Stress-Free Phonograms

writing phonogram words with letter tiles

Yes, children as young as 2.5 or 3-years-old can joyfully and effortlessly learn phonograms (two letters put together to make a single sound like ch, sh, or ee). We’re not talking about academic preschool here! We’re following the natural interests of the child. Let me show you what I mean.

First, if you prefer to watch videos, we’ve made a whole host of free video lesson plans with details on how to play all of the phonogram games we describe below. We’ll sum up the key ideas and fun activities here.

February 20, 2024 by Julia Volkman

I Spy Sound Games in Four Steps

I spy sound games for preschool

The ability to hear all the sounds in words (phonemic awareness) is a key step to learning how to read. The young child's brain is primed to do this and we can help by playing a simple little game called the sound game or I Spy. 

There is more than one way to play this game but we like to do it in four steps:

  1. Beginning sounds (starting with something super obvious)
  2. Beginning and ending sounds
  3. Beginning, ending, and middle sounds (in that order)
  4. All the sounds in a word (segmenting)

Let me show you what I mean. 

January 25, 2024 by Julia Volkman

How can we use themes to teach cultural geography?

Cultural geography is about more than where things are located on the earth. It's about what life is like all over the world. How do people live? What do we have in common? What is different?

If we really want to show children about life on different continents, we need to show them the SAME kinds of life on each continent. That means we show them a school on every continent, fishing on every continent, a wedding on every continent, a market on every continent, etc. 

weddings around the world

September 25, 2023 by Julia Volkman

What are the best sorting games?

Okay, sorting is fun. I admit it. I feel a strange sort of joy when I can organize things. Although I don't always do it in a timely fashion, having those piles of laundry folded Maria-Kondo-style in little piles on my bed gives me such a sense of satisfaction.

And yes, sorting is a key skill children develop in early childhood. Sorting games guide children to group things into categories. In literacy research, we call this developing 'gist.' When we get the gist of something, we understand the basics about how it is connected with other similar concepts. 

Think about all the different collections of things we have in our homes and schools. We have collections of pencils, different types of papers, types of chairs, types of brushes, types of cups, and the list goes on and on. Learning how to organize items by similarities and differences is not only important for cognitive development, but inherently interesting for young children. They want to figure out what goes together.

sorting vocabulary cards

Here are some of our favorite sorting activities for early childhood. 

September 21, 2023 by Julia Volkman

Neurodevelopmental Roots of Montessori

A few months back, Julia had the honor of being asked to speak with the Montessori Early Learning Foundation in South Africa. The amazing people that attended lifted Julia up with their positive energy and thoughtful questions. 

Here is a recording of their conversation. They covered some pretty killer topics including:

  • Emotions and learning
  • Neuroplasticity (use it or lose it)
  • Dynamic development of skill/knowledge
  • The necessity of processing time
  • Executive function development/Freedom with limits
  • Stress & resilience
  • Protective and risk factors
  • Negativity bias and positivity
  • Adaptation and social cognition

This talk is worth the time. Get some lemonade, gather a few friends, and enjoy!


August 08, 2023 by Maitri Admin

Should you use the card alphabet before the cut-out alphabet?

Shouldn't we show children the big, cut-out alphabet first? We say no! ⁠

Why? Because whenever we introduce a new activity, we want to isolate the difficulty. If we add one new challenge each time, we increase the chances that the child will succeed. When we use the cut-out alphabets, we're adding in several new difficulties all at once.

August 08, 2023 by Julia Volkman

Why Juneteenth (and Freedom) Matters for Montessori

juneteenth and montessori

When Juneteenth became a US Federal holiday, I wondered if I should add it to the list of Maitri Learning holidays. I had never celebrated Juneteenth and all I knew was that it marked the day when the last slaves (theoretically) were freed in the US. That was back in 1865 in Galveston, Texas, two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

But, of course, there is what is said and there is what is done. 

Montessori and Juneteenth

A core aspect of the scientific Montessori pedagogy is that we adults are aiding children towards independence. This means we are preparing them for increasing levels of freedom from day one.

But freedom is not willy nilly. It doesn't mean children can do whatever they want with no boundaries. Independence and true freedom must entail responsibility. Slavery, of course, is in direct opposition to these ideals. 

June 15, 2023 by Julia Volkman

Are children different since the pandemic?

Since I first did my AMI Montessori training, back in the 90s, people have been asking, "But aren't children different today than they were when Maria Montessori first developed her method?" The answer is a resounding YES!  

In some ways, children are most certainly different today than they were even five years ago because we humans are biologically programmed to adapt to our culture: our time, place, and group. But that is actually not news. Humans have been doing this since we became a species. 

What teachers are reporting now is that children seem to have:

  • Weaker social skills
  • Less language (vocabulary and expressive ability)
  • More difficulty regulating their emotions
April 29, 2023 by Julia Volkman

Pre-Reading Activities

There is nothing as beautiful as the sound of a young child speaking. They are just learning how to articulate, choose the words that make sense, and put those words together in a logical order. It is easy to want them to stay that precious forever! But of course, our job is to prepare them for life and aid their developing independence. But how do we do that and when? 

The truth is that young children (before age six) are in a sensitive period for language development. They are eager and interested not only in learning the names of everything they see, but also in learning what the heck those little squiggly lines (you know, the ones we look at when we read) are all about!  When they are as young as 2.5 to 3 years old, they become keenly interested in learning to distinguish all the sounds within every word, the sounds that letters make, and how those sounds fit together. 

So, the time is ripe to support their natural interest! Just as when they were younger, we continue to offer them the best spoken language possibilities we can by reading aloud together, reciting tongue twisters and poems, singing, telling stories, listening to music, and more. But, as children grow, they can also benefit from specific materials designed to not only build their vocabulary, but to inspire them to express their thoughts.

April 08, 2023 by Julia Volkman

What is a Montessori Material?

fruit 3-part reading cards

We hear a lot of talk about the Montessori materials, but what exactly are those materials? How do we determine if something "qualifies" as Montessori or not? 

There is actually a list of characteristics that must be considered when creating a Montessori material. Dr. Montessori developed this list because she knew that science is always advancing. The materials she developed in the early 1900s would necessarily need to evolve as our understanding of the world and human development grew.

March 28, 2023 by Julia Volkman