.

      I admit - I am getting frustrated. I am open to learning that what I was taught was wrong - but I want evidence. And I'm not seeing it.

      What you have said rings true for me - in the sense that Montessori gave her blessing on the development of something for the English language, and *later* it evolved into something incredibly over-complicated. My primary trainer called it a curriculum, not an exploration. It is hard to disagree.