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Why Spelling Doesn’t Matter

Story by June 16, 2017
As with many things, Montessori has a unique approach to helping children learn how to spell.

It’s important to keep in mind that understanding, in Montessori, comes before memorization. This is why, as we will explain, spelling isn’t important at this early, formative stage. It’s more important to help children understand letter sounds, rather than letter names, i.e.: to “hear” the letters, before “seeing” the letters.

We begin with writing in Montessori, rather than reading, because writing is a more natural, simpler process. It’s an extension of how we come to learn the world. You can read more about that process and why writing comes before reading in Montessori here.

Why is spelling not important as a child starts to learn?

Well, because, at this stage of development, it’s most important that a child is gaining an understanding of the letter sounds. This is how children actually hear the letters, and the words they comprise, as opposed to trying to remember the letter names and how they are spelled.

Here’s a concrete example:

P-H-O-T-O

If I child was asked to spell “photo”, they’d turn to how they hear the word hit their ears. It would be spelled, phonetically, as:

F-O-T-O

While it is spelled incorrectly, it is phonetically correct. When a child is coming to learn how to write, and ultimately read, they use phonetics to support their efforts. They sound out how they hear the word, letter by letter.

“Fuh”, “oh”, “tuh”, “oh”.

This is literally how a child would “hear” / “see” the word taking shape. By using the moveable alphabet, children are able to put different letter sounds together to make a word.

Later, once they have a firm grasp of letter sounds and have associated the letter names with these sounds, we work to introduce phonograms, which are when you put two sounds together to make a new sound. (Link).

From there, once a foundation and understanding as been established, spelling becomes more important, as a child starts to memorize letter combinations.

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