Montessori Language Learning
Montessori language learning doesn’t start in the classroom — it starts in the home.
While famous Montessori language materials like language minis, sandpaper letters, and movable alphabets are powerful tools, these materials expand on the language development that starts in infancy. The foundation for language learning starts the day a child is born, mainly through parent-child interactions.
In this article, we’ll be discussing four core concepts you can easily apply at home to build your child’s language skills from birth. These tools and science-backed techniques are simple to incorporate into your daily routine and lay the foundation for speaking, writing, and reading.
How to Build Your Child’s Language Skills
The Spoken Word
The first building block of language is the spoken word. From birth, children absorb the language of their parents and caregivers. In fact, some studies even suggest that a child begins to learn their mother’s native language before birth.
Speak to your child with rich, descriptive language from birth. Make reading together a part of your daily routine. According to studies done at the University of Washington, “parentese” — the higher-pitch, sing-song voice that many parents naturally use when speaking with babies — can improve a child’s language skills. Using made-up or nonsense words, on the other hand, is not beneficial for babies’ language development.
It may not come naturally to speak to an infant who can’t speak back to you yet. Parallel talk and self-talk are two techniques that may help. In parallel talk, a parent describes the child’s actions. In self-talk, the parent describes their own actions to the child.
Even into toddlerhood, the spoken word remains the focus of Montessori language learning. Build on your child’s vocabulary and use language to help them understand the world. After spending their early years absorbing the language in their environment, children are better prepared to learn to read and write.
The Power of Books
Books are a powerful tool for Montessori language learning throughout all planes of development. According to the Hanen Centre, books promote a child’s language development by building their vocabulary, motivating them to communicate, and exposing them to grammatically correct sentences in context. Reading together is also a great bonding opportunity for parents and children and can help foster an early love of reading.
A strategy called dialogic reading can boost the benefits of reading even more. According to Reading Rockets, Dialogic reading actively engages the child with different child-adult interactions. For example, a parent may leave a blank at the end of a sentence for a child to complete, ask the child about what they’ve read, or talk together about pictures in the book.
In a Montessori environment, age-appropriate books are kept in a place accessible to children. The books shouldn’t be so simple that they don’t teach the child anything new, nor should they be so complex that the child loses interest. A front-facing bookshelf or book basket can help make books accessible and inviting to young readers.
Music and Rhymes
As it turns out, lullabies and nursery rhymes aren’t just for fun and bonding — they also help build children’s listening, speaking, and literacy skills. According to Hearing First, songs and rhymes help children develop inflection, clear speech sounds, and memory for words.
Music is hugely beneficial for children in many aspects, not just for language development. On our blog, we share some of our favorite Montessori preschool songs, along with resources to teach songs from all over the world. Our Making Music Toolbox is another great resource to help children reap the benefits of music.
Screen time is a hot-button topic that often comes up in early language development conversations. One screen time study review concludes that most studies show negative effects on language development with increased screen time in children under 2. It also found that keeping the television on in the background can slow language development, reduce parent-child interaction, and disrupt play.
However, not all screen time is created equally. An adult co-viewing media with a child can actually encourage language learning. The type of content and the amount of time a child spends watching it also make a difference.
At the end of the day, screen time is a tool that parents may rely on. Parents can consider the pros and cons of screen time and make the best decisions for their families. Our blog details a Montessori approach to screen time for families who are interested in additional tips.
Why Perfection Isn’t Necessary For Montessori Language Learning
It can sometimes feel overwhelming to read about the things you should or should not be doing as a parent. Especially when you’re transitioning to parenthood and running on limited sleep, finding time to make dinner or take a shower may seem overwhelming, much less reading books, narrating your day, describing your child’s actions, and singing rhymes and songs all while limiting screen time.
This post wasn’t written to cause guilt or create a checklist of things you must do for your child to learn language. But you don’t need to be perfect or do all these things all the time. Maria Montessori observed that children effortlessly absorb language from their environment. If you’re in survival mode, your child is still likely absorbing far more language than you realize. And if you’re not, we hope these tips are helpful as you incorporate them as it makes sense for your family!