If you are a parent of a young child and are just beginning to explore or employ the Montessori way of learning into your lives, then you have probably wondered about one of the most critical developmental milestones in teaching your little one: learning to read. Montessori uses a research-based and child-led approach to literacy, rooted in phonics. In researching the Montessori method of learning to read, you might have come across the Pink, Blue, and Green Series.
The Montessori Pink, Blue, and Green Series is a 3-stage process that is part of the Montessori way of teaching children how to write and read organically. You may be used to hearing the phrase “read and write,” but the Montessori method teaches children to write first, and then read.
The Pink, Blue, Green Language Series teaches children to encode and decode words in bite-sized lessons in sequential order, beginning with simple concepts before moving on to more complex concepts. Let’s dive a little deeper into the Montessori method of learning to read and then explore the series by color.
The Montessori Way of Learning to Read
Preparing your child for reading acquisition begins much earlier than one might think, and in ways that are at first concrete, and later, more abstract. Literacy integrates many different learning elements and develops verbal language, including learning phonics—or sounds—and later associating those sounds with letters.
Maria Montessori referred to the age range between two-and-a-half and four-and-a-half as a “sensitive period” because, during this period, a child is much more aware of and eager to learn sounds. As such, the Montessori method takes a phonetics-based approach to teach literacy.
Building upon the foundation of phonetics, you introduce sandpaper letters and a moveable alphabet, which prepare children for later writing those letters. This naturally guides the child toward word-formation, or encoding, where they string together different sounds to create familiar words, and later, decoding, or deciphering and interpreting words on a page.
Phonics: Sound Games
Rather than teaching a child the alphabet using rote memorization, the Montessori approach acquaints the child with the sounds that letters make before introducing them to the letters’ names. This is accomplished by playing sound games.
Sound games are oral language activities employed with children as young as two-and-a-half who have already developed language skills, such as observing and identifying the world around them by using words.
They are oral and auditory, and do not involve the alphabet as much as you may think. It does not name or identify letters of the alphabet, nor does it involve the “alphabet song.” It is more or less a version of “I Spy,” and it works to activate the child’s awareness of sounds, how they work together, and how to isolate them.
Sound games are first introduced at an easy level and progress in difficulty as the child gains an understanding of the sounds of our language; this sets the stage for eventually learning the letters that make the sounds.
Associating Sounds with Letters
The Montessori method for learning letters is much more holistic than identifying a letter and memorizing its name.
It integrates multi-sensory learning, specifically a tactile experience with a phonics approach: it is more organic for a child first to hear the sound, then make the sound, and finally to associate the sound with the letter to integrate a fuller understanding of it than it is to memorize its name and what it looks like, as in the conventional model you may be more familiar with.
After all, you don’t just want to teach your child to read; you want them to understand. As such, in a Montessori setting, after sound games, a child is then introduced to sandpaper letters and later, a moveable alphabet.
A child’s first introduction to letters using the Montessori method is sandpaper letters. These are composed of color-coded cards that contain a single, textured, sandpaper inscription of a letter on them as part of a moveable alphabet. The cards are introduced to the child to give them a palpable connection to each letter.
Touching helps reinforce their learning at this very tactile phase. Allowing children to physically manipulate each letter feeds into their receptiveness to tactile experiences, as children at this stage learn by doing.
Children make a physical connection with each letter; they learn the letter’s shape by connecting their finger to the sandpaper texture. Then, they develop an auditory connection as this is reinforced by learning the letter’s phonetic sound. Retracing the sandpaper letters with their fingers is an organic way to later lead to writing.
The Montessori Moveable alphabet is a set of realistic-looking letters the child can manipulate to form words once they have “graduated” from the sandpaper letters. The child can match sandpaper letters to letters in their moveable alphabet for letter recognition.
Next, they can use the moveable letters to create phonetic spellings of familiar words. The moveable alphabet allows children to “write” words by forming them with the letters, which is highly advantageous to their academic progress.
Why? Learning to physically write using a pen or pencil entails developing a completely different skill set than reading. As such, it will form in a parallel manner, at its own rate compared to reading comprehension.
Therefore, if reading and spelling are left to be interdependent upon writing, the latter’s progress can hinder the progress of the former, creating an opportunity for frustration and lack of confidence along the way. Thus, the moveable alphabet allows a child’s ability to “write” words to be uninhibited by their ability to hold a pencil and guide it on paper.
Check out our article on the Montessori moveable alphabet to learn more about how it’s used to teach writing, reading, and spelling.
Beginning to Write
As children grow familiar with the letters’ shapes and the sounds they associate with them, writing is a natural next step. But since children at this stage likely have not fully developed the hand strength and fine motor skills necessary to manipulate a writing implement, a sand tray is a practical intermediary tool to use for children to build writing skills and confidence before taking pencil to paper, or chalk to chalkboard.
Montessori Sand Tray
The Montessori Sand Tray comes after the child has become familiar with the sandpaper letters and moveable alphabet. Working on writing in this way helps hone a child’s fine motor skills without having to use a writing implement.
The sand tray helps develop a child’s pre-writing skills by enabling the child to “write” the letters in the sand, giving them a chance to self-correct without the frustration of having to erase mistakes on paper.
Giving the child a chance to identify and correct her own mistakes helps develop self-confidence and independence. A child can practice “writing” letters or lines or shapes in whatever way they choose. Through this practice, combined with other methods disguised as play, a child is building the skills necessary to later manipulate a piece of chalk or a pencil with which to write.
Chalkboard or Pencil and Paper
Once a child has progressed through the previous stage, they begin to write directly by using chalk and chalkboard or pencil and paper. There are many Montessori implements such as metal inserts and colored pencils by which to be inspired, and children will be excited to see all the ways they can express themselves through writing.
As children begin to write, reading generally comes organically, as it is said that in a Montessori environment, children commonly “explode” into reading.
Montessori Pink, Blue, and Green Series
The Pink, Blue, and Green Series was developed after the Montessori method of instruction migrated to the US from Italy in the 1920s.
Since the English language is not nearly as phonetic as Italian, it soon became evident that another means of reading and writing acquisition was required to effectively teach children all the phonics “rules” and “exceptions” that the English language has for reading.
Alas, the Pink, Blue, and Green Series came to be how children are taught phonics in Montessori as they are guided toward reading fluently. This series is sequential in order of difficulty, with each color consisting of a set of words to be presented to the child.
Materials used for the Pink, Blue, and Green Series include word lists, spelling cards, objects, and photos or drawings, among other things, and you can find word lists for each series online.
There is an endless array of materials for each series available both for free and for purchase online at places like Etsy. You can also find long lists of words appropriate to each color series online, such as on this Montessori blog.
Let’s take a closer look at each series to see what kinds of words they include.
The Pink Series
The Pink Series is the first stage of this series designed to help children learn to decode words with short vowel sounds. It consists of 3-letter phonetic words in a CVC, or consonant-vowel-consonant, format.
It is important to note that the Pink Series’ vowels are short vowels only and do not include “y.”
Some examples of Pink words are: pig, dig, hen, pen, map, cap, nut, bus, cat, dog, sit, tip, box.
The Blue Series
The Blue Series is the next stage in this series, and naturally builds upon the first and introduces consonant blends. Words in this series still employ phonetic words with short vowels, but are four or more letters in length, up to eight letters. There are around 20 consonant blends in the Blue Series.
Some examples of Blue words are: duck, kick, rock, sock, stop, step, stamp, flag, dress, drum, brush, inch, ball, bell, clip, ring, shell, shoe.
The North American Montessori Center provides extensive curriculum and materials for purchase on their website. They provide a detailed description of their Blue Material and an outline of their curriculum and activities here.
The Green Series
The Green Series is the last stage and is the largest. The Green Series is where a child really begins to become fluent in reading, as it contains all the major phonemes, digraphs, hard, soft, and silent letters.
Some examples of Green words: gate, lane, shape, mail, paint, toes, rose, field, light, high, though, bead, cube, dime, rose, leaf, soap.
Materials for the Pink, Blue, and Green Series
We just covered what kinds of words each color series consists of. Now, let’s go over what types of materials you might use to teach the Pink, Blue, and Green Series to your child, and creative ways to utilize each of them.
There is a vast array of materials and methods through which these series can be implemented, and you may find some work better for your child than others. It is recommended to use a multitude of materials to see which ones your child works best with. Some standard Pink, Blue and Green Series work include the following:
- Matching Cards: Matching cards can be one of two options.
- Pairs of cards with matching images the child must then pair together, such as these
- Pairs of cards with images on one and corresponding words on the other
- The child can then match the image to its name. Card sets can be sorted into Pink, Blue, and Green groups.
- Rhyming Cards: Rhyming cards, such as these, can be a fun way for your child to learn this skill.
- Large Moveable Alphabet: The LMA (Large Moveable Alphabet) is a Montessori tool used to teach children how to read, write, and spell. It usually consists of a box or container with compartments for each letter, which each compart containing multiple cut-outs of wooden or paper letters. You can download, print, and cut out letters to make your own, or purchase a set online, such as this one.
- Word Cards and Word Lists: Word lists and word cards for the Pink, Blue, and Green Series are available for download and purchase online, and you can use these cards and lists in a variety of ways, including in conjunction with your moveable alphabet or objects. Two great resources for purchasing these cards and lists are Montessori for Everyone and Alison’s Montessori.
- Sound Bins or Baskets: You can easily create bins or baskets at home containing objects sorted by sound. For example, you can create a B basket, which includes items beginning with the letter B and cards with variations of the letter B on them, such as lower case, upper case, and cursive.
- Objects: Objects representing each series’ words can be sorted into appropriate bins, either by color (pink, blue, or green) or by letter (items beginning with the letter P). A child can then use the objects to write stories, spell the objects’ names, rhyme, or whatever comes to mind. You can use items you already have around the home or purchase object bags here.
- Pictures: You can print photos of objects for each series, and then have your child name the images, spell them, write them, or match them to items.
- Bundles: You can also find bundles available online, such as these, containing a variety of the above materials grouped according to color series.
Is the Series Necessary?
After reading all of this, you may be wondering: is this all necessary to teach my child to read the Montessori way? The answer is no. In fact, this is not the Montessori way. It is simply one Montessori way for teaching your child to read.
Mixed Reviews: Not for Everyone
Many choose not to implement the Pink, Blue, and Green Series due to its material-heavy nature or lengthy word lists. Many think these methods and materials are tedious and take the fun out of reading.
Others think its materials and lists are too “curriculum-based” and “conventional” and not at all nurturing of an environment that fosters reading organically. Some specific criticisms of this method include the following:
- Too Much Material: With so much material, some feel there is nothing simple about this method of teaching literacy. It can seem overwhelming to some, both in content and in price, when you consider that some websites sell curriculum bundles for the Pink, Blue, and Green Series for as much as $500 or more.
- Many feel that materials should be a learning aid, but think that with this approach, they are instead a required crutch and thus missing a fundamental principle of Montessori education.
- Too Structured: Many people feel this approach is just too structured and rigid.
- Does Not Encourage Independence: One of the key principles of Montessori education is to follow the child and allow them to take control of their learning. With such a curriculum and material-based approach to literacy, many feel that this method can only be implemented with much adult involvement and guidance.
Variations in the Montessori Approach to Reading
As the criticisms above of the Pink, Blue, and Green Series may suggest, there are other approaches to reading within the Montessori community that keep in line with the basic tenets of Montessori education.
Research shows, and Montessori educators everywhere agree, that phonetics must be taught explicitly to learn to read. That said, there are variations in Montessori approaches to literacy.
Phonetic Reading Program from California
This program was designed by the Director of the Montessori Center for Teacher Education in San Diego, CA, and consists of five sets of lessons, “each of which focuses on an essential beginning phonic skill,” according to their website. Children move through the sets at their own pace.
While there are variations in approaches to teaching literacy, it is clear that a phonetics-first approach is definitely paramount to any approach to teaching a child to read in keeping with Montessori methods.
At A Montessori Story, one AMI-trained Montessori teacher goes into great detail her approach to literacy, beginning with first developing phonological awareness, but does not explicitly mention the Pink, Blue, and Green Series in her practice. Read more about it here.
5 Stages of Montessori Reading
This article at The Tot highlights the five stages of Montessori reading and suggests ways that you can implement them at home, as well as product suggestions for each stage, without mention of the Pink, Blue, and Green Series.
As we have covered, even within the Montessori community, there is more than one way to teach literacy to a child. Finding what works best for your child may take some exploratory trial and error, but so long as you keep the primary principles of Montessori learning in high esteem, your child will help show you what works best for them.
In conclusion, the path you choose to take to lead your child to literacy is a very personal one, and many factors must be considered in weighing out the options. The possibilities are endless, and there is no one right way to do it. The methods for teaching your child to read are as plentiful and varying as children themselves, but ultimately, you know your child best; only you can make the right choice for your family.
Check out our articles on the pros and cons of Montessori, find out how and why Montessori teaches reading before writing, or learn more about the method and timing of reading in Montessori.