Yesterday, I was talking about how parents easily misunderstand what we are hoping to accomplish in Montessori education. What children have been able to achieve in the past does not guarantee that your child will have an identical experience. Sometimes, I feel like I need to post a disclaimer, similar to what those lawyer firms do. "Past settlements do not guarantee a similar outcome in your case." That means, just because they were able to achieve millions for one person after an accident, you cannot count on receiving the same. The same can be said for the kids. Just because your friend's child started doing elementary work at a young age doesn't mean that your child will go as far.
I was forced to reflect on this today, after a friend mentioned a parent encounter to me. She said that when she sat down with the new family, they asked if she could promise that their child would be reading by the age of 4. After all, the child's previous Montessori school had made that promise. Isn't it the same at all of them?
I think of some of my own experiences with parents. Yes, I have been fortunate enough to have had children who are fluent readers at the age of 4. That doesn't mean that all of my students are going to do the same. Inevitably, siblings of these children are expected to achieve the same lofty goals. Friends of the family expect a similar outcome with their own children.
**Each child is different.**
All we promise to do in Montessori school is to help your child achieve his or her own potential. When it comes to reading, each child has his own special point in time where everything comes together and clicks so that he is reading. There are no magic formulas that make this happen on an adult's time. It all depends on the child and what works best for him. The most that we can do is to guide the child along the path of reading, introducing each concept as he is ready.
Most children will at least be familiar with the sounds of the alphabet by the time they are four, or in their second year of Montessori. Some of those children will be putting together those sounds to create words. When they are five and in their third year, most of them will be putting together sounds and starting to recognize some sight words. Some children aren't going to be able to do this until first grade. If a child is unable to read words by the age of 7, then you know you have a problem. A good instructor will recognize signs of struggle much sooner and will do whatever she can to help the child. She may make recommendations for some outside help that is more specialized. Services available are going to vary from school to school, and even district to district.
The key is to communicate with your child's teacher. Ask how your child is progressing. Compare your child's progression to himself, not his siblings or best friends. Make sure there is progress and not regression or an overly extended period of no progress. Remember that progress isn't always going to be memorizing sounds and words. Progress may be as simple as actually choosing to work in the language area multiple times throughout the day. Ask how your child's teacher feels about how he is doing and see if there are any recommendations.
Be wary of programs that claim they can turn your child into a reader as a toddler or promise reading by the age of 4. Find a program that sets more realistic goals and works with you to nurture your child in a way that is correct for him and not someone else.