Why does Montessori Teach Writing Before Reading?

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Why does Montessori teach writing before reading?

Some might find it strange, maybe even counterintuitive that Montessori teaches writing before reading. I mean, isn’t writing the more difficult of the two skills? So, why does Montessori teach writing before reading?

The Sandpaper Letters give the child a mental and physical impression of letter shapes, preparing them for writing.

Let me give you another way to think about this.

Writing is like speaking

Maria Montessori wrote in her book The Discovery of the Child (p.199), “Writing develops…in the same way as speech, which is also a motor translation of sounds that have been heard. Reading, on the other hand, forms a part of an abstract intellectual culture. It interprets ideas represented by graphic symbols and is acquired only later.”

So, Dr. Montessori believed writing to be similar to speech, and therefore the obvious next step in the progression of language aquisition.

The Moveable Alphabets allow the child to form words and sentences.

Another way you could think about this is encoding vs. decoding.

It is much easier to use letter symbols to record your own thoughts and ideas than to interpret letter symbols to decipher the thoughts and ideas of others. Also, when reading, a child must understand how to take words apart and put them back together, using all the rules of reading, to interpret the word’s meaning.

When you think about it in those terms, it actually does make more sense to guide a child to write before reading.

This also goes along with all other Montessori learning; concrete to abstract. We know our own ideas, but figuring out the ideas of others is much harder.


Writing before reading: prewriting activities

Writing is physically more difficult than reading, though. Montessori addresses that. You know all those knobs on the puzzles and cylinders? All the activities that have the child use the pincer grasp? Those are not just brain-training and concentration-building activities; those are pre-writing activities, as well! Pretty neat, huh?

How to teach a child to read

Now, all of this said, I don’t believe there is only one path to literacy. And my experience with implementing Montessori with my own child, is that she took the sounds she learned in our sound games and applied them to books.

She basically used the phonetic alphabet to teach herself to read at about 3.5 years old. She derived many phonics rules from hours and hours of daily reading.

I can imagine this is not a rare occurrence in Montessori classrooms and homeschools. I mean, the phonetic alphabet and a few key non-phonetic sight words, which a child is exposed to while a parent reads to them, is just about all a child needs to read simple stories.

There are the self-taught readers, children that follow Dr. Montessori’s path to litteracy, and there are also children that are taught by a parent or teacher to read. (Cue the collective gasp from the Montessori purists!) My belief, is any path to giving a child the ability and passion for reading is a good path.

Don’t worry, though, if your child is not reading at 3 despite being familiar with the phonetic alphabet. Or if they have no interest in becoming familiar with it. My daughter is 4 now and has absolutely no interest in writing or many of the other Montessori activities I would love for her to take an interest in. It’s all about following your child’s interests!

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I will get into the Montessori language arts materials in the coming months. So, stay tuned!

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