“Words are your [child’s] best friends. They are bridges of understanding and passages that seed all of humanity.” (Montessori Today, Paula Polk Lillard)
A child thirsts for new language like they thirst for water. They crave new language experiences for many reasons; to be in touch with their surroundings, engaged in their environment, and to communicate with others around them. We want to provide a variety of language opportunities for children, especially between the ages of birth to six years, when the child is in the “sensitive period” for language development.
At HBMH, our community is well equipped with language-rich learning opportunities. We talk to the children and adult with respect, modeling how to interact in a positive, productive way. We model grace and courtesy so the child understands proper social interactions. Every lesson is an opportunity to expand upon the child’s language development.
In Montessori, we discourage talking to a newborn in a “baby voice”. Instead, we carry on conversations and talk to them as if talking to another adult. We share stories with them, and encourage them to respond. We “coo” in response to their little noises to show that their words and noises matter, and that they can communicate their needs through language. Our tone of voice conveys a specific message and emotion. We tell them what we’re going to do before we do it. For instance, “I’m going to pick you up”, or “I’m going to wipe your nose”, and so forth.
“Research indicates that the brain’s vast capabilities of transmitting, receiving and retrieving messages form during the first three years of life.” (Montessori Today, Paula Polk Lillard)
There is a sort of “indirect learning” that comes from talking with children. Their minds unconsciously absorb everything that we send their way. Maria Montessori defined this process as the Absorbent Mind. The child experiences unconscious “absorption” before the age of 3, and conscious absorption from ages 3 to 6; the child begins to intentionally direct and focus his attention on experiences that will develop that which was created during the first three years. It’s important for us as adults to realize that every conversation with a child will be interpreted in one way or another, and to create positive learning experiences with every interaction.
We have to speak slowly, respectfully, concisely, enunciate when necessary, and so forth. “To inspire language development in the child who is hesitant or not yet speaking audible sounds, find verbal techniques that will attract the child’s attention…slowing down your speech and using clear articulation and a low, gentle tone will attract the toddler like a butterfly to nectar.” (Montessori Today, Paula Polk Lillard)
Step outside and get in touch with nature…describe everything you see; the rustling of the leaves, the thick tree trunk, the beautiful sounds the birds make, the feel of the cool breeze. Invite your child to repeat what they see and hear.
“Young children are thirsty to understand the sights, sounds, tastes, scents, and textures in their new world.” (Awakening your Toddlers Love of Learning, Jan Katzen-Luchenta)
You want to use real materials when possible. This helps the child connect to the environment, and come to better terms with reality. Add a basket to your work shelf with real materials inside for the child to feel, using their senses to explore the objects. Create nomenclature to match the items to their pictures, and discuss their names and characteristics.
“Present as many real objects to the child as possible (e.g., basket of fruit, veggies, tools, etc.). This enables the child to experience the concrete meaning of the words through the senses visually, tactilely, thermally, barically, gustatorally (sweet or sour), olfactorily, auditorily, and stereognostically (covering the eyes to heighten all other senses and form a visual image of an object.” (Montessori Today, Paula Polk Lillard)
When cooking, for example, describe each step that you are doing, what tools you’re using and the purpose of each tool, the quantities of each ingredient that need to be measured out, etc.
“I’m adding garlic to the guacamole by using the garlic press. I have to squeeze the handles to press the garlic.”
Because language is an intrical involvement in the process of thinking, the child will need to be spoken to and listened to often. The child will need a broad exposure to language, with correct articulation, enunciation, and punctuation. The child will need to experience different modes of language and to hear and tell stories. Most importantly, the child needs to feel free and be encouraged to communicate with others.
To help the child in his development in language, the Montessori classroom is designed to help the child reach the 3rd period of consciousness. Because the learning of language is not done through subjects as in a normal classroom, the child is learning at his own rhythm. This allows the child to concentrate on the learning of each important step in language so that each progressive step is done easily and without any thought on the part of the child. The special material also plays an important role in aiding the child develop the powers of communication and expression, of organization and classification, and the development of thought.
But the most important tool in the child’s learning of language lies within the directress. She must support the child in his learning, give him order to classify what he has learned, to help the child build self-confidence, and to provide the child with meaningful activities. The directress is the child’s best source in language development. (infomontessori.com/language/introduction)