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A Child's Dictionary + Thoughts on Learning to Spell in Montessori

Next week Henry will enter his second year of lower elementary at a public Montessori school. Since the school is public there are some compromises that we have to make when it comes to the method. An emphasis on spelling words seems to be one of the areas where we might see some difference. We'll see how the year plays out, but it has had me thinking about Montessori and spelling this summer. 

A DIY child's dictionary and some thoughts on learning to spell the Montessori way.

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. 

Spelling is obviously important (although arguably less so in our digital age) but in Montessori it is handled differently than in a traditional classroom. Traditionally, children are given lists of words that they are to memorize and spell. They are tested and graded on that knowledge. In Montessori, the emphasis is on phonetic spelling of words for a much longer period of time. Children should not be corrected when writing phonetically or for spelling words wrong. Instead children learn as they naturally refine their writing over time. 
"When the child first begins to write we do not make corrections with either grammar or spelling. We "teach by teaching, not by correcting." Instead we teach all the necessary skills through activities that are completely unrelated to the creative writing effort, as indirect preparation. We do not give the traditional spelling word lists of words that will never be in the child's writing vocabulary." Susan Mayclin Stephenson, Child of the World
So, what do we do instead? Enter the child's dictionary! In a special book made specifically for each child, we write down words that a child actually wants to use. Children will become more and more aware that their unable to spell a specific word. So, we write down commonly used words in their own personalized book. They can then refer to their dictionary to see how it is spelled. {Even if the word they want to spell is "dumb." True story} 

A DIY child's dictionary and some thoughts on learning to spell the Montessori way.

I made Henry his own dictionary a few months ago. I used a simple notebook and these alphabet tabs. It was simple and took only a few minutes. Now, overtime I add (he doesn't write in the notebook at this point) words as he asks or struggles with one. I was originally only writing the word in cursive, but he asked me to also print it, so I do. It sits in our art area where he can pull it out whenever he is making a book, writing a story or card, or engaging in any other type of creative writing. 

A DIY child's dictionary and some thoughts on learning to spell the Montessori way.

Eventually the children will learn to spell these commonly used words correctly and over time they will begin to challenge themselves. The children in the community can even start to test themselves on their own words. Words that are important and relevant to them. Words that have meaning to their experiences. Maybe this is a longer process that a traditional way. But it's relevant, meaningful and child-led. 

A DIY child's dictionary and some thoughts on learning to spell the Montessori way.

Have you ever considered a child's dictionary? 


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