I really admire the beauty in Montessori classrooms. Beauty of the environment, beauty in the work and beauty within the people. Miss Rhonda and her classroom (pictured above) radiate warmth, beauty and calm. Miss Rhonda is the author behind the Miss Rhonda's Readers series and most importantly she is a teacher. I asked Rhonda to share with us a little about her reader series and her experiences in early literacy.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your classroom and how you came to writing Miss Rhonda's Readers?
I became interested in Montessori when my daughter attended our local Montessori School. For three years our school was an AMI training center in the summer. I then became a guide at the Casa Montessori School in Marietta Georgia. I have been there for my entire career. I have taught for more than 20 years.
I was always unhappy with the books available for a child's first reading experience. Rats, vans, pans, ham, without a story line at all. My training was to write individual stories for each child which I did. My readers are an extension of these stories. I would hand-write and illustrate them and bind with a ribbon...a gift to keep. My stories all spend a few months in my classroom to make sure they capture the children's interest. We edit them together for the final version. I believe children should read lots and lots of words first before being introduced to their first book to read themselves. My books are mostly phonetic, but I include a few words that are not phonetic, so they are not defeated later when met with all the odd discrepancies of the English language.
I also believe the story should be the reward (not a sticker) so the story should be a good one. When I read with my children at school, I am so happy they usually comprehend the story and enjoy it. Many people tell me words like hamster seem too long for first readers. I have never had a child have a problem with hamster and they love that they can read a word that long...confidence! I find one of the hardest words in my books is 'gets'. Short but confusing. Guess what I am saying here is that there is 20 years of experience and a lot of thought in these stories.
I would love to hear, what are the favourite or most-read books in your classroom (other than your readers)?
This year my class seems to be really interested in factual books. I find many of children's science/nature books have way too many pictures with separate captions on a page. We are enjoying the National Geographic early readers series 1 and 2. Even if they cannot read the whole book they can learn a lot from the pictures. They enjoy writing a short (usually about three sentences) research with a fun illustration. I am not above enticing the child to write by offering the opportunity to do a fun project after... beaver lodges with sticks and mud, performing a short play, digging for rocks outside. We also buy many of the books from Montessori Services.
After reading most of my books, I love to use some of the books from Flyleaf Publishing. Sunset Pond is my favorite. The stories are interesting, and the word selection is wonderful. The books are about 30 pages long, but the word selection is so great the child can really complete them. Such a confidence boost to the child. I use the philosophy if you want to have the child try harder/longer words then just read words. If you want to increase endurance, then use mostly phonetic words but many of them. Flyleaf does that. Many of their books have realistic stories but not all so you have to pick the ones that look right for your child. They have an interesting story about bees swarming but went out of their way to put the queen in a crown with a teacup which sort of wrecked it.
When I choose books for my class I always read through it and after all these years I just kind of know what will work. I almost always purchase "real" stories that also entertain me. If it is boring to the adult, it will always be boring to the child.
I know your readers are used in Montessori classrooms around the world, how do you suggest parents use them at home?
I feel children benefit greatly with gentle support from their parents in learning to read. In my classroom, I feel children generally begin to learn the letter sound around 3 and 1/2 and maybe read short words around 4. I work with a child long enough to see if it will be easy for them to learn the sounds. Some children need a little more support throughout the process, and I make sure they get it. Sound games are a wonderful way to do this in a fun way. I love my new sound game cards and so do the children in my class. I think parents should start reading words with their child before attempting a book. It takes a while to develop a good working style. If a child is struggling, I am always honest. I say this is important work so let's do a few more. I also tell them they are learning to work hard which is a wonderful thing. Parents can do the same. I love it if the parents save my books for the child to read first (not to be read to by their parents). Again the story is the gift so why not make the gift a surprise that the child "unwraps" when they are ready.
I am also excited to be involved in helping to open a Montessori School in Haiti this summer. I am in charge of acquiring the supplies needed to open, and I will travel there with the teacher to set the school up this summer. I am so excited to think about the practical life opportunities. I am hoping for goats.
Thank you for sharing such wise words with us Rhonda and best wishes for your important work in Haiti!
You can follow Rhonda on Instagram here. In the US Miss Rhonda's Readers are available here and for international shipping we recommend purchasing with Amazon. HWM Shop also stocks a small range of Miss Rhonda's Readers for Australian customers.