This post follows "The 'Write' Stuff". It describes beginning reading materials and their use.
Once a child is writing proficiently (usually around 4.5) he will begin to spontaneously read what he has written. At this point the child begins to work with the phonetic object box. This, as the name implies, is a box with five to seven objects in it that are spelled phonetically. The teacher writes the name of one object on a slip of paper, slowly, and the child says the sound of each letter out loud as she does so. Then he puts the sounds together and “guesses” which object was named. This repeats until all the objects are labeled. For repeat use, there is a set of papers already labeled with the names of the objects, or the teacher may continue to write.
The phonogram object box is introduced after the phonetic object box. It is almost identical, but one of the objects (the last one named) is not phonetic. Rather, it uses one phonogram such as “ch” or “oo”, and the rest of the word remains phonetic. The teacher helps the child remember phonograms by isolating them if necessary, either covering the rest of the word or using a phonogram as the beginning sound and pausing dramatically while the child determines the sound. The phonogram is treated as one letter, just as it was in the sandpaper letter work.
Puzzle words are also introduced after the phonetic object box. While similar to traditional education's “sight words”, these are not simply easy words to recognize on sight. Puzzle words are, instead, words that cannot be figured out using either phonetic sounds or phonograms. They are like a puzzle – you can't tell what the “picture” is until you put all the pieces together and see the whole thing. These words are typed or handwritten on cards and the child learns three at a time, in a three period lesson. This involves learning the word (first period), matching the spoken word to the written word (second period), and giving the spoken word in response to the written word (third period, i.e. reading).
All words in the English language can be deciphered using one of those three methods, so once the child is reasonable proficient with these activities he can begin to do work with more challenging words. The picture cards used for spoken language activities come into use again, but this time as three part cards. One part includes both an image and the written word (all lowercase, in an easy to read font like Century Gothic). Another part includes just an image, and the third includes just the word. All cards in a set are cut identically. To use these, the child lays out the control cards with space between them. He then places the matching picture card next to the control card, and turns the control cards over so they are no longer visible. He reads the words, and places them beneath the matching image. When he has completed all the sets, he turns the control cards back over to check his work. Each classroom has several three part card sets on the shelves at any given time, and even more in storage for rotation.
The three part cards branch out into “parts of...” and “kinds of...” cards, as well as developing more fully into definition booklets. For example, a “parts of the flower” set will highlight the different parts of the flower (pistil, stamen, corolla, etc) in color, while the rest of the image remains an outline. These will be three part cards, but there will also be a booklet that describes each part of the flower on a separate page. For example:
is the green part
that holds the flower together.
This definition is repeated, split up in different ways, for the child to match the parts of the definition to each other and to the image. The booklet is for initially defining terms and to use as a control so the child can check his work.
This list is (by far) not all of the reading work in a Montessori environment, but the next post will describe spoken language activities (which really should have been the FIRST post) so that after that we can go into the parts of speech and more advanced language work.