Montessori Sound Games
Did you know that a simple game of “I Spy” can build your child’s early literacy skills and prepare them to read? That’s the magic of Montessori sound games — simple games you can play anywhere that help your child learn and distinguish the sounds that create words.
In this guide, we’ll teach you how to play Montessori sound games, why they’re important in your child’s journey to literacy, and how you know when your child has mastered their letter sounds.
Concrete to Abstract
In a Montessori classroom, children progress from the concrete to the abstract. They first learn a concept using hands-on, concrete materials (like beads to visualize numbers) before working with abstractions (like the numerals that represent those numbers.)
The same concept applies to Montessori language learning. Before children learn the abstract letters that represent concrete sounds, they first learn the sounds themselves, often represented by a concrete object and words the child already knows. Learning sounds and recognizing the sounds that create words are important skills that precede reading in a Montessori environment. This is where Montessori sound games come in.
Following the Child
Before moving on, it’s important to acknowledge one of the most important Montessori principles: “Follow the child.” When it comes to sound games, parents should follow both the child’s readiness and the child’s interest. Wait to start sound games until your child fluently speaks the language. And if your child isn’t interested in sound games? Don’t force it. Trust that your child’s self-directed timeline for their learning is the best syllabus you could possibly follow.
How to Play Montessori Sound Games
Montessori sound games involve playing a version of “I spy” with phonetic sounds. For example, when first introducing sound games, you may hold a block in your hand and say, “I spy something that starts with ‘buh.'” At first, use just one or two objects at a time to help your child succeed. When your child correctly identifies the object, repeat the sound. “Yes, ‘block’ starts with ‘buh’!”
While using the “I spy” is a common approach to sound games, you can use whatever phrasing feels the most comfortable or natural for you. Some families may hold a cat figurine and say something like, “I’m thinking of an animal whose name starts with ‘cuh.'” The specific words you use are less important than the principle you’re focusing on: helping your child recognize and isolate the sounds that create words.
As your child gets a hang of sound games, you can present more objects at a time. Once beginning sounds are mastered, you can begin to focus on ending sounds (“I spy something that ends with ‘luh'”) and eventually middle sounds. This process shouldn’t be rushed. Sound games should be fun, not a chore or frustrating challenge.
Before You Start
For all sound games, it’s important to ensure you’re using the phonetic sound the object’s name starts with, not the name of the letter. (This Montessori letter sound video is a helpful resource.) While it’s common for children to memorize the alphabet and letter names before learning the sounds the letters make, the Montessori method teaches sounds first. This approach helps children transition to reading and writing more seamlessly.
It’s also important to ensure your child knows the object’s name before using it in a sound game. The point of sound games isn’t to learn vocabulary but to learn sounds using words the child is already familiar with.
What Do I Need To Play Montessori Sound Games?
Part of the beauty of Montessori sound games is that they can be played anywhere, anytime, with any object. While grocery shopping, you may hold a pepper and say, “I spy something that starts with ‘puh.'” While walking on crunchy leaves at the park, you may pick up a leaf and say, “I’m holding something that starts with ‘luh.'” Sound games can be adapted to whatever your family’s routines and commonly-used words may be.
Montessori language miniatures can be a helpful tool in playing sound games. Language miniature sets can help ensure you practice every sound, not just the ones you commonly encounter on a day-to-day basis. It’s also useful to have miniature versions of objects for language work as your child grows. While language miniatures are perfect for sound games, they have many other uses. Parents and teachers can also use them to practice vocabulary with younger children and letters with older children.
What Comes After Sound Games?
Sound games aren’t a one-off activity that children quickly master or move on from. As we’ve discussed above, parents can adapt sound games to their child’s skill level as they grow and advance. Even when children master simple sound games, parents can up the difficulty by playing with more objects, a larger area to search for objects in, and different parts of words.
When a child’s work with sound games has helped them recognize and isolate sounds with ease, they’re ready to start their work with sandpaper letters. The child moves from the concrete, the sounds, to the abstract, the letters that represent the sounds.
A child doesn’t need to know every sound in a language before starting to learn letters. An important aspect of Montessori language learning is that children can begin to sound out words without needing to memorize the full alphabet. For example, a child who knows the sounds and corresponding letters for s, m, a, and t can begin sounding out words like “mat,” “sat,” and “mast” long before they know all the other letters.
Enjoy the Journey
Helping a child in their path to literacy can be richly rewarding for both parent and child. Focus on these positive moments of connection as you help your child learn to read and write. It can be easy to get caught up in comparisons and the quest for perfection. But the Montessori approach, including sound games, can help learning sounds become a less stressful and more joyful experience for everyone involved.