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A Montessori Alphabet Book – All the Details!

Montessori Alphabet Book

This Montessori Alphabet Book uses words starting with the phonetic sound of each letter, along with beautiful photographic images.

Below you’ll find information on how to use this as a Montessori baby book or Montessori toddler book, how to teach reading the Montessori way, and some ways to explore letters with your child – perfect for Montessori homeschool or for parents wanting to explore Montessori at home.

My husband and I have recently released a Montessori alphabet book, which you can purchase here!

I hope the Montessori alphabet resources below are helpful – please reach out at sunshinemudandmontessori (at) gmail (dot) com with any questions, either about the book or the Montessori approach to language!

How do you teach the Montessori alphabet?

If you think about it, we spend so much time singing the alphabet song and trying to help kids memorize the name of each letter, but this really has very little to do with understanding language or learning to read.

Knowing the names of each letter won’t help a child sound out c-a-t or grasp the concept that each letter represents a sound.

This is why Montessori teaches the alphabet differently, focusing on the phonetic sound associated with each letter rather than the name.

Helping children learn the sounds associated with letters sets them up for success when they later begin learning to read. They’ll have such a strong foundation in the letter sounds that learning to string the sounds together to make words is second nature.

Tell me more about how to teach reading the Montessori way

Before Montessori children ever formally work with letters they complete all sorts of work related to phonological awareness and visual discrimination. These are core preliterary skills that will later help children identify the different sounds within a word and differentiate between what the different letters look like.

The activities to practice these early skills don’t even look like language work! They involve lots of matching different images, rhyming work and oral language games. This is a great overview of the overall Montessori language sequence, including these early pre-reading activities.

When children in Montessori school are ready to begin working with letters, they start with sandpaper letters to learn each letter sound. Sandpaper letters give the child a tactile experience with an otherwise abstract concept as they trace the letters, feeling the shape of them, as they practice saying the sound. They then progress to matching objects and images that start with that sound to the letter. This is to practice phonemic awareness, the ability to hear and identify units of sound.

After they master this skill, Montessori kids move on to working with the movable alphabet. The movable alphabet is a box of wooden letters which the children use to build words. For example, a child might be given a box of four objects: a cat, a dog, a pig and bug. They use wooden letters to build each word. Maria Montessori found that it was easier for children to form words first, rather than reading words others had written. However, most children don’t have the fine motor skills to write words with a pencil at this point, which led to the development of the movable alphabet. It allows children to write, without really writing.

After the child is confidently building words, they’re then invited to practice reading words.

This progression is carefully designed so that children gradually build upon their budding skills, learning to read with confidence. They’re never asked to try to read a word until they have all of the appropriate skills.

All of this work is based upon a strong knowledge of the letter sounds. Even if your child is years away from attending school or you don’t know if your child will attend Montessori school, it still helps them to understand the sounds associated with each letter, the building blocks of our language.

So what are the phonetic sounds for each letter?

As you work with your child to learn the phonetic sounds, you may realize you’re not sure what the phonetic sound is for certain letters. This is totally normal! English is a tricky language and our letters each make many sounds. For vowels, we start with the short vowel sound such as in these words: apple, bed, mit, pot, bud. Elongate the sound as you say it to your child so that it’s really clear.

For consonants, we use the most common sound for that consonant. Children will learn all of the exceptions and alternate sounds later. We want to start with the sounds that will give them the most success when reading early words.

If you’d like to hear the phonetic sounds, this site provides an excellent resource. They offer multiple sounds for some letters so I’ve linked below the sounds you’ll want to use, just click on a letter and then press the play button at the bottom of each page where it says “Listen to”.

a     b     c     d     e     f     g     h    i     j     k     l     m     n     o     p     q     r     s     t     u     v     w     x     y     z

Note: The letters q and x are anomalies as they actually combine two phonetic sounds, rather than having their own unique phonetic sound. Q makes the sound “kw” and, while x has several sounds, but we start by teaching it as “ks”. Because of this, there was no sound linked for those two letters but I’ve linked a video on each of those two sounds instead, as I found it interesting!

Why do you have a Cursive Montessori Alphabet book?

Cursive Montessori Alphabet Book

We have a cursive edition of our Montessori alphabet book because many Montessori schools (and Montessori homeschool parents) actually begin with cursive, before introducing print.

Why?

For so many reasons. From a practical standpoint, learning cursive gets rid of many of the frustrations that come with early writing, such as mixing up “b,” “d,” “p,” and “q”.

Like many Montessori lessons though, the indirect lessons of cursive go far beyond learning to write in a certain style. This article beautifully explains the many benefits that come with learning cursive.

This post also lists some excellent resources for supporting your child in learning cursive.

If your child attends a Montessori school, make sure to inquire if the school begins with cursive or print letters. If your child is learning cursive in school, this Montessori-style Cursive ABC book is a great way to support your child’s experience at home!

How to use this book

This is in no way meant to be used flashcard-style, quizzing kids on the letter sounds they know. Instead, it’s meant as a support for children with a budding interest in letter sounds.

For babies and young toddlers, you can simply look at the book together and talk about the photos, saying the letter sounds if your child points to the letter.

For older children, try saying something like “This says ‘a,’ apple starts with ‘a’. Can you think of anything else that starts with ‘a’”?

You can also use it as a bit of a search and find, asking your child to look through the book and find different sounds (“Can you find ‘f’?”). You can do this until they lose interest and put it away for another day.

What is a Montessori 3 Period Lesson?

The Montessori 3 period lesson is a technique used throughout the Montessori curriculum, including with letter sounds. The method is designed to help children learn without hurting their confidence or making them feel like they’re under pressure.

Here’s how it works:

1st Period lesson: Name something for a child – “This is ‘a.’”

2nd Period: Ask the child to point to something – “Can you show me ‘a’?”

3rd Period: Ask the child what something is – “What sound is this?”

You don’t go through all of these steps in one sitting, rather over time. Once you’re confident a child has mastered a certain sound, you can ask them what it is. This way they don’t get discouraged and they want to keep practicing.

Another note on this technique – in Montessori, we don’t correct the child. For instance, if I ask a child to point to ‘a’ and they point to ‘e’ instead, I might say “you found ‘e’” or I might just say “thank you,” but I wouldn’t tell them they got it wrong.

So how does a child learn if we don’t correct them? I would make a mental note that the child needs more practice with ‘a’ vs ‘e’ and would make sure to show them the lesson again another time.

This preserves the child’s confidence and desire to learn, which is really the most important part of learning pre-reading / early reading skills!

What are some other ways to practice letter sounds?

There are so many ways to practice letter sounds. You know your child best so find ways to integrate language learning into the things they love!

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Play I spy – This is one of the best ways to practice phonemic awareness, the ability to hear the separate sounds within a word, with a child. Gather a few little objects (Montessori Services has a great set of objects but you can also just use little toys from around the house). The objects should each start with a different phonetic sound (e.g., cat, dog, bat, pig, sun). Then say, “I spy something that starts with ‘s’” and let your child find the object. I love this game because the children love it! It’s also a great one to play with more than one child.
  • Go on a letter walk – You can do this in two different ways. First, you can let your child choose a letter and take a walk around the house or the neighborhood finding things that start with that sound. OR you can go for a walk and find as many signs as you can with letters on them and practice identifying the sounds.
  • Labeling – Cut some little strips of paper and write a different sound on each of them. Invite your child to place the labels on different things in the house that start with that sound. There’s no need to make a label for every letter. Just choose a few sounds your child has been practicing.
  • Search and find – This has been a huge favorite in my house lately! Tape a big piece of butcher paper on the table (or use sidewalk chalk outside) and write different words belonging to a certain theme. For example, we’ve done the names of family members, color names, the names of favorite stuffed animals, etc. Then ask your child “can you circle all of the words that say ‘James’ in red,” etc. The child does not need to know how to read, they just need to be able to isolate the first sound of a word – i.e., to figure out that James starts with ‘j” and find all the words starting with j. This activity is great for children who already have a strong grasp of each of the letter sounds but are practicing isolating the sounds within words. (I believe I originally found this idea here!)

None of these activities replace the traditional Montessori materials like sandpaper letters and the movable alphabet, but I find that extensions like this really help to keep the child’s interest and curiosity going strong!

Other Montessori Resources

There are SO many wonderful Montessori resources out there! Here are a few of my favorites that relate to learning the letter sounds and language development.

(You can also find the rest of our books and printables here!)

How We Montessori – This is one of my all time favorite Montessori resources. Her ideas are so beautiful and approachable. She has an excellent post on phonological awareness as well as tons of ideas for language work including this alphabet rollmulti media literacy tray and these early language activities.

The Montessori Education Podcast – If you prefer to get your information through podcasts, this is a great one! You can find an episode about pretty much any area of Montessori you’re interested in (p.s. I’m interviewed in the episode To Structure or Not to Structure?)

The Montessori Notebook – Simone Davies’ book, The Montessori Toddler, is one of my all time favorite parenting books. She also has a great post on how to set up a Montessori activity here. She also has a bunch of free Montessori language cards here!

The Kavanaugh Report – Another excellent Montessori blog! I love her posts on language extensions here and here.

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