Visitors came from all over the world to see Maria Montessori's "miracle children," the children in her first Casa dei Bambini in Rome. The miracle which attracted public attention was that children of illiterate families had begun to write and to read spontaneously after working with very simple materials: the Sandpaper Letters, which gave them the shape of the letters; the Movable Alphabet, which allowed them to arrange these letters to form words; and the Metal Insets, which made it possible for the children to control a writing instrument.
The Language Materials have some essential points in common with the Sensorial Materials. Most outstanding is their simplicity and the fact that they provide keys for the children to discover something that is beyond what lies on the surface.
When the children come to the Montessori environment at around three years of age, their spoken language is developed. Their vocabulary is quite extensive and the grammatical structures of their speech are well established. They have a boundless capacity to expand and enrich their language and, as a natural consequence, the desire to write and read.
The educator, who is aware of language as a vital human expression, knows that language is not something taught by another, but something created by the children themselves. It is the educator's task to facilitate the process of creation by providing rich, precise and abundant language for the children. The educator provides languagewhich is intelligent and has the content for expressing human sentiment. With this background the Montessori Language Materials become significant for the child because their function is to isolate certain universal elements, common to all languages.
As an example, all words are composed of sounds which can be made visible with written signs; in all languages different words have different functions and sentences have structures that make the action the nucleus of the sentence.
These keys bring to the children an awareness of their mother tongue, which is such an essential part of their being. They lead to effortless integration of common facets underlying the universal phenomenon that is language and provide potential ease and interest in acquiring other languages.
There is little to be taught on the part of the teacher, yet there is unlimited scope for exploration on the part of the children. The Montessori Language Materials provide the keys to the fascinating world of language and are highly effective in their simplicity.