Last summer, my teenage son and I were visiting my sister and her family. One morning, my son found himself tending my 5-month-old nephew while the adults were getting ready. The baby, not used to his cousin, began to cry. I hurried downstairs only to hear my son say in exasperation, “I don’t know what you want. If only you could use your words!”
We have all been there. Trying to decipher baby and toddler speech can be frustrating. Mono-syllables are easily misunderstood and lost in translation, leaving both child and adult bewildered and confused. Language, says Montessori, “is an instrument of collective thought.” (Montessori, p. 108) Simply thinking a thing is not enough; there must be communication and mutual comprehension.
Studying the Works of Montessori - The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 10: Some Thoughts on Language
Children around the world develop language skills at approximately the same time. Montessori stressed that language develops naturally and spontaneously; it is not taught. “…The mother does not teach her child language. It develops naturally, like a spontaneous creation.” (Montessori, p. 111) No matter the complexity or simplicity of their maternal tongue, children arrive at the same developmental milestones at roughly the same age.
By 6 months:
By 9 months:
By 12 months:
By 18 months:
By 24 months:
By 30 months:
Learning to speak occurs at the unconscious level. We cannot see the inner workings and processes, nor can we hurry it along. We must, as Montessori says, “be willing to wait…This is a treasure prepared in the unconscious, which is then handed over to consciousness, and the child, in full possession of his new power, talks and talks without cessation.” (Montessori, p. 114)
Since the child is absorbing language, which includes vocabulary, syntax, and meaning, we must speak properly to the child. The first six years of life is when he analyzes and synthesizes the patterns of speech around him. We must model proper speech for by doing so, we are helping the child unlock the mysteries of language. While the child is “the creator of speech” (Montessori, p. 115), his success at this task is determined by our guidance. To help him develop language fully, we must immerse the child in a language-rich environment. His future depends on it.
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1964.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.