Language in all its variety comes in 3 focal forms – speaking, writing and reading. Though it may come as a surprise to many, language development begins early from 7 months into a woman’s pregnancy through to when the child is 6 years of age. The learning period for spoken language, however, is fundamentally between 7 months in the womb to 2 ½ years of age, in which the child by then would be communicating in short sentences. Preparing the environment for your child’s sensitive period for spoken language includes reading to the child and providing room and opportunity for your child to express his/her needs rather than always having to anticipate them. There are numerous toys out there that are supportive during this sensitive period. Pick out materials with fewer words and more images such as picture cards, colorful knobbed puzzles (especially those with interesting topics such as animals, people, and numbers) as well as materials that require explaining or speaking to your child. Electronic toys that ‘speak’ to your child are also extremely beneficial. Along with these toys, remember to allow your child ample opportunities to respond while keeping in mind that this is a stage of progressive learning, one that should not alarm parents should their child withhold from any actual verbal response.
The second sensitive period of writing is usually initiated between the ages of 3 ½ to 4 ½ years of age, in which a child would concurrently be learning the letters of the alphabet, including its phonetic sounds. The writing process begins with tools that not only promote pencil grip, but are also fun and stimulating for every child. This is enhanced through toys that allow manipulation of the thumb and the first two fingers. From tiny knobbed puzzle pieces and building sets in conjunction with actual writing practice materials such as coloring and tracing books, we exploit the rule of repetition which allows the child to mentally imprint the various formations of letter and number writing even before putting pencil to paper. The final sensitive period of Language is reading. Reading in children is an intense foundation and can be rather frustrating and worrisome for some parents. Just like in a Montessori classroom, it is essential to understand that a child learns most intensely to read between the ages of 4 ½ to 5 ½ years old.
The previous two sensitive periods, if nurtured, would have allowed your child enough room to build up and prepare for this challenging stage. It is from the very foundation of writing that a child acquires the ability to read and seldom the other way round. Spend at least once a day reading with your child, rather than just reading to him/her. Allow your little one the opportunity to participate freely in this process. Begin with simpler reading materials that encourage and boost confidence in your child before moving on to phrases or sentences.
Phonetic reading sets such as Fitzroy and Leapfrog are some examples of reinforcements for early readers used in a Montessori environment. In a Montessori classroom, trained teachers take time to stir and maintain interest in children through reading games that use the phonetic sounds of the alphabet to blend and form 3-4 letter words. This takes persistence and patience as it is the easiest stage to put a child off from Language as a subject completely, so avoid unreasonably high expectations and perplexing books and games.
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