Fullerton, CA (PressExposure) August 18, 2009 -- Language is the greatest achievement of human beings. Having been developed over thousands of years, it is also one of the characteristics that differentiate humans from animals. It is through language we communicate ideas, emotions and desires. From earliest times, language became a function of society, an agreement of sounds and order. It is an important tool of culture, and as such, children need to be given the correct introduction to all aspects of language from a very early age. In a Montessori classroom, both primary and elementary, the children are presented with the whole approach to language. Reading, spelling, vocabulary, comprehension, creative writing and compositions are all presented in connection with each other and not as isolated subjects. It is important for the child to read with comprehension and write with correct grammar, spelling and vocabulary. None of this knowledge would be any good if we did not also teach the child to translate knowledge gained in written form so others could understand it. If we did not teach the children to express themselves with written words, all the reading, spelling, and grammar would not be of any use to the child. All these are tools for self expression and communication. It is the lessons in the writing process that helps the child to bring it all together and communicate. Here I would like to explain briefly, how this process is achieved in the Arborland Montessori classroom.
A spoken word disappears as soon as it is uttered, while only written words can remain. The words the child writes help to show the expansion of his mind and level of understanding. Writing is a creative art and needs to be presented as joyful means of self expression. I often tell the children that words can be used to paint pictures in the exact same way paints and crayons do. This is a taught art and will not happen without correct guidance. In the first century A.D. the Roman Rhetorician, Quintillion, set a standard for precision of language when he declared, "One should not aim at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand." This is what our writing lessons are designed to do, help the child express himself clearly, precisely so the writing is clear and easy to understand.
Creative writing cannot happen in a vacuum. The child needs to be exposed to experiences he can write about. Educators need to provide the subject matter for increasing knowledge and intelligence. The more we give the child the more knowledge is gained, and therefore there is more for the child to express in his writing. In our Montessori environment, this giving of subject matter starts from the first day the child walks into the primary classroom. During the primary years the child is given the keys to his world. The child generally arrives speaking his own language with a reasonable vocabulary, and is also in the sensitive period for acquiring language. The primary teacher capitalizes on this window of opportunity to show the child there are more words than he already knows. Enrichment of vocabulary goes on throughout the primary years. Objects, furnishings, sensorial language, all the nomenclature for biology, geography, and music is all given at this level. The more vocabulary the child acquires here, the better prepared he is for the elementary level. The next set of exercises to help vocabulary is the language training, oral work, stories, poems, conversations. The second discovery that goes along side the enrichment of vocabulary is that language can be made visible by using those twenty-six marks, the letters of the alphabet. This is where the child first realizes he can use the letters to write his thoughts, and let others know what is going on his mind. It is a powerful discovery and happens spontaneously at the primary level. There are exercises that prepare the child's hand to use writing tools, while his mind is being given information he may record. At this level, the child also discovers that words carry different functions, and are grouped in a certain order. Function and order express a thought. Grammar is presented very naturally through function of the word and reading analysis. There is no formal name given to parts of speech, but the child quickly learns words do different jobs by placing colorful symbols on them. A naming word is given a big black triangle, an action word is given a red circle, a describing word is given a small blue triangle, and so on. It is at this level also that the child is encouraged to write simple short stories and illustrate them. There are other exercises that present rules of spelling without the forced need for memorization. It is a slow process without immediate tangible results, which is sometimes very difficult for the parent to understand. At times it may appear the child is not learning anything as there is no solid paperwork to take home! It is an internal process and the adult needs to be patient. Dr. Montessori believed that the child learns more during the first six years of life than during any other school years.
The child arrives at the elementary level with a wealth of information, where the important work of the acquisition of language continues. Now the child is introduced to formal grammar lessons, first through manipulative materials and later through grammar books. The child already knows how to express himself, and the lessons now are geared to help the child express thoughts properly, grammatically, with correct spelling and an expanded vocabulary. The expansion of the mind continues as the child is given keys to the universe through cosmic education. Language, mathematics, history, science, and music are presented showing the interconnection of everything in the universe. It is now necessary to show the child that creative writing, to be coherent, needs to follow some rules. This is done by introducing the child to different types of writing in literature. We start with reading for pleasure. If the child is able to read for pleasure, he gets into the reading habit, and will use this habit in reading to learn a subject.
At the elementary level all aspects of language are presented parallel to each other. For example, if the child's reading anthology is biography, the vocabulary, spelling, grammar and writing lessons relate to the story being read. All the lessons are woven in, not isolated one from the other. Slowly the child begins to see the need to use correct grammar, vocabulary, spelling to be able to understand the story. Eventually, the child has a reading-writing workshop where he is encouraged to write a biography. The same pattern is used to present all types of writing. The child is encouraged to read the literature from an anthology, and all the other work follows. What is started as a presentation of literature by reading for pleasure, eventually leads to reading to learn different important aspects of language. These lessons start from the first year lower elementary level and continue to the final sixth year of upper elementary level. Again it is a slow process which sometimes frustrates the parent as there is no immediate tangible result to assess. The seeds of correct language are being sown, the child's imagination is being inflamed, and the adult needs to trust the child at this stage. As Dr. Montessori used to say, once a seed is planted, it needs to be nurtured. We do not need to keep digging it up to see if the roots have taken hold!