Dr. Montessori originally developed her method for helping children learn Italian, a completely phonetic language. But it was Muriel Dwyer who used that method to tackle the complexities of partially-phonetic languages like English and Swahili. Muriel Dwyer was a brilliant AMI Teacher Trainer who worked extensively in both London and Africa (in the Swahili language).
The Dwyer approach is founded in the traditional AMI language approach but has a few key adjustments. Here are the big ones:
- The sound game includes four distinct levels that help children hear all of the sounds in words.
- Phonograms (green sandpaper letters) are introduced at the same time as vowels and consonants (blue and pink sandpaper letters).
- The movable alphabet is not introduced until the child can bring you any sandpaper letter you ask for (phonogram, vowel, or consonant); this means they know the sounds at the second period.
- The movable alphabet is 100% about the child's expression; we do not assign lists or give them objects but instead inspire them to write about things important to their lives.
- Spelling variations (like ea and ie for the ee sound) are explicitly taught via phonogram spelling folders.
So, if you've ever been in Montessori preschool environments where the language materials are overwhelming, where movable alphabet work is an assigned task often viewed as a chore by the children, or where children struggle with missing the ending and middle sounds in words, you definitely want to check out the details of this elegant, tested approach!
You can read the specifics of the Dwyer approach in her wonderful little booklet called A Path to the Exploration of Any Language Leading to Writing and Reading.
If you'd like to go deeper, watch the talk Julia gave about the Dwyer approach for the University of Wisconsin La Crosse's annual Montessori conference. The video explains how to connect the Dwyer specifics with the traditional AMI approach to early language learning.
We hope this is useful. Please share your experiences in the comments below. Together, we can make it easier for those who follow!