Phonics Instruction (Montessori)

From Montepedia

Phonics instruction in Montessori classrooms is designed to help children discover the rules of phonics themselves, primarily through the use of hands-on learning materials. This methodology aims to help children understand the sound-letter relationship, which is fundamental in developing reading and writing skills.

Montessori Quotes

Maria Montessori emphasized the value of practical, hands-on learning experiences, stating, "The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” This quote encapsulates the Montessori approach to phonics instruction, which involves using sensory materials like sandpaper letters and the Moveable Alphabet.


Step 1: Sandpaper Letters

The first step usually involves introducing the child to individual sounds using Montessori's Sandpaper Letters. These are tactile cards with a letter embossed in sandpaper on each one. The child is introduced to each letter sound (not the name of the letter), and they trace the letter with their fingers while saying the sound. This involves multiple senses – sight, touch, and sound, which aids memory and understanding.

For example, a child is presented with the sandpaper letter 'm.' The educator would say, "/m/ as in 'mat,' 'moon,' 'mouse,'" guiding the child to trace the letter 'm' with their fingers as they say the /m/ sound.

Step 2: Building Words with the Moveable Alphabet

Once the child is familiar with a number of individual letter sounds, the educator introduces the Moveable Alphabet, a box filled with small cut-outs of letters. The child can now start to build words by stringing together the letter sounds they've learned.

For instance, if the child has learned the sounds /m/, /a/, and /t/, the educator might say, "Can we make the word 'mat'? What sound does 'mat' start with?" The child would then select the corresponding letters from the Moveable Alphabet and arrange them to form the word.

Step 3: Phonetic Reading

After building a familiarity with a variety of letter sounds and constructing words, children then move on to reading phonetically. They would start with simple, phonetic words (words that are spelled exactly how they sound). These could be presented on cards, in books, or using the Moveable Alphabet.

For instance, the educator might show a card with the word 'mat' and guide the child to sound out each letter, encouraging them to blend the sounds together to say the word.

Step 4: Phonetic Word Lists and Books

Once comfortable with individual words, children progress to word lists and eventually small books, all made up of simple, phonetic words. They are encouraged to sound out and read the words independently, developing their phonetic reading skills.

Overall, the Montessori approach to phonics is gradual and child-centered, allowing children to learn at their own pace and gain a firm understanding of the relationship between sounds and letters. This builds a strong foundation for fluent reading and writing skills.

Research and Critiques


Phonics instruction using the Montessori method fosters independence and self-guided learning. This approach can help children deeply understand the phonetic principles that govern the English language. They are not merely memorizing word lists, but instead, are acquiring skills to sound out words independently, an ability that is transferable to new words they encounter. This discovery-led approach lays a strong foundation for developing reading skills.[1]


Critics argue that this method's indirectness and the heavy reliance on self-guided learning may not suit all children. Some may need more explicit and systematic instruction, especially those with learning difficulties like dyslexia. This approach might also delay reading in some children compared to their peers who are taught using a more direct, systematic phonics approach.[2]

Comparisons to Other Methods

Compared to other phonics instruction methods, the Montessori approach places a significant emphasis on sensory learning and self-discovery. It teaches children the sounds associated with letters before they learn the names of the letters. Additionally, Montessori method encourages writing before reading, which is a departure from more traditional instructional approaches. In the traditional phonics method, students learn letter names first and reading precedes writing.[1]

See Also

Glossary of Montessori Terms

The Glossary of Montessori Terms is a collection of specific terms and vocabulary that are related to the Montessori method of education, primarily focusing on the theory and practice for children aged 3 to 6. The jargon used by Montessori educators offers a unique insight into child development as discussed by Maria Montessori. The 'Montepedia Glossary of Montessori Terms' originated from a glossary that was compiled by the late Annette Haines from the Montessori Training Centre of St. Louis, at the request of Molly O'Shaughnessy from the Montessori Centre of Minnesota. The reason behind the creation of this glossary was to supplement O'Shaughnessy's lecture at the Joint Annual Refresher Course that took place in Tampa, Florida, in February 2001.[3] The glossary has since been expanded and updated with additional 'Montessori Terms'.

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  1. 1.0 1.1 McCarthy, M. (2022). Montessori approach to teaching children phonics. Montessori Education.
  2. Moats, L. (2000). Whole language lives on: The illusion of "balanced" reading instruction. Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
  3. Haines, A. (2001). Glossary of Montessori Terms. Montessori Training Centre of St. Louis.