Montessori language materials are presented to the child in a carefully orchestrated sequence. Metal Insets (for hand control), Sandpaper Letters and the Movable Alphabet are all part of this sequence and the process cannot be hurried and stages cannot be skipped.
Montessori sees the child as an active learner, a motivated doer and that children have the power to educate and teach themselves. Young children with good phonetic awareness are often ready (and wanting) to make words before their hand is ready for the pencil control required for writing.
The Movable Alphabet is for the composition of words, the goal is expression. It is typically introduced once the child knows most of the sandpaper letters, knowing the phonetic sound of the letters, the type, the code, the signs to write. With the Movable Alphabet all of the letters are in front of the child, the child does not need to remember what they all look like or how to form them.
Using the Movable Alphabet the child begins to make the connection between the spoken and the written language. This is a powerful connection and it's important the child makes these discoveries for themselves, that the learning is spontaneous. The child will form words and will later be able to read them back to themselves. I will never forget when Otis read his first word, pulling his phonetic awareness together. It is a magical moment.
"The word which is pronounced presents to the child a problem which he must solve, and he will do so by remembering the signs, selecting them from among others, and arranging them in the proper order. He will have the proof of the exact solution of his problem when he rereads the word–this word which he has composed, and which represents for all those who know how to read it, an idea."
"When the child hears others read the word he has composed, he wears an expression of satisfaction and pride, and is possessed by a species of joyous wonder. He is impressed by this correspondence, carried on between himself and others by means of symbols. The written language represents for him the highest attainment reached by his own intelligence, and is at the same time, the reward of a great achievement." Maria Montessori in The Montessori Method.
The child continues this work of the Movable Alphabet to form sentences for the first time. Perhaps later the child will form short stories.
As parents we are the first and most important teachers of our children. We use a Movable Alphabet at home. Children spend more time at home than they do at school and should have the opportunity to play and express themselves. While we don't have a lot of Montessori materials at home this one is well worth it. (We use this Movable Alphabet in print which is affordable for home use and contains a lesson plan which is perfect for parents).
At home Otis likes to practice words he already knows and most often composes the names of our family members, he is slowly getting more adventurous with the words he forms and he has started to write short sentences, he uses the Movable Alphabet almost daily and really is in the sensitive period for language. For further information on learning to read and write the Montessori way I use and recommend Montessori Read and Write.