Updated: Mar 7, 2020
Understanding the function words have in our language is critical in communication. Children in the ‘First Plane of Development,’ which is birth to six, have brains that are in a sensitive period for movement, language, and order. From birth, a child recognizes voices and soon understands the meaning of words. By the time a child enters a Montessori environment as an infant or toddler, they not only can understand one language but many languages, including non-verbal communication. According to linguist Dr. Thomas Weir, monolingualism is the exception, not the norm, around the world. Therefore, understanding the purpose words have creates a smoother pathway to mastering other languages.
When a child enters the Early Childhood classroom, they are ready for the unique material that Dr. Montessori created for grammar. For example, she made a model farm complete with house, barn, silo, fence, animals, and such for children to tie concrete experiences with grammar. Over the last 40 years, I have seen teachers create beautiful materials to represent everyday things found on a farm as Montessori did over 100 years ago. Making a pond out of felt, so that they can add ducks and waterfowl, adding trees representing the seasons, tools used on the farm, and shiny brown plastic for the pigsty.
Grammar lessons are presented in a specific order that is logical to the child’s language development. First, children sort people, places, and everyday things in a classification activity. Then, with the farm, the child is shown how to set it up, how to take it apart and restore it. One day, the child is given a ‘secret message’ to label or bring something. The language for this lesson goes something like, “Every word has a special job. These are words that name. Today you labeled people, places, and things.” Another day, the child might label their classroom.
Then the child has another fun lesson with words that are in the family of the noun (naming words). It goes something like, “Please bring me this.” The child is given a paper with the word cow written on it. They go to the farm and bring a cow. The teacher responds, “Oh, you brought me a cow. I actually wanted this.” And she writes another word in front of cow. The child reads small cow. They bring back a small cow. “Oh, you brought me a small cow. I really wanted this.” And she writes another word in front of a small black cow. The child goes and comes back with a small black cow. “Oh, you brought me a black, small cow.” Ultimately, the child gets the idea of words that describe the naming word. They have an essential job.
Parallel to the farm grammar lessons, which are used for all parts of speech, the child is introduced to symbols that represent each type of word. Dr. Montessori was very thoughtful about these symbols, as they were included with all the work she created. She used a black pyramid for the noun. It’s a representation of the first structure built by man and carbon, the first mineral humankind discovered, gives such depth to what it represents. You can get the idea of how fun and meaningful these grammar lessons are in the process of a child’s writing, reading, and comprehension development, not to mention language development!