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ABOUT READING AND WRITING
In The Science Behind the Genius, Dr. Angeline Lillard explores basic tenets of Montessori education and how they are validated with today’s scientific studies almost a century after Montessori developed her method. As practitioners, we have particularly noticed some of her conclusions on reading and writing, especially in our times of ever-present TV’s, background music, and ear buds.

On noise, Lillard quotes studies showing students responds to noisy environment by shutting out stimuli. She concludes that children from noisier environments learn less quickly. Since children block stimuli from high noise levels, their auditory discrimination skills are reduced as well as read-ing comprehension and vocabulary. Tests asking children to distinguish between ‘tea’ and ‘bee’ or ‘root’ and ‘room’ found that those children who had difficulty hearing the differences were also more likely to be poor readers. It seems that high noise levels confer a sense of auditory confusion. Quieter en-vironments are associated with more positive developmental outcomes.

More on reading: The 2014 Scholastic survey of just over 1,000 children ages 6 – 17 found that reading aloud through elementary school seemed to be connected to a love of reading generally. Some literacy experts said that when parents or teachers read aloud to children even after they can read themselves, the children hear more complex words or stories than they might tackle themselves. Other literary experts say the real value of reading to children is helping to develop background knowledge in all kinds of topics as well as exposure to sophisticated language.

On the note of writing, it seems the skill needs to be retained in this age of computers and keyboarding. From William Klemm, Ph.D., a senior professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University, scientists are discovering that learning to write is an important tool for cognitive development, particularly in training the brain to learn “functional specialization” —that is, the capacity for optimal efficiency. The brain develops functional specialization that integrates sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of the brain become co-activated when writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice. There is a spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legibly, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. You have to pay attention and think about what and how you are doing it. You have to practice. Brain imaging studies show that writing activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding. Interestingly, Montessori teaches writing before reading. Children begin the fine motor exercises using sand trays, then they proceed to using preformed wooden letters, and last actually using a writing instrument. They are not restricted to learning to read because they don’t yet have the motor skills to write.

It seems that so many of Montessori’s techniques that were intuitive for her were, in fact, exactly what we need to develop our children in ways so they can function at their very highest levels.

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