"The development of language is part of the development of the personality, for words are the natural means of expressing thoughts and establishing understanding between people."

Maria Montessori

Language is the pillar of communication, whether verbal, nonverbal, or written. It is how we communicate and share our thoughts and ideas. It is how we interact with each other. As adults, it's probably not something we think about very often, it's simply something we do. But for our children, the process of developing their vocabulary and understanding all the way to reading and writing is a truly fascinating journey.

From birth to around age 6, children are in a sensitive period for language, in which they absorb language from their environment. Sensitive periods are blocks of time in the child’s life when they are particularly absorbed with one characteristic of the environment. For language, this starts even prior to birth as they hear sounds in utero through to starting to make their own sounds, which turn into words and phrases and then sentences. Which then increase in complexity and richness. They absorbe intonations, accents, and expressions! It is also why when children are introduced to other languages during these years, they can learn them easily and naturally, particularly in immersion situations.

Language development in a Montessori classroom starts the moment children join our school, and might look different than expected and make use of some exciting new materials you might not have seen before.

Did you know? Children will generally write before reading


Vocabulary enrichment and communication skills are vital, no matter what area of the classroom we're in. We talk about the work and the materials, we use specific and technical nomenclature to discuss objects, we have conversations and sing songs and poems. We make rich oral expression a part of our daily lives.

We also work on patterns and classification, on finding relationships between different things and being able to describe them.

Concept development

This category can be a bit hard to understand just from the name, but it includes a lot - introducing new vocabulary and concepts, relationships between different things such as opposites, associations, patterns, similarity, and so on.

From matching objects that look the same, to understanding that the toothbrush goes with the toothpaste just as the mittens do with the hat, these activities offer different levels of challenge and are always engaging and fun.


A lot of work goes into writing even before we start forming words. We start our pre-writing work by establishing patterns that mimic the way we write - for example, most things in a Montessori classroom are set up left top right, top to bottom. We slowly offer the child opportunities to refine their hand eye coordination and to manipulate real breakable objects, as well as heavy ones - developing both strength and a delicate and precise touch, as needed.

Preparing for the mechanics of writing

We work on the hand skills needed for writing, so that once a child is ready to put words onto paper, they have the ability to do so - they know what the letters look like, they've practiced shaping them on different materials, they can be both precise and firm with a pencil.

We use geometric shapes to trace in order to encourage the child to make confident continuous pencil traces in all directions. Striping which turns into shading allows them to practice control in order to stay within the lines. Children love this activity so don't be surprised if books full of different shapes in different colors make their way home!

Sandpaper laters are presented the moment we start working with sounds for them to trace. They encourage tactile spatial memory both of the shappe of the symbol, but how to trace it, the order of the strokes and the movement flow required for it.

What better introduction to copying shapes and letters than the low pressure easy to start over sand tray? Not only is this fun, but the children also enjoy the tactile feedback and delight in making their lines as big as possible.

Yes, classic chalkboards are still a thing! It's a whole different experience - the pressure on the chalk, the resistance of the board. Children can practice on a big scale, with as much repetition as needed. Then compare with the smooth experience of a whiteboard, truly a delight for the senses.

It's all about phonics

We start introducing the concept of sounds - starting sounds of words, ending sounds (rhymes!), and middle sounds. As the children work with phonemes, we introduce the movable alphabet, to relate these sounds to their graphic respresentation.

From concrete to abstract

Montessori learning always progresses from concrete touchable physical items to abstract ideas. Language is no exception here. Children go from using small objects which appeal to their curiousity (and are a great for then small things sensitive period!), to pictures, to working solely from ideas in their minds.


Once words can be broken down into phonemes and written down, they can be decoded again. Reading begins once that collection of sounds that the child is seeing makes sense and becomes a word, a concept that they understand. And that is only the start - total reading is our goal: reading and understanding someone elses thoughts.

Like most things in Montessori - we have materials for that!

We guide the child through a reading process in which we again move from concrete to abstract in several passes, increasing the complexity of the words, phrases, and sentences we introduce.

Grammar and sentence structure have a place in the early childhood classroom

This is something that often surprises people new to Montessori style language learning, but just as we work with the children to classify and sort the world around them, we do the same with language! Even for those who are not yet writing or reading, we can verbally identify names of items, places or people. Then once we start reading phrases and commands, we can identify actions and prepositions. And as the child progresses and shows interest this can be an ongoing exercise.

Ocasionally you might be able to see grammar environments - often a farm, but there can be others - where the children will slowly work on labeling the objects, then associating them with actions, adjectives, and all other elements needed to create and read sentences associated with them.

How can I support my child at home?

Read! Read to them, show them that you read for please, that you write in daily life. Slow down and find time for conversations, for singing together and being silly and playing games, make up stories together. Have some special time over a cup of tea with some poetry or a podcast.

You can find some more ideas here and here.