The Montessori method is a time-tested approach to teaching early reading. It’s both highly effective and fully supportive of a child’s individual learning style.
Current research confirms the key to reading independently is systematic exposure to phonics or letter sounds. Dr. Montessori, founder of the Montessori method, discovered this truth over a hundred years ago! Science is just now catching up.
This guided overview of Montessori reading activities covers easy, zero-stress activities that help your 3-year-old go from letter-curious to emerging reader at their own pace. Let’s go!
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How Does Montessori Teach Reading?
Montessori teachers use a progression of reading-related activities designed for self-direction (i.e. the child chooses to do them.)
During the pre-reading phase, learners practice phonological awareness or the ability to identify sounds in a language and distinguish between different sounds within a word.
It’s the same process as understanding a native speaker in a foreign language you’re learning. It takes a lot of practice! Fortunately, young children are quick studies.
As a child’s confidence grows, teachers provide increasingly complex Montessori reading activities. These tasks engage the senses, encourage movement, and of course, set a foundation for future writing and reading skills.
Are These Montessori Reading Activities Really Zero Stress?
Montessori is a child-led approach to learning. Sure, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes with parents and teachers, but the work of learning. That’s the child’s responsibility.
The Montessori method is the perfect marriage of staying engaged with your child’s reading journey without putting pressure on them to learn outside their natural pace. It also takes the pressure off us as parents to rush or push or bribe kids to learn.
Zero stress anything seems like a myth. I can get anxious about a spa appointment, let alone my child’s future academic career.
Allow your child to do their job of learning, and don’t get sucked into the idea that you’re not doing enough. We put so much weight on ourselves to have our kids “Kindergarten ready” and take the fun away from one of life’s greatest pleasures.
At What Age Do Montessori Kids Learn To Read?
While the name of the game is no-stress, I’m sure you’re still curious about when children learn to read in a Montessori program.
Students enroll in children’s houses or Montessori schools at age 3 and receive materials or activities with printed letters by 3.5 years.
Children learn to read within a spectrum of ages. Montessori students read independently from ages four to six and well beyond. Teachers modify Montessori materials to help children with higher needs succeed.
(If you do have any concerns with your child’s ability to learn, you know your child better than anyone. Don’t hesitate to talk to your child’s teacher and their pediatrician!)
Spotlight On Montessori: Why Writing Starts Before Reading
Between ages 3.5 and 4.5 years old, children experience a sensitive period for writing. According to Dr. Montessori, this is the time when children are most interested in learning to write.
Case studies in Montessori classrooms suggest months of writing exposure and practice moving naturally into reading independently.
Writing is a fantastic way to get familiar with each letter of the alphabet. A child’s hand holds the pencil, their eyes concentrate on making just the right shape, and their voice repeats the sound of the letter aloud.
Writing satisfies a child’s need for tactile (e.g. sense of touch), auditory, and visual stimulation in a way that reading alone cannot.
About The Pink Series, Blue Series, and Green Series And Why We Won’t Be Using Them
The Pink, Blue, and Green Series are reading programs used in some Montessori classrooms.
Each program is extremely systematic and the activities are reminiscent of traditional elementary school reading curriculums. It’s a lot of intensive work for a skill that children will ultimately learn naturally with time.
The psychologist and self-directed educator, Peter Gray, studies children who attend wildly progressive schools like the Sudbury Valley School where there is no “teaching” outside what the children request.
He noted that even children left to their own devices all day long eventually learned to read. Some children learned at age 4, others at age 14. No fancy reading programs required.
We’ll be skipping the Pink, Blue, and Green series, at least in our house, to ensure reading is a fun, zero-stress activity. The Montessori reading activities we’re discussing today are more than enough to set us on the right track!
From Birth To Early Reader, A Guided Overview of Montessori Reading Activities
I’ve listed the Montessori reading activities below in order of when they’re typically presented within a Montessori school or home. Some children are ready for materials at an early age, still, others require more time.
In Montessori, we “follow the child” and work on their timeline. You want to observe some confidence in completing an activity before introducing the next one.
Montessori Reading Activities: Language-Rich Environment
Starting at birth, provide a language-rich environment in your home by reading out loud every day, practicing serve and return conversations, and making age-appropriate books accessible to your child at all times.
As children grow, make observations during trips to the library, the grocery store, and the park. Look at road signs, maps, and informational posters together. Patiently answer questions and encourage their curiosity.
The ripple effect of exposure to printed words through reading and writing in preschool is profound and may explain up to 34% of the difference in oral language skills among young adults when they attend college. That’s incredible!
Montessori Reading Activities: Phonological Awareness
I’m from the “Hooked On Phonics Worked For Me!” generation, but I still had no idea what the word “phonics” meant until I started researching Montessori.
Phonics is the practice of teaching children the sounds of letters and letter combinations as they naturally occur within a language. A phoneme is a sound found frequently in words, and there are 44 unique phonemes in the English language including sh, ch, and th.
Reading books that highlight all the phonemes increases phonemic awareness.
(The Books to Remember series is a great place to start. All the sounds are “phonetically regular” meaning they don’t break basic English spelling rules.)
I also LOVE teaching phonemes with sound games like “I Spy.” This Montessori mom describes how to play the game plus ways to make it more challenging over time.
Montessori Reading Activities: Sandpaper Letters
Sandpaper letters are rough-textured cut-outs of each letter glued to brightly colored cardstock. One color represents consonants and another represents vowels.
Children trace the textured letters with their fingers, practicing the motion of writing without the added challenge of holding a pencil. They get tons of sensory input from this activity as well as more early confidence in writing.
Students discover sandpaper letters and other materials through the three-period lesson.
The three-period lesson is the sequence Montessori teachers use for introducing brand-new material or information to a child. Watch this Montessori guide demonstrate how to use sandpaper letters with your little one.
While they are less traditional, some sandpaper cards include lines that guide you on the proper direction to trace each letter. I love this as I write my letters in different ways sometimes and never remember the “right” way.
Montessori Reading Activities: Sand Trays
Sand trays are another sensory-rich activity to practice writing. Children first review a simple card displaying one letter of the alphabet. They use their fingers or a stylus to draw the letter’s shape in a thin layer of sand.
Numbers, shapes, and even pre-writing patterns are all fair game in sand tray play. This activity is also easy to travel with as long as you bag the sand ahead of time.
Pro Tip: Check the Target dollar spot for a ready-made sand tray activity kit!
Montessori Reading Activities: Metal Insets
Metal insets come in two pieces – a metal shape with a little knob for grasping and a square piece of metal to fill the negative space around the shape. Imagine a simple wooden shape puzzle made from metal.
Children pull the two pieces apart and trace them with a pencil onto a plain white piece of paper. Some shapes have curves and others have angles, just like letters in the English alphabet.
Practice with the metal insets improves pincer grip and builds wrist strength and coordination necessary for writing. They’re typically introduced around age 4, but some children will be ready at a younger age.
Once children become proficient with all the shapes, teachers encourage children to get creative with elaborate geometric designs.
Montessori Reading Activities: Lined Chalkboard Writing
Children new to writing use lined or grid-patterned chalkboards. The grid pattern is especially helpful for sizing letters, repetitive work, and learning to write from left to right.
Children start with pre-writing patterns like parallel lines or crosses before moving on to actual letters. When they succeed in keeping their letters a consistent size, they can switch to chalkboards without vertical grid lines.
This video showcases a few beginner Montessori reading activities to do with chalkboards!
Chalkboard writing offers lots of tactile feedback. It’s great for engaging sensory-seeking kids like my son, who often bears down too hard with markers and pencils.
Montessori Reading Activities: Object Sound Boxes
Object sound boxes hold items representing a particular letter or phoneme–usually the first sound in the name of the object. Children sort the sounds into groups by sound. Click here to see an object sound box in action!
I’ve seen up to 4 different phonemes represented by objects in a single basket, but make sure your child is confident with all the sounds first.
Unless you’ve got a huge collection of miniature everyday objects (jealous!), create your object box from child-safe items you find around the house. Grab some miniatures to supplement on Etsy or Amazon if needed. Gift shops in local museums sell tons of realistic miniatures as well!
For an “S” box, I might grab a screw, a star-shaped wooden block, a metal straw, a sock, an egg shaker, and a little plastic seal.
Montessori Reading Activities: Moveable Alphabet
The moveable alphabet is a classic Montessori material containing all 26 letters of the alphabet in wooden form.
Interestingly, most moveable alphabets contain only lowercase letters. Learning lowercase is the priority in Montessori as uppercase appears less frequently in books and magazines.
Children confidently using a handful of vowels and consonants (both the sound and the shape as written) are ready for the moveable alphabet. It’s an exciting time to be a parent– independent reading is right around the corner!
Montessori teachers introduce children to spelling with CVC or consonant-vowel-consonant words like bat, cat, tot, etc. There are numerous ways to use this activity starting with simple words and building up to phrases. (Click here to find just a few!)
Montessori Reading Activities: Books for Early Readers
Early reader books are a must! With their repetition and limited words per page, children enjoy success in independent reading from the get-go.
I’ve assembled a short list of the most popular Montessori early reader book series below. Their focus on real-world activities and events keeps children engaged and aligns with a traditional Montessori curriculum.
The Four Most Popular Montessori Early Reader Book Series:
I can’t decide which I love more – the minimalist look of BOB, the peaceful vibe of Monarch Readers, the rich illustrations of Books to Remember, or the whimsy of Miss Rhonda’s Readers!
They’re all so good!
- Miss Rhonda’s Readers
- Books to Remember – Emergent Reader (Also check out their free book library!)
- Monarch Readers
Bonus Learning! Early reading books also expose children to sight words. Sight words are words that your child recognizes without actually reading them.
Most Importantly, Never Stop Reading As A Family!
Don’t forget to keep reading to your child throughout their reading and writing journey. This practice emphasizes the value of reading within your family culture.
Start reading bits of short chapter books to your preschooler too. Prepare to be surprised by how well they follow a storyline over several days or weeks.
The Montessori podcast Shelf Help has excellent recommendations for chapter books.
Finally, take time to read on your own and do it in front of them. Modeling is powerful.
Implementing a short “Mommy reading time” during what used to be my son’s naptime is one of my strongest parenting moves. I get to model my enjoyment of reading, and while it’s sometimes a battle, occasionally he’ll grab his own book and “read” too!
Teach Your Child To Read Using The Montessori Method
Whether your little one is in a traditional school or Montessori children’s house, we hope you’ve discovered a few fun, engaging activities to support your child’s path to independent reading!
As with all activities on this list, focusing on phonics is the key to progress. The more confident children grow in matching sounds with letters, the greater success they have at sounding out words they’ve never seen or heard.
And finally, major kudos to you for seeking out these Montessori reading activities and supporting your emerging reader. You rock!
We love Montessori reading activities for learning at home! What pre-reading activities are you using to help your child become an independent reader?
For Even More Montessori Inspiration
- Curiosity-Sparking Educational Montessori Toys for 3 Year Olds
- Montessori for Infants: Finding Daily Connection with Your Baby
- Purposeful Play: The 30 Best Montessori Toys for 1 Year Olds
- A Montessori-Minded Mom’s Educational Gifts for 4 -Year – Olds
- Montessori Toy Storage: Create “Shelfie”- Worthy Montessori Shelves Using Stuff You Already Have
- What are Montessori Toys? Demystifying Montessori Materials for the Curious Parent
- Confidence-Building Montessori Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers
- The Montessori Potty Training Method (AKA Toilet Learning)
Brittany Cantrell is an Epidemiologist at her local health department who oversees a team of beautiful, talented women. Though she specializes in infectious disease prevention, she is a strong advocate for all public health professionals. She is the owner and author of the mindful travel blog, The World Enough, where readers are empowered to live with presence and without fear. She was born and raised in the rolling foothills of the north Georgia mountains. In her spare time, you can find her helplessly pinned to the couch by one of her two cats, heading to a yoga class, or planning her next adventure.