Thursday, September 24, 2015

introducing the alphabet, Montessori-style

The ability to isolate a beginning sound of a word is the point of readiness for learning the alphabet letter sounds.
- Randall Klein, Montessori teacher and early reading specialist

For the past several months, 
I have been gradually introducing Elise 
to the letters of the alphabet.

Before that, we played LOTS of language games
- and still do! -
like "I spy," the blending game, and matching.

How did I know Elise was ready to make the leap to letters?

First, I noticed that her phonemic awareness was growing,
and that she was able to identify the beginning sounds of most words.

Second, I couldn't deny her curiosity about letters any longer!
I had already casually told her the sounds of a few letters,
and she soaked them up like a sponge.

I really wanted her to learn the letter sounds,
and I realized that if I didn't act quickly,
the rest of the world was going to teach her the names first!

Once I decided to go for it,
the first thing I did was make an Alphabet Story for us to point and sing to
that corresponded with Randall Klein's Stand Up Alphabet Cards.

(sing the letter sounds to the tune of "Up on a House Top")

a-a-apple, b-b-bird. c-c-cat, d-d-duck,
e-e-elephant, f-f-fish, g-g-goat, h-h-house,
i-i-igloo, j-j-jet. k-k-kite, lll-lion,
m-m-moon, n-n-nest, o-o-octopus, p-p-pear,
q-q-queen, rrr-rooster, s-s-sun, t-t-turtle,
u-u-umbrella, v-violin, w-w-whale, x-as in x-ray,
y-y-yarn so much fun, z-z-zebra really can run, 
we just sang our alphabet song, and everybody sang along!

Here's a close-up of our pointer, if you're curious.  ;)
It's a big hit!
We use it for our calendar, too.

Teach the alphabetic principle before you teach the alphabet.
- Randall Klein

When I present a new letter to Elise,
I put together a little tray like the one pictured above.
First, we look at the Alphabet Object, and talk about its beginning sound.
A queen!  What sound does queen start with?  
Yes!  /q/queen - queen starts with /q/.

Then, I'll associate the sound with the Sandpaper Letter.
This letter makes the sound /q/, just like /q/queen.
Elise and I take a few turns tracing the Sandpaper Letter with our finger 
and making the letter's sound.  

 (Sandpaper Letters from Pollywog Learning Products on Esty.)

Next, we'll "read" the new Stand Up Alphabet Card together.

This is what the materials look like on Elise's language shelf.
- New Letter Tray, Sandpaper Letters and Alphabet Objects, and Stand Up Alphabet Cards -

If you're wondering, I have been introducing the letters in no particular order
other than what Elise is interested in 
and what Alphabet Objects I've been able to make or scrounge up!

Randall Klein recommends the following clusters:

a g h m s, 
c d l o t,
f i p r u, 
e j k n w, 
b v y z q x.

Sometimes we set up several Stand-Up Alphabet Cards on a rug,
and I'll challenge Elise to find certain letters for me.
Can you please bring me /a/apple?
If she brings back a different card than the one I've asked for,
I simply say, Let's see what you brought.  You found /b/bird!

Once I know that Elise knows a letter,
I usually ask for it just by sound.
Can you find /e/?

Sometimes Elise and I will switch roles,
and she'll ask ME to bring HER letters.
This is a really great way to discover what she knows!

OK, now for those sandpaper letters and objects...

We play a lot of simple matching games with these materials.
We also take turns flipping the letters over and knocking to see "who's there."

When it comes to these kinds of games,
repetition is key,
and it has to be quick and fun!

Our all-time favorite thing to do with the Alphabet Objects?
Put them on the Alphabet Quilt!
My awesome mom made Elise this quilt just for this very purpose,
and it is so much fun!

We set it up right underneath the Alphabet Story on the wall,
so Elise can check her work and sing.

/e/elephant is always a favorite!  :)

As you've probably noticed, for continuity in the beginning,
we've been associating the same objects/pictures with the same letters.
- For example, /a/ is always an apple. -

As Elise becomes familiar with a letter,
she easily associates it with other things that begin with the same sound.
More on that later, though!  

You can visit Randall Klein at Early Reading Mastery and The Age of Montessori.
I refer to this handout he shares on his Early Reading Mastery site all the time:


  1. What a great guide to introducing the alphabet! Thank you for sharing. Do you have a link for the alphabet song? I've never heard that before.

    1. Thanks so much - it's really working out for us! It's a little different than what I did when I was teaching, and quite a bit different than my Montessori training - homeschooling is a little more experimental! ;) I don't have a link for the alphabet song, but I think you may have inspired me to make a video!

  2. Just gorgeous. So much to love here!! I love your pointer, such a great idea. The alphabet quilt is amazing too. This was a fantastic outline of the process.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Kylie! :)

  3. Thank you for sharing! Where did you get the blue cabinet/set of drawers that is under the painting? (Happy almost baby time?)

    1. Yes! Almost baby time! The Alphabet Box set of drawers is from Lowe's. I'll share more about it soon - it's full of tiny treasures and one of Elise's favorite things!

  4. I love that quilt!!! This gets me excited for me and Cara as well! And look how much Elise has grown! How I've missed you and reading about her!

  5. Oh wow, that is such a great way to introduce alphabets. I like it a lot. My daughter that is a Phoenix preschool student just loved all these photos from your post. She has demanded me to make that hand stick for reading her chart. Could you please share the tutorial?

  6. I have those Randall Klein cards as well..found them at a conference years ago...another way to intro sounds not just soundpaper letters


  7. Does anyone know where I can download or print the Randall Klein cards??

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