Writing - Montessori Nuggets on the Process

The writing process should be a joy, just as learning to read. 

Some tidbits to help the process along: 
(do some of these look familiar ????)

  • writing precedes reading - it's just easier to put your own thoughts down with the sounds you know, than to interpret someone else's thoughts that you have to construct in your mind without perhaps being in the right "mindset" at the time. When a child has a reason to write, he will do it - have lots of life experiences so there are things to write about, introduce card-making and journaling with pictures - the writing will come. Then the child becomes interested in what others have written......
  • the sounds help us to write, not the names of the letters - the names of the letters help us to tell someone else how to spell; they don't even help us to alphabetize! 
  • use the sounds to write - with the movable alphabet, a child's "spelling" is taken away quickly, so it is OK if they mis-spell at this stage. The *point* is to get the correct sounds. If you can sound out their words based on the sounds they have placed, *no correction is needed* until they are old enough to be writing on paper and have had sufficient experience with puzzle words, phonograms, and lots of reading and writing experience. This is NOT "inventive spelling" - this is getting them writing. If a word is not written in correct sounds, then point out to them, "Hm. This seems to say (and slowly say the word while pointing to the letters)" OR "Hm. I wonder if we could look at this one again. Say the sounds and see if that is what you wanted to write." Again, the words are cleared away quickly so the spelling errors will NOT be reinforced. 
  • children write based on their experiences - be sure to have lots of experiences to write about: a pet that came to visit; a pet they get to care for; a visitor; a visit elsewhere
  • use wide vocabulary - a large vocabulary offers many choices for describing the same event. Instead of "he sat", a child could say, "the boy plopped down quickly" - yes a 4 year old can write that! 
  • begin with the cursive movable alphabet - when they've had sufficient work with the sandpaper letters and phonograms to start sounding out words - LET THEM! But do not require they write the letters with pencil on paper - this is a separate process. 
  • writing happens in stages, via a variety of preparations: sandpaper letters and phonograms give the sounds; work with knobbed cylinders, bell mallet and other materials encourages the proper writing grip; work with all the sensorial material gets them using the proper movements; work with the metal insets gives them actual writing with a pencil within the geometric shapes used in cursive writing (Montessori materials are not suited for starting with print) and lots of practice in controlling their movements while drawing those infinite straight lines within the metal inset shapes; further design work increases their skills and strength; exercises of practical life such as table washing and the layout of other material especially in order of use laid out on the tray should be encouraging the left to right movement of our writing system (if you are in a different writing culture, adapt your other Montessori materials layouts to suit your writing style!)
  • second-plane children should be writing across all subjects - and they will be exposed to a variety of writing styles in their reading and their research. If they are not utilizing these experiences, they don't have enough of them - so get them reading and doing independent and small group research projects. 
  • second-plane children not yet writing? start them on cursive. Really. It's easier, it flows more naturally, it connects the letters within a word forming a distinct word; it has historical implications compared to both civilizations that used individual symbols (how long it took!?) and those that used a handwriting style (how much more quickly they could write!)
  • all ages - let them doodle! We call it embellishment in Montessori circles. When their work is done, let them decorate and make it an art form for themselves. 
  • PENCIL GRIP: See the image above for the proper pencil grip. Children having a hard time? Have them pick up heavy-ish items with a small knob (think tip of the bell mallet, the knobs on the knobbed cylinders) with 2 fingers and thumb. Their touch should be light, not tight; the item should sway freely but be firmly in their grasp. This is why the Montessori bells are SO nice (see future nuggets). Practice this grip yourself. Watch videos of artists on YouTube - how they draw their pencil sketches. What grip do they use? Click here for a video from Dr. Steve Hughes. Skip to 32:00 for the section on the writing grasp. 
  • paint with small paintbrushes so the child is encouraged to use light-touch and proper grip
  • encourage light touch

Writing Style in Elementary - see upcoming Nuggets

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