Muriel Dwyer – notes on how to implement it

In our language, I became really frustrated at the amout of work with the Montessori Pink/Blue/Green series.  In researching, the PBG series is not an AMI way of teaching language.  I then worked out that a little, cheap booklet was available, that many AMI Montessori schools implement or use a variation of it, called “A Path for the Exploration of Any Language Leading to Writing and Reading”, written by Muriel Dwyer.

To purchase this book, especially if you are outside the USA, like myself, please phone NAMTA and ask them to invoice and post you the book, or you might fall over at having to pay $200 for postage!  I only paid $18 for postage to Australia.
(New note – thanks to playschool6 group, you can buy the booklet in the UK from – £6 & £2.50 P&P)
After reading this booklet, I summarised it and posted this summary to the wonderful Playschool6 Montessori homeschool group.
Here is my summary ….
In the Introduction, Dwyer emphasises that the most important word to remember in the Montessori approach is ‘Exploration’.  Children need to have fun in exploring their language.  We need to give them the keys to language, so that they can go on exploring.  (Love it!)
Developing a child’s vocabulary and give him as many opportunities as possible to use it.

Home is the place where it all begins:

Getting started – important to work on:
– talk, sing, build vocab
– read stories and tell stories
– use correct names for things – as children explore around them, give them the words of what they are exploring, leaves, roughness, shapes, animals
– read little poems and jingles, and rhymes.
– teaching childlren how to speak and how to listen
As soon as children can speak, play the Sound Game or known as I spy
Key sounds in English:
a               qu
b               ai (aim)
c               ee (see)
d               ie (pie)
e               oa (boat)
f                oo (book)
g               ue (blue)
h               ou (out)
i                oy (toy)
j                er (her)
k               ar (car)
l                or (or)
m              th (moth)
n               sh (push)
o               ch (much)
p               au (Paul *US only)
Certain sounds can be written in more than one way – the above is a list of the main sounds.  Later the variations are explained, eg
– ai can also be ay, a-e, or ei
The key sounds means, they can produce the sounds in any word, even if it is spelt wrong.
The Sound Game
First step:
a) The object needs to be extremely obvious and you say, holding something in your hand, “I spy with my little eye something that I am holding in my hand that begins with a ‘c’.” (cat or comb)
The child cannot make a mistake, it is the only thing you are holding.
This first step takes a long time and should not be hurried.  Do not show the letter c to them.  It’s all only sounds, training the ear.  Make it fun.  Encourage loads.
b) Little by little, make it more difficult by having two objects, and encouraging the child to guess which object by giving the initial sound.
c) Make this then more difficult, until child can find the required object anywhere in the room.
Second stage:
Hearing the end sound and then later the middle sound.
a) beginning with a ‘b’ and ending with ‘x’ for box.
When he has found the object, ask him, “What sounds does it start with?”, “What sound does it end with?”
b) “Now what is the sound in the middle?”  Use words with 3 sounds.  b-o-x, ch-ur-ch Slowly increase to 4 sounds. ‘p-e-nn-y’, or ‘b-u-tt-er’
Guide the child until they can work out every sound contained in a word, however long.  Ask the child to think of a word, then break it down.
Do not rush this work – it’s core foundation work.
Third stage:
How many words the child can think of that begin or contain a certain sound.  Do this until child can give you whole group of words beginning or containing each of the 40 key sounds.
The above with NO reference to symbols.  the child needs to be aware of the sounds they use in speech.  This needs to be an enjoyable pasttime.
This pre-reading period, important to have stories, songs and poems every day.  Good to aim to encourage children to learn at least one poem by heart each week.
Sandpaper letters
a) Once sound game almost complete – sandpaper letters introduced for both alphabet and key phonograms.  40 sandpaper letters.
Letters should be introduced 2 or 3 at a time – with 3-period lesson.
Except for first presentation of sandpaper letters, rest of presentations, mix them up with alphabet and key phonograms.
b) Play game:  Lay out all known symbols.  Ask a child to fetch a sound.  Ask child to feel the sound.  Then another child asks another child to fetch a sound, until all the sounds have been fetched.
Should only take 2-3 weeks for all sandpaper letters to be learnt.  Don’t call the sandpaper letters, sounds.  So say something like can you find the sandpaper letter with the sound ‘b’.
Once they can bring you all the sandpaper letters, start the moveable alphabet.
Moveable alphabet {MO}
1. First, before making words, get child to take letter out of box and sort them back into box into their correct place, so that they know the positions of the various letters.
Key purpose of moveable alphabet, enable child to express themselves freely in graphic form.
2. Encourage and help child to think of word.  Analyse the word into its component sounds.  Take out appropriate letters and place them in order on the mat.  If the previous stages have been properly covered, the child will have no difficulty.
3. When he can make single words (which she says is after 1 or 2 days!) – encourage him to write events of daily life, stories he likes or rhymes and poems.
If he writes, ‘plai’ for play or any other mistakes, it doesn’t matter.  This is to encourage expression.
Remember Montessori approach is to present one difficulty or point of interest at a time.
If children do not use moveable alpha correctly, sign that preparation has not been done well and lively approach is lacking!  (Good hint for us too serious mums!)  We need to be enthusiastic about language so that our children pick this up and follow.
Important hint:  Don’t give pictures with {MO} – halts their free expression of words and thoughts.  Words been dictated (pictures) – limits their exploration.  If he is exploring his own mind, he quickly writes whole sentences.
We need to open door and then let them explore by:
 – above suggestions on language development plus
– tell their news
– encourage enthusiasm
Much later, once writing is happening and they want to write their stories on paper, first express using {MO}, then need to ask you to look at it.  If anything is spelt incorrectly, discuss it with child and make changes.  Mustn’t form habit of writing incorrectly.
Beginning of reading
Important, to note of difference of reading and writing – {MO} or writing with paper and pencil, is process of analysis. Therefore words are in child’s head, they analyse words and express.  The words are known to them, so no deciphering.
Reading, the words are not known – we do know what is written, until we decipher.  A different process.  That is why reading is more difficult and important not to ask children to read until we work on the following stages.  With {MO}, we read what we see, we don’t ask child to read to us.
When to introduce reading – wait and watch.  When a child looks at words and tries to decipher, sounding out the words.  Child says, ‘b-o-x’.  You say, let’s say that quickly, ‘b o x’, oh box.  Go quicker and quicker, to form (blend the word).
When child is doing this, choose so start with two activities, object boxes or activity words.  Start with whatever you prefer.
Object boxes
Object box 1:
Attractive box with doz little phonetic objects (no phonograms in word) – pen, pelican, dog, mat, pump etc
Together take out objects, one at time.  Ask child to name each object, as they are taken out.  If he doesn’t know the name, remove and later teach him name.
Take slip of paper and pencil and invite child to give the object she is thinking of.  Write name of object on paper, help him sound out the put together the letters she has written, until child yells out word, finds object and gives it to her.
Important to write name of object in front of child.
Once done with ease, introduce object box 2
Each day, contents should be changed by yourself or older child.
Object box 2:
Once again, new attractive box, with 12 or so objects or pictures, which all contain just one key sound phonogram.  Every day contents should changed.
ship, pie, snail, rain, dish, brush, broom etc
Procedure as above.
If child struggles – draw line under under the two letters, like sh for ship.
Note, only use key sounds – can’t use object/words like rake, or tray.  They come later.  One new thing at a time.
Activity Word Game
Yeah! most action words are phonetic in the 40 key sounds!
As with object boxes – now two sets of cards to be prepared, so that we have one set with only phonetic words and another with one phonogram in the word.
Each set is a specific colour (that you choose).  Ask the child to read then act out the word.
Set 1
phonetic actions like – gulp, sit, sniff
Set 2
one 2 letter combined word (key sound phonogram) and rest phonetic letters, like:
chop, load, march, seek, munch
Important that if possible, one rather writes the words the word in front of child, like with object boxes.
Puzzle words
Explain, some words just don’t have any rules and just have to remember.
Only include common words, used by child like, I, the, was they, one, two, fruit
Introduce 2 or 3 at a time, 3 period lesson
Handmade books
Make books and introduce beginner reader books, with words child knows.
At this point, children need to know names and sounds of alphabet – songs.
Folders of keys sounds and variations
Now children are ready for new exploration.
{Where a key sound has variations – these folders need to be made, e.g ee sound has variations of ea, e-e, y, ie. )
A main folder (12cm x 10cm) with the key sound (‘ee’), written large on outside of folder.  Inside folder,
– a card (8cm x 10cm) with each variation of the key sound (write name of key sound on back, for sorting game later).
– booklets (18cm folded, ie 9cm each page, by 12cm) with words of that variation sound.  The variation needs be be written in second colour.
– key sound folder, ‘er’
– cards inside are, ‘ir’, ‘ur’
– booklets with words for sounds ‘ir’ and ‘ur’
Before you can continue with this work, child needs to know the key sound on outside of folder.
Explain that each card has same sounds as one on outside of the folder.  Once understood, child can work through rest of folders on own, if choosing.
Suggest to start with a folder that has the silent ‘e’ in variation, like ai, ee, ie, oa or ue.
With the ai folder, first introduce other sounds, then with a_e card, write t on the dash.  Cover the e, to show the word, ‘at’.  Ask child to read the word.  The lift your hand, covering the ‘e’ – explain it’s the silent (magic) ‘e’ – it doesn’t say anything, but the vowel before the consonant, and it says the name of the letter and not it’s sound, so the word is now ‘ate’.
With the same slip, then write ‘m’ or ‘l’, hide the ‘e’ again, read word.  The reveal ‘e’ and explain it now makes the late or mate.
Words in booklets, should only contain one phonogram.
Sounds and their phonograms:
ar :      ar, a
er :     er, ir, ur
or :     or, au, aw, ough, oar  (US ‘au’ on outside and no ‘or’ card and booklet)
ai :      ai, ay, ei, a_e
ee :     ee, ea, e_e, y, ie (was wondering where ‘y’ was)
ie :     ie, y, i_e, igh (interesting y repeated)
oa :     oa, oe, ow, o_e
ue :     ue, ew, oo, u_e
ou :     ou, ow
oy :     oy, oi
s :      s, ce, ci
f :      f, ph
e :     e, ea
j :      j, ge/gi
Sorting exercise
Helps the child memorize the various family phonograms.
Child takes two folders at a time, takes out cards (not booklets), mixes cards and the sorts into correct folder.
Key phonograms is written on back of card.  Once two at a time easily done, goes onto 3, then 4 until all 14 can be done.
Practice to memorize phonograms.
The test
With moveable alphabet or pencil and paper – child write key sound, from front of folder.  Then from memory, tries to write all different phonograms or letters, eg
er = er, ir, ur
Puzzle words, extended
Now time to explain anything special with interesting words, like silent ‘k’ or ‘b’ or ‘gh’,
knot, knee, climb, thumb, hare, air, stall etc.
Phonogram dictionary
Parallel with the folders, child should be introduced to Classified card, ‘the function game’, ‘word study’ – and reading books in library.
But to prevent frustration in having not memorized all phonograms, create a dictionary, like an address folder of phonograms.  So if he finds a word with ei – he can go to the dictionary to look up what this sound should sound like.  He will find ‘ei’, with ‘ai’ next to it.  So he can look up these words anytime.
Even though I think my summary is very thorough, I’d still recommend buying this booklet.  I still grab it constantly.

10 thoughts on “Muriel Dwyer – notes on how to implement it

  1. Thanks very much for this, Tracey! I’m having a lightbulb moment right now, thanks to your detailed summary! I’ve been using the PBG scheme in my school, but find it so labour intensive. I’ve only just recently found out that there’s an alternative. Awesome! 🙂


    1. You are so welcome. It took me ages too to realise there was an alternative! All the best! I’ve just read your website. sounds amazing what you are achieving. I’m starting form drawing next year with my 1st grader then. We’ve been doing some waldorf art too. And I feel really convicted to do more handcraft.


  2. Thanks for sharing – the pamphlet has been unavailable for a while (although I haven’t checked in the last month or so) so this is really helpful. Y has an ‘I’ sound and an ‘e’ sound hence why it’s repeated 🙂


    1. You’re so welcome! It basically is ALL my notes on the pamplet. I really wanted to understand it, before implementing it. All the best with your reading journey.


  3. This is great information. I published an article in the Public School Montessorian Fall 2007 about Muriel Dwyer’s approach. I just finished another article and would like your ideas. I have not sent it in for publication yet. If you are interested please contact me.


  4. omg thank you for posting this! I was unsure if I should buy the booklet but after seeing your summary I have decided to get it!

    I was feeling slightly strange about the P/B/G and wondering where the children’s motivation might be coming from in such a program. After all, reading and writing is not exactly like the mathematical mind where we get a shot of dopamine from seeing numbers come together so tidily…


    1. Yes, I do love the easier approach to this. But in hindsight, my second child was more whole learning and not just sight. So I made a poster from Secret Stories, where each letter had an action. Like D for Dance. I would do a jiggle and she’d know it was dance, as we worked through learning her alphabet. But she also took longer, only really bring ready at 6.

      If they are not showing interest, do wait, or add a bit of action.


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