Something happened two days ago. I’ve read about how it happens. I have told concerned parents that it happens, and not to worry. I have seen it happen in other children. I know the steps to make it happen. Nevertheless, it was still a moment of magic and emotion when it happened to me.
My daughter, Lena (3), and I were watching a late night soccer practice for my son Jakob(5). It was past 7:00 pm and due to a kitchen remodel at our house that makes cooking feel more like competing in an obstacle course, we decided to eat out at the nearest restaurant with a menu and a place to sit. To my disappointment and their unbridled joy, that place was Frisch’s. So there we were, with three bowls of spaghetti, playing tic tac toe with crayons on the paper placemat.
Halfway through our meal, Jakob says, “ I can write.” Now, up to this point we have seen Jakob spell his name with assistance and not all the letters are in the right order or facing the right way. So, when hearing Jakob say, “I can write”, I had my doubts.
“Oh yeah? Show me.”
He picks up a purple crayon and writes three words while sounding the letters out under his breath, “C…A…T, B…A…T, M…A…T.” I would’ve not been more surprised if he pulled a rabbit out of his pocket! It was strangely touching for me. His first written words. I felt my face flush as he looked up beaming with pride.
“When did you learn this?”
I knew my question was as silly as his answer. He didn’t learn it today, but it happened today. Here is how he learned it in a Montessori classroom.
It starts with practical life activities that prepare little hands, strengthening muscles and pincer grips. From there students trace metal insets of geometrical shapes, move their fingers across tactile sandpaper letters, copy the shapes of letters in sand trays, and work with Montessori teachers to sound out letters using the movable alphabet material.
Dr. Montessori believed, that understanding should come before memorization, and that if a child is to fully appreciate language, it must start with letter sounds: Ah, buh, cuh…
Then as a child learns to write, they are simultaneously learning to read. By working to put letter sounds together, sounding out the letters as they go along, they begin to write and read at the same time.
Then one day, in a unpredictably emotional moment, you will possibly find yourself eating luke warm spaghetti in a Frich’s with tears in your eyes hearing your son or daughter whisper, “cu- ah- tuh”.