Our Language Sequence for Early Writing & Reading

Our Language Sequence for Early Writing & Reading

Raising readers is a huge priority in our home. So far we LOVE reading together but we are not independently reading. We are still in the pre-reading stage in our home (our oldest is four). My biggest struggle in our Montessori language journey (so far) is being patient. I am so very ready for the next phase of the sequence. To experience the magic of spontaneous word building and organic reading explosions. I’m so ready to watch it all unfold. It can be easy to rush forward but there’s magic happening right in front of my eyes with this stage. I’ve reminded myself this. I’ve also taken a deep dive this past spring and summer in implementing the Montessori Method Early Language Progression. This helped me fully flesh out our sequence. We will be using Dwyer and supplementing lightly with Waseca.

Initially I had planned to introduce the sandpaper letters after stage three of the sound games. After reading Muriel Dwyer’s pamphlet, “A Path for the Exploration of Any Language Leading to Writing and Reading”, I will be waiting until after we have gotten through all the stages of the Sound Games. She says, “It is essential that the whole [sound games sequence] is experienced without reference to any symbols, whether the sandpaper letters, the moveable alphabet OR to reading, as the aim of this game is, as stated before, to make the children aware of the sounds they use in speech” (Dwyer 20).

Another shift Dwyer’s pamphlet has brought about in my planning is when and where to add in the Waseca Reading Program. Initially I had planned to utilize this alongside of the moveable alphabet. In Montessori’s writings she describes the spontaneous writing that happens with the moveable alphabet, the stories the children create and the sheer joy they have when utilizing the moveable alphabet. This may not be experienced by a child for a two main reasons. Dwyer states that the main reason “children do not use the movable alphabet well” is that “the preparation has not been well done and usually that a lively approach is lacking” (24). I am willing to be this could be mistaken for a lack of interest but it is a clear indicator that the foundation has not been laid for further language exploration. Another could be that the child learns differently (which Montessori is WELL equipped for. Check out this article). This cannot be further explored as “the reason” until you try to fill in any gaps with sound games. Once you have, it may be a good time for some learners to go ahead and implement the Waseca Reading Program alongside of the moveable alphabet.

For the typical reader, wait to utilize this program so that you do not stifle their creativity. Dwyer states that in her “experience, giving the children pictures with the moveable alphabet acts as a limiting factor and puts a break on the free expression of words or thoughts” (24). By moving forward with the structured curriculum at this point in the sequence we are not giving the child a creative outlet and we are (potentially) teaching them that writing is restrictive. Whereas, if we do not create an atmosphere of structured writing but instead give them the tool to build words (the moveable alphabet) then we free the child up to create.

If a child is not creating freely with moveable alphabet, has a sound foundation (and you’ve gone back to fill in gaps just in case), and there is not a different learning need present, then it is an indicator that there has not been enough story telling, poems, rhymes, songs and reading. The next step is to fill in this gap. Just have fun with language together! Then once you have given some time to this (I am talking weeks!) then you can go back to the moveable alphabet (if the child has not done so on his or her own!)

The Waseca Program is beautiful and I love the development of it using the Orton-Gilingham Method combined with Montessori. We will absolutely be adding it to our sequence just not until after we have gotten through the key sound folders and booklets. I may do them parallel to or after the phonogram dictionary. At this point in the sequence, they will be a great early spelling program for us. Now that I have given some explanation for my thought process, let me share our Montessori writing and reading sequence.

Montessori Early Writing and Reading Sequence Outline
  1. Pre-Reading Activities
  2. Sandpaper Letters
  3. Moveable Alphabet
  4. Object Box
  5. Activity Words
  6. First Set of Puzzle Words
  7. Readers
  8. Reading Folders + Booklets
  9. Second Set of Puzzle Words
  10. Waseca Reading Program
  11. Phonogram Dictionary

Pre-Reading Activities

The acquisition of language starts from birth. Much of the ground work for reading is laid without the parent even knowing it. Speaking to your child, interacting with your child, reading to your child, playing with your child- all of this lays an early foundation for further language exploration. Once the child is ready for 3-6 materials, the focus honestly doesn’t shift much. There are activities to build vocabulary, building hand strength, story telling, rhymes, songs, poetry, and reading together. Sound games are introduced between 2.5 and 3.5 and can be played as the child is interested. Sound games are so much more than eye spy and honestly deserve their own post. If you find that your child is not into the games at first, try again but if your child is nearing 3/3.5 and still not interested, I highly recommend just changing how you play the games. This was a game changer for us. This Instagram post shares a bit more about our experience. In addition to that, check out Playful Path to Readings resources. I first encountered this program in the Montessori Homeschool Summit (If they hold another one I will absolutely be attending online again!)

There are five levels of sound games as described by Lynne Lawrence in “Montessori Read and Write”. Gettman describes it as six in his book, “Basic Montessori”. Both are great resources that I use alongside of Dwyer’s shorter description in her pamphlet. The stages do not need to be fully mastered to begin the sandpaper letters, but we will be waiting until we are in the last level before introducing them because we want to be proficient at isolating the sounds (not letters) in the words. The child will have demonstrated the ability with beginning sounds, then ending sounds and finally middle sounds. Remember, words are not just three syllable. Explore sounds that end in three, four, five, and even six letters before moving forward with sandpaper letters (20). By isolating this listening activity from the act of reading and writing, we set the child up to be able to create words once this is mastered.

The Sandpaper Letters

The sandpaper letters come AFTER you have gotten to the final level of the sound games. This means your child is comfortable with all 44 phonemic sounds in the English language. They are proficient at isolating sounds in the words they encounter. They have mastered beginning and ending sounds and are able to regularly pick out middle sounds. They’ve explored words of different syllables and are confident isolating the sounds. Now it is time to introduce the Sandpaper Letters.

Again, we are following Dwyer’s pamphlet pretty closely so we will be introducing both single and double letters at the same time. There are 40 total sand paper letters. 25 single letter and 15 double letter. These are presented three at a time with the three period lesson. Dwyer states that “If and only if, all the preparation has been thoroughly undertaken it should not take more than 2 to 3 weeks for the child to know all the sandpaper letters” (23).

Movable Alphabet

Once the child can bring the correct Sandpaper Letter to you consistently when requested (think Bring Me game), it is time to introduce the moveable alphabet. If the child has the correct foundation for this piece, they quickly progress from collaboratively working with the guide to creating their own words, thoughts, sentences, and so on. Dwyer states that this typically takes 2-3 days. The guide is “encouraging and helping the child to think of a word, analyze it into its component sounds, take the appropriate letters out and place them in order on the mat” (23). Then the guide can encourage the child to write out events of the day, stories, poems, and rhymes. Retelling and telling new stories.

Again, If a child is not creating freely with moveable alphabet, has a sound foundation (and you’ve gone back to fill in gaps just in case), and there is not a different learning need present, then it is an indicator that there has not been enough story telling, poems, rhymes, songs and reading. The next step is to pause and fill in this gap. Just have fun with language together! Then once you have given some time to this (I am talking weeks!) then you can go back to the moveable alphabet (if the child has not done so on his or her own!)

Quick note: the child will be spelling phonetically, not necessarily correctly. This is normal and ok. The conventional spelling will be reinforced through reading, playful activities, and corrected further down the language sequence. Expect the child to write “plai for play or foan for phone” for example (Dwyer 23). The goal is writing our thoughts, not spelling at this point.

Next comes the beginning of reading. The preparation has been done. A solid language foundation has been laid and “the child will show us that they are ready to read” (25). It actually happens quite organically. They will just read something when you are in the store, in the house, or in the car. You will be going about your every day activities and they will stop and say, “store” or whatever word has caught their eye. “When the child has spontaneously started this work it is time to introduce two new activities”: object boxes and activity words. They are parallel activities that complement one another. Either could come first.

Object Box

There are two object boxes. The first is a box of a dozen objects that are spelled phonetically. Simple! You take each object out, have the child name it, and then take a slip of paper and write it for the child. Then you take the slip of paper, hand it to the child, and ask the child to bring you the object you are thinking of. Encourage the child to sound it out. Leave the little cards in the box once it is written so the child can play independently when they choose. Once the child has mastered box 1, the second box of approximately 12 objects is introduced. This box has objects or pictures of objects that “contain just one of the key sounds that are represented by two letters. The other sounds should be represented by just one letter. Ship, fish, book, chin, brush, and loaf are just a few examples. Dwyer gives a full list in her pamphlet. Introduce and play with this box the same way as you did with the first box.

Activity Words

There are two lists of activity words. This game is best done if the guide works with a list and selects three words at a time to write for the child and then have them act out the words. Each set will be on a different color card. Set one is made up of easy action words such as bat, hop, jump, nod, stamp, etc. They are easy to read and easy to act out. The second set is more challenging in interpretation. Examples of the words given by Dwyer for set two are: chop, moan, seek, squint, and shut. She gives the full set of words for both lists.

First Set of Puzzle Words

Once object boxes and activity words are mastered, puzzle words are introduced. These are words in the English language which do not obey the rules. These are often called site words in traditional school. Do not try to include every word that is a puzzle word. Dwyer has 50 listed in her pamphlet. These are printed on cards and introduced 3 at a time.


The last activity in the beginning of reading phase is little handmade books. These are made of words that the child already knows. I intend to write some for our child, rewrite the two Dwyer has in her pamphlet, and use these free ones by Barbara Hurst. After this, I will introduce the first set of readers from Modern Curriculum Press Phonics Practice Readers (I just found set A1 and A2 used on this site! You can check Ebay as well!) along with some others. Here’s the other books on my beginning reader list. I am thinking about writing my own set of the Peacekeeper series instead of purchasing them to make them more relatable to the homeschooled child. We shall see! I also may add some of the readers from Zonder Kids. We love the one we do have for reading together. The goal is to have readers that are accessible and doable initially and then to make it more challenging as the child grows in confidence. In addition to this, we will continue to fill our bookshelves as we have to read aloud and read together. Our children are welcome to choose from everything available. If we can afford it, we will add the Waseca Readers to our library. I have heard that they will be adding a digital download in the future. This would be a great fit for our family. We will also do some library visits as well!

Once the child has begun reading confidently on their own, the letter names can be taught. We will simply use the alphabet song in our home. It is a fun way to teach alphabetical order. Letter names are not the focus before now in Montessori. The focus instead has been on sounds to both create a meaningful connection and to lay a solid foundation for reading.

Reading Folders + Booklets

Once a child is reading confidently and knows their alphabet letter names, the exploration a language continues with key sounds that can be written in more than one way. The child already knows the sounds from their double sandpaper letters. Now we are showing the child that there is more than one way to write this sound. There are 14 key sounds so there will be 14 folders. On the front of the folder is the key sound the child already knows. Inside there are cards with other ways that sound can be written. This will vary a bit with dialect. Sit with it and personalize this. With each card is a booklet that contains words that are spelt with that phonogram. In the booklet, the phonogram is in red while the rest of the text is in black. The booklets should only contain one phonogram. Remember, in Montessori, we isolate one concept at a time. Once the booklets have all been introduced, the sorting exercise can be played. This is with the folders and cards. Once the child consistently does this well, the child can begin to test himself. They can work with another child or adult. The other child or adult reads the cards from the folder and the child can: spell it out loud, write it with pencil and paper, chalk and chalk board, or the moveable alphabet. Once this is mastered, the second set of puzzle words may be introduced.

Second Set of Puzzle Words

The second set of puzzle words are described as words that are “especially interesting such as the silent ‘k’ or ‘b’ or ‘gh’ etc. Dwyer again emphasizes that we should not try to make an exhaustive list of all the possible puzzle words. Instead, we can try some that she suggests on page 33 of her pamphlet like knot, thorough, drama, fare, etc. These are presented just like the first set.

Phonogram Dictionary

Once the child has worked through the folders and is on the second set of puzzle words, the phonogram dictionary is introduced. This parallels with the following reading works in the scope and sequence: The Classified Cards, The Function Games, and Word Study. The child will continue to read through what is available in the home library (a mix of readers, Waseca Readers, Read Aloud, poetry/rhymes and books of interest.) At this point we are also going to use the Waseca Reading Program as an additional parallel work.

Waseca Reading Program

This is such a LOVELY material. Aesthetically appealing and it seems quite fun to work with. In addition to this, it has been intentionally developed to satisfy the early classification cards work in the Montessori Scope and Sequence AND follow the Orton Gilingham progression. This is similar to the Pink/Blue/Green Series, but takes it a little further to break down the English language. If this was our primary reading program, I would still need to supplement it a bit and would introduce it earlier in the sequence. We are using it to reinforce and begin to playfully work on spelling. There is a built in control of error so spelling does not need corrected and will not be corrected in the writing sequence at this time. In fact, it can (and does!) deter the writing process to correct during the creative process. When the child is older, the correction will happen later and is tied to the child exploring how to master spelling when writing vs. just marking something wrong. More on that another time. For now, just know that we are not correcting spelling at this point still. This is another layer of practice and reinforcement.

The Waseca program is broken into nine different colors presented in sequence: red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple, pink, and gold. Everything is color coded and is designed to go in little drawers of a cabinet (Waseca sells one but I think it is out of budget! We shall see what our set up ends up looking like!). It is so inviting. Each color is presented one at a time. “First the Waseca Reading Program Picture Cards are used to spell with the moveable alphabet (encoding). The cards use photographs to illustrate each word. Large print and color-coded highlighting emphasize the phonetic element used in the word” (excerpt from guide). There are label cards that work for decoding work (reading). Here is the guide to the Waseca Reading Program.

I am leaning towards doing the digital download and printing myself. Since we are supplementing our reading program with Waseca, I will prepare the red, orange, yellow, and green sets to have out all at once. The red (three-letter phonetic words with short vowel sounds) and orange (common blends such as s, l, and r; both beginning and ending blends) should be quite easy at this point and I anticipate blowing through them. Yellow (consonant digraphs like sh and ch) and green (word endings such as ng and nk) will be review as well. Aqua focuses on silent e and uses an adorable story that I think will be a fantastic reinforcement. For this reason, I will bring this one out intentionally after she has worked through the initial four colors. Following this are the following colors: blue (explores different phonograms used to make long vowel), purple (introduces various dipthongs such as r-controlled vowels and oy, ow, and aw), pink (combinations that produces silent letters like wh, mb, kn, and gh), and then gold (less common phonetic rules including spelling variations for the same sounds plus hard and soft consonants).

A note on the Waseca spelling program called Language Works. This is an additional, beautiful practice element that I intended to grab when my child was around 7ish… BUT it is correlated with the reading program and we may have already moved through this before that age. In addition to this it is out of budget and perhaps not necessary for our setting. I may do a DIY version to enhance or give an extra control of error if a specific set needs practice. I could see the little sheets with the windows for writing just the middle sound as potentially being helpful but I am not sure if it will be needed. I can’t decide! I wish I could preview more of one of the booklets.

A few final thoughts:

Muriel Dwyer introduces the Phonogram Dictionary following folders and booklets and states that it is introduced as a parallel activity with Classified Cards, Function Games, and Word Study. Then following the Phonogram Dictionary she suggest a final activity, ‘Dictation’. This is described as being parallel to The Definitions (botany, zoology, art, science, etc), The Functions Games, Word Study, Reading Analysis, The Written Questions Game, and Free Composition. This is all listed under ‘Total Reading‘ in the AMI Language Scope and Sequence with the exception of Classified Cards (which overlaps). Personally, I will be prepping for the above sequence first, then I will begin my personal exploration and preparation of the next piece of the language sequence. It should be noted that there are few elements of the writing sequence that are parallel that are not listed above. This section of the scope and sequence starts with the Metal Insets then moves through the writing and spelling practice activities.