How Does Montessori Teach Reading? (A Quick Overview)

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Written By Olivia Miller

Author at Montessori Expert.

In the vibrant world of Montessori classrooms, literacy isn’t just about memorizing letters and decoding words. It’s a journey of exploration, discovery, and self-directed learning, where children unlock the magic of reading at their own pace, guided by a unique and captivating approach.

But, how exactly does Montessori education crack the code to reading success?

Let’s delve into the key principles and activities that pave the way for young minds to confidently navigate the world of written language.

How Does Montessori Teach Reading? – A Quick Answer

Montessori schools employ a unique approach to teaching reading based on fostering natural, organic learning experiences. Key aspects of the Montessori method include:

Prerequisite Development

Before introducing formal reading instruction, Montessori emphasizes foundational skills such as oral communication, emotional expression, and building a broad vocabulary related to everyday experiences.

Use of Specialized Materials

Montessori classrooms utilize various educational tools tailored to aid reading comprehension:

  1. Sandpaper Letters: Used initially to introduce shapes and tactile impressions of letters, supporting both visualization and kinesthetic memory.
  2. Object Cards: Paired with corresponding images to connect spoken sounds with concrete representations.
  3. Word Formation: Combines single letters with objects to facilitate associating sounds with complete words.
  4. Pink, Blue, and Green Series: Progressive levels of complexity involving short vowels, long vowels, digraphs, etc., leading to advanced reading proficiency.
  5. Action Cards: Encouraging active engagement via actions linked to verbs, enhancing narrative skills.
  6. Journaling: Provides opportunities for creative writing alongside reading exercises.
  7. Storytelling & Real World Connections: Utilizing literature, science, math, and cultural studies to contextualize concepts within reality.
  8. Phonemic Awareness Activities: Focusing on recognizing individual sounds rather than only letter names, promoting stronger overall reading fluency.

Sequence of Instruction

Writing typically precedes reading in the Montessori system since putting letters together forms words familiarized during earlier stages. Consequently, reading becomes easier after gaining competence in decoding personal writings.

Individualized Pace

Each learner advances according to their preparedness instead of being forced ahead prematurely. Educators monitor growth closely and adjust accordingly.

Engagement Through Playfulness

Activities are structured to feel less academic and more recreational, encouraging enjoyment throughout the entirety of the learning process. Parent involvement, including shared reading sessions, reinforces home-class connections positively impacting young readers.

Overall, the Montessori philosophy aims to cultivate intrinsic curiosity and foster independent exploration, allowing children to discover the joys of reading organically without pressure or stress.

A Foundation of Sensory Experiences

Montessori education recognizes the importance of sensory development in laying the groundwork for literacy. Before children encounter letters, they engage in activities that refine their senses of sight, touch, and sound, building a strong foundation for understanding and manipulating the written word.

Nurturing the Sensory Garden:

  • Sensory Activities: Children explore textures, sounds, and smells through activities like playing with sand, manipulating objects, and listening to music.
  • Visual Discrimination: Sorting and matching activities by color, size, and shape train the eyes to differentiate subtle differences, a crucial skill for letter recognition.
  • Auditory Awareness: Listening to stories, poems, and rhymes exposes children to the rhythm and cadence of language, preparing them for sound-symbol relationships.

Building Blocks of Language

Once the sensory garden is blooming, Montessori introduces the building blocks of language: sounds, syllables, and eventually, letters. This multi-sensory approach engages different learning styles and ensures a deeper understanding of how language works.

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From Sounds to Symbols:

  • Sandpaper Letters: Children trace the sandpaper letters, feeling the shapes and associating them with the sounds they represent.
  • Sound Games: Clapping, tapping, and manipulating objects to represent sounds in words fosters phonemic awareness, the ability to hear and manipulate individual sounds in spoken language.
  • Movable Alphabet: Arranging wooden letters to form words provides hands-on experience with word construction and spelling.

Independence and Self-Directed Learning

Montessori classrooms are not filled with rows of desks and teacher-led drills. Instead, children are empowered to explore materials at their own pace, choosing activities that pique their curiosity and drive their learning. This fosters independence, intrinsic motivation, and a lifelong love of reading.

a montessori mom and child playing with toys on the floor
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Freedom within Boundaries:

  • Prepared Environments: Montessori classrooms are carefully curated with developmentally appropriate materials, providing enticing options for children to explore language and literacy.
  • Individualized Learning: Teachers observe and support each child’s unique learning journey, offering guidance without dictating the pace or direction.
  • Intrinsic Motivation: The emphasis on self-directed learning fosters a natural desire to explore and discover, propelling children to read for the joy of understanding and the thrill of independent learning.

Beyond Decoding: Comprehension and Expression

Montessori education doesn’t stop at decoding words. Children are encouraged to delve deeper, engaging with stories, poems, and factual texts to develop comprehension skills and explore different genres.

Cultivating Meaningful Connections:

  • Storytelling and Shared Reading: Children experience the magic of stories through shared reading and storytelling, fostering vocabulary development, comprehension skills, and a love for literature.
  • Creative Expression: Writing activities, journaling, and dramatic play allow children to express themselves creatively and explore the power of written language.
  • Real-World Connections: Montessori classrooms often integrate reading with practical life activities, science experiments, and cultural exploration, making learning meaningful and relevant.

A Journey, Not a Race

Remember, Montessori education is not about pushing children to achieve specific milestones at a certain age. It’s about creating a nurturing environment where they can explore language at their own pace, develop a love for reading, and build a strong foundation for lifelong learning.

Trusting the Process:

  • Respecting Individual Differences: Every child learns and develops at their own pace. Montessori teachers are trained to observe and support each child’s unique journey, celebrating individual progress and fostering confidence.
  • Focus on the Love of Learning: The ultimate goal is not just to read, but to cultivate a love for learning and discovery that will extend far beyond the classroom walls.
  • A Lifelong Journey: Montessori education equips children with the skills and passion to become lifelong learners, constantly seeking new knowledge and exploring the world through the power of the written word.


The Montessori approach to reading is not a one-size-fits-all formula. It’s a philosophy that celebrates individuality, fosters curiosity, and empowers children to become confident, independent readers.

If you’re seeking an educational environment that values your child’s unique learning journey and ignites a passion for language, then Montessori education might be helpful.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do montessori schools teach reading?

Montessori schools teach reading using a distinct set of practices that nurture a positive, natural learning experience. The Montessori curriculum is thoughtfully built around teaching children the many elements of reading and writing one by one, in a way accessible to and enjoyable by a child.

What is montessori reading?

Montessori reading is a method of teaching reading and writing that is based on the Montessori approach to education. In Montessori schools, children learn to write before they learn to read, and they use a set of materials that are designed to engage multiple parts of the child’s mind and senses.

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