“Six months after the inauguration of the House of Children, some of the mothers came to me and pleaded that as I had already done so much for their children, and they themselves could do nothing about it because they were illiterate, would I not teach their children to read and write?
At first I did not want to, being as prejudiced as every one else that the Children were far too young for it. But I gave them the alphabet in the way I have told you. As then it was something new for me also, I analysed the words for them and showed that each sound of the words had a symbol by which it could be materialised. It was then that the explosion into writing occurred.”
– Dr. Montessori writes of San Lorenzo in 1942
About a week ago something very exciting happened — one of my students began to write! Over the last few months he had been struggling with the sandpaper letters. He’s a bit older so he wasn’t very satisfied with simply feeling the letters over and over and he would rarely choose them on his own. One day he and I were talking and I mentioned that I had noticed that he didn’t really choose the sandpaper letters that often. He said he didn’t like them that much so I suggested that we play a game.*
I asked him to bring three sandpaper letters to a table. He and I did a quick three period lesson and before he could slump in his chair I isolated a letter and said, “Can you see anything in our class that has this sound in it?” We had a blast listing all the things that contained the sound. Then I suggested that he go put the sandpaper letter near one of the things that have its sound. (We were using g, d, and c — he put the g by the globes, d by the door, and c by the coat rack).
I basically extended the three period lesson to the greater environment. Instead of recognizing letters on the table right in front of him, he had to go find them in our classroom. The added challenge and the excitement of discovery sparked a fire! Over the next three days he ate up every sandpaper letter he could find. Our classroom was covered with them. And, he remembered them. The sounds and symbols had completely worked their way into his brain.
Last Monday he came to school and got out all the sandpaper letters and began putting them around the classroom. That day I had found a log on our block** and brought it inside so the children could get a closer look. When he came across “l” he decided to put it on the log. Then when he came across, “o” he put it after “l,” and the same with the “g.” He stood up and declared to all of us in the room: “I wrote log.” Somewhere between offering my congratulations and trying to hold back tears, I took this picture:
I transitioned him to the moveable alphabet and now he writes all the time. Here are a few pictures of his recent work:
It is such an honor to see the children in my care blossom into creative, intelligent, independent, articulate and literate people.
What was it like when your children (or students) began to write? How soon did they begin to read? What was your reaction? Have you ever strayed away from the AMI rule-book? What happened? I’d love to hear!
*Disclaimer: using the sandpaper letters this way was not part of my AMI training. I totally went rogue on this one and I’m lucky it worked!
**Oh, the things you can find on a sidewalk in Brooklyn…