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Materials Spotlight: Miniature Environment and the Grammar Boxes

We love grammar! This probably doesn’t come as any surprise, considering we work at a school. In our humble opinion, Montessori grammar materials are so beautiful, and they do a great job of drawing kids in to learn about something many of us dreaded when we were kids ourselves.

It all begins in the final year of primary or the first year of lower elementary, with a sweet introduction to the miniature environment.

The Miniature Environment/Function of Words

Traditionally, the miniature environment consists of a replica barn, complete with tiny toy animal figures, although some Montessori schools today have strayed from the original farm and created other environments.

When we think of grammar and six-year-olds, the goal is to let them graze. We don’t expect mastery. We want to introduce concepts in a way that is light and fun and makes them want to engage.

This is where the farm animals come in.

Nouns are naming words, and six-year-olds are often still developing their reading skills. It’s so much fun for them to match labels to animals as they name cow, sheep, chicken, and even fence, barn, farmer. As time goes on, we introduce the concept of articles, and how their function is to introduce the noun. The cow, a sheep, an ox. Tiny paper labels lie alongside the figures as the child works. This progresses through all the parts of speech: adjectives, verbs, prepositions, adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions, and finally, interjections.

The Grammar Boxes

Of course, there’s more to grammar than adorable toy animals. In the second year of lower elementary, and extending into the third year, children use the grammar box materials. The grammar boxes consist of wooden boxes containing cards with words and phrases, sectioned trays to lay the cards in, and open-topped containers with larger index-sized cards.

We start with the latter, which are called command cards. As with the functions of words lessons, these progress through the different parts of speech. The command cards direct children to physically do specific things. “Throw the eraser out the door” is a crowd favorite. This is one exciting way Montessori turns language work into something more hands on and participatory.

Once they’ve worked their way through the command cards, children engage with the filling boxes, recreating phrases and sentences and identifying the various parts of speech.

At some point, the children learn the corresponding symbols for each part of speech (some are seen above in the picture), and they become able to write sentences in their notebooks and draw the correct labels above each word.

The grammar boxes are typically completed sometime during the final year of lower elementary, although upper elementary teachers may choose to use the material for review purposes.

Sentence Analysis

Montessori sentence analysis is not the same as the sentence diagramming some of us did when we were younger, but it is based on some of the same concepts.

At this point in a child's Montessori career, they are beginning to move toward what we call abstraction. That is, they are beginning to internalize concepts in a way that doesn’t require them to use hand-held manipulatives or materials nearly as often. This is obvious in that the sentence analysis materials are still moveable, but there’s a lot less to interact with. A series of wood circles and arrows, they help the child learn concepts like subjects and predicates.

Eventually, sometime in upper elementary, children explore all kinds of sentence analysis concepts, like indirect objects and adverbial extensions.

Want to learn more about the Montessori language curriculum and materials? Keep an eye on our blog as we highlight more throughout the school year.

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