A while ago, I received this email about teaching the alphabet letter names:
My child is in a Montessori school. Her teacher told us not to teach her the names of the letters. Why not? What can it hurt to know the names of the letters? That is what my mother taught me and I learned to read just fine. If that is not the right thing to do, what should we be doing at home?
A Confused Mom
This is a common question for me. So many children grow up learning the names of the letters first (think the alphabet song) before they learn the letter sounds, if ever. And while this isn’t wrong, it certainly isn’t the easiest way to learn to read.
In a Montessori school, children are taught the sounds of the letters before the names. This is because sounds of letters slide together to read words and the names of letters do not. Let’s think about the word “ram.” The sounds of the letters are “rrrrrr, aaaaa and mmmmm.” If a child looks at each letter and produces the sound of the letter, all he has to do is blend the sounds to read the word. “rrraaammm, ram!”
If, upon seeing a word, he says the names of the letters, reading the word has more unnecessary steps. If he looks at the word and says “are, aye, em,” he is unable to blend the names of the letters to unlock the word. He has to disregard the name of each letter and access the sound from within his mind. “Are, no, rrrrr, aye, no aaaaaa etc. It is much more efficient to blend sounds alone.
Children do need to know the names of the letters but not until they are ready to learn their long vowel sounds or to spell words by saying the names of the letters. Interestingly, most Montessori schools find that children naturally know the names of the letters after they have begun to read words.
Concentrating on just the letter sounds is the most efficient way to help your child unlock the mystery of reading most efficiently.
Get my free alphabet letter sound matching game here!
What are the Letter Sounds?
In a Montessori classroom, we introduce letter sounds first in sound games and later with the sandpaper letters. For maximum efficiency and success in the beginning stages of reading and writing, we use the short vowel sounds and the hard consonant sounds. Here’s an example for each letter to help you remember:
Note: Do not add an “uh” to the end of these sounds! “C” is not “cuh”, it’s a crisp “c”