Public School Montessorian
Volume 10, Number 3 Spring 1998
Montessori Into Digital Age
By Paul Epstein, Ph.D
Dr. Epstein is associate professor of
at Transylvania University in Lexington, KY
Educators are asking serious questions about
the use of computer-assisted instruction. While
there is considerable agreement that computer
programs will not replace teachers, there is
uncertainty as to how these programs should
become a part of curriculum and instruction.
If the computer program is offered as another
"choice" among the many others in the
prepared environment, should it mimic additional
Montessori curriculum principles such as the
three-period lesson and control of error?
Should teachers regard computer programs as a
kind of manipulative? Is there an optimal
balance between sensorial engagements with
"real manipulatives" - The Golden Bead
Material, the Puzzle Maps, or Moveable Alphabets
- and a computer program animated rendition of
If children are interested in and are
learning from computer-assisted instruction, how
long should we allow children to sit in front of
Carol and Dewey Parker, creators of the
Montessori Educational Computer Systems (MECS)
of Albuquerque, NM are serious about developing
computer-assisted instruction for Montessori and
non-Montessori schools. Carol is a Montessori
educator with 28 years of Montessori teaching
and tutoring experience. Dewey is an experienced
Carol began as a "Montessori
mother" who initially tried to make
materials for her children at home. Enrolling
her first child in a Montessori early childhood
program in Dallas led Carol to take a St.
Nicholas course. She later decided to expand her
Montessori knowledge by completing an early
childhood AMS course in Dallas. She taught for
another 15 years before moving to Albuquerque.
Asked to develop a 6-9 class, Carol attended
NCME training in San Diego, CA. She later
continued her elementary training with an AMS
program in New York state. For the past 20 years
she has also worked as a "Montessori
tutor" with children challenged by autism,
muscular dystrophy, speech problems, dyslexia
and ADHD. She says these children taught her
that although they struggled to learn with
manipulatives, they could successfully use a
Six topics (We
have added many programs since this article was
written - D. Parker - Pres. MECS)
Since 1992, parents, private and public
school teachers, and teacher educators in
Montessori teacher education centers have been
using the Parker's unique line of
Montessori-based, fully interactive, multimedia
programs. The topics of the programs include:
Geography (the states and territories of
Australia; the countries of Africa; the
countries and flags of Europe and South America;
the states and capitals of the United States)
Science (Jurassic Earth; horse anatomy and
research; solar system research)
Reading and writing (modules)
Math (red and blue rods with numerals; the
golden beads; multiplication board)
The MECS programs incorporate several key
Montessori curriculum design elements: high
(children are "naturally" drawn to
computers), a progression or sequence of
isolated difficulty, opportunities for
repetition, instant feedback, and the
three-period lesson format.
The first-period lesson involves a narrated
animation or a whole picture that presents an
entire concept. In Jurassic Earth, for example,
a timeline with pictures of Triassic, Jurassic
and Cretaceous dinosaurs is presented. Each
dinosaur picture, such as Coelophysis,
Stegosaurus and Protoceratops, is named and then
placed in its respective timeline period.
In the second-period lesson the child is
asked to use the computer mouse to "show me
Stegosaurus." If the child makes a
mistake, the program shows the correct dinosaur
and asks again.
The child is asked to drag the correct
dinosaur label into place under the dinosaur
picture in the third-period lesson to answer,
"What is this?"
Each program is designed to provide
individualized instruction. A child begins at
her or his level and progresses at her or his
own rate. Lessons are accessed through menu
screens and/or navigation buttons. Children
proceed through the programs with CONTINUE,
REPEAT, and MENU buttons. Additional support
comes from an ANSWER button.
When pressed, on-screen instructions direct
the child to make verbal responses or to use the
mouse to make interactive patterning movements.
These instructions also free the child from
depending on an adult presence while working
with a learning program. The child can also ask
for help at any time by clicking a HELP button.
The program responds by repeating the word or
phrase that is the current focus of the lesson.
The MECS programs incorporate a multi-sensory
format involving animation, sound, and visual
displays of various Montessori materials or
objects. The multi-sensory format is based on
whole brain learning research that concluded a
learner retains 90 percent of what she or he
says and does. Accordingly, the Parkers have
developed their programs with a motto of
"see - hear - say - move". When a
learner moves her or his hand while speaking a
sound or word, attention to that sound or word
is increased. This increase of attention results
in retention of the word.
The Reading Modules
Five of the programs - the MECS reading
modules - are particularly impressive.
Each module offers a comprehensive and
carefully sequenced set of lessons that take
full advantage of a computer program's
animation, visual and auditory capabilities.
These lessons will engage children in the
various steps that result in knowing how to
Montessori teachers will recognize the scope
of these lessons (initial consonants, short and
long vowel sounds, blends, digraphs, and
phonograms) and the use of objects and word
labels in the traditional "Moveable
alphabet" format. But each module goes
Together with their "see - hear - say -
move" three-period lesson format, the
Parkers have blended the Montessori orientation
to teaching reading and writing with compatible
materials and methods drawn from the Orton
Dyslexia Society and the Spaulding Writing Road
to Reading. Carol especially credits Sr. Mary
Motz of Montessori Matters for teaching that the
vowel is the "leader in the word".
This idea takes the form of a vowel ladder,
which is used in several modules.
Reading Module One consists of 10 lessons.
The first lesson presents an animated alphabet
that is analogous to the classic Montessori
sandpaper letter/object lessons. Each of the 26
sounds is introduced with a colorful animation,
and the child is invited to say the sound of the
letter and clap each letter sound contained in
the model word. Verbalization, auditory
discrimination and body movement (clapping,
etc.) are integrated into each presentation.
Each word is repeated three times. According
to the Parkers, neurolinguistic research
suggests that three repetitions move information
into long-term memory. Module One continues with
two lessons that compare "b" with
"d" and "p" with
"q". Three-letter phonetic words are
taught next in sequence from initial sound, last
sound and middle letter sound.
Using the traditional Montessori format, the
child is exposed to consonants colored red and
vowels colored blue. The mouse is used to build
three-letter words; the child moves a
"c", "u", and a
"p" into spaces under the picture of
the cup. The module next uses an animated vowel
ladder to present the short vowel sounds and
three-letter word families - pan, fan, tan, ran.
This work is followed by lessons that teach
The lessons in Reading Module Two involve the
child with short vowel four-letter words,
consonant blends and digraphs. A soft blue
background is used in each program; based on
whole brain learning research, this color is
supposed to relax the right hemisphere and
create a mood for learning. "Ch, for
example, is shown on the blue background. A
train moves across the screen as the narrator
say, "See the choo-choo train? Ch says 'ch".
Digraphs are presented using the traditional
Moveable Alphabet, three-period lesson format.
The child will watch an animated
"assistant" name "Monty Sory"
move his mouth and clap his hands. Monty will
say, for example, "sh" - "e"
- "l" - "f". Next, the child
uses the mouse to drag a "sh",
"e", "l" and "f"
to form the word "shelf".
Module Two also includes a 242
three-letter-word list. This is a tremendous
classroom resource. The words in this list are
presented in a large font size/ the initial
consonant is black, and there is a space between
the initial consonant and the second two letters
which are in yellow. The space offers clarity
and a definition of the word according to its
vowel family. The child hears the narrator say
the word and sees an animated red arrow move
from left to right below the spoken words. The
child also tracks the movement of the arrow with
the computer mouse. The intent here is to
promote rapid blending that could lead to
speed-reading. The 242 words are presented in
four groups. Group One presents same family
words (hat, mat, cat); Group Two presents mixed
family words (can, hat, car); Group Three
presents mixed vowel words (hat, cup, pen); and
Group Four presents words in mixed order.
Reading Module Three is larger still,
containing 43 lessons and a 340-word list. Of
these words, 143 are animated, and there are 186
pictures for computerized Moveable Alphabet
work. Module Three lessons focus on short and
long vowels, the names of the 26 letters and
animated writing program (the child traces
letters with the mouse), the silent final
"e", Moveable Alphabet activities for
long vowel words and reading from the word
lists. The child is taught the diacritical
markings for short and long vowels. Through the
use of color-coded cards and colored letters,
the programs use these markings to teach
decoding skills to the child.
As in Reading Module Two, word lists are
available for computer work or can be printed
for use with other classroom materials. The word
lists in Reading Module Three contain final
silent "e" words, and short vowel
four-letter words with blends and digraphs. As
in Module Two, words are spoken; the child
follows a moving red arrow and learns to blend
letters into words.
Building upon the previous reading modules,
Module Four uses animation, music and children's
voices to present 74 lessons that focus on
"r" vowels (er, or, ar,) vowel
diphthongs, and a reading list of 476 words.
The MECS programs are an outstanding addition
to Montessori early childhood and elementary
classrooms. Children with various learning
styles and needs will benefit. Instead of taking
the place of traditional Montessori materials,
the MECS programs help connect children to them.
Teachers frequently call, say Carol and
Dewey, to report on children becoming inspired
to work with actual materials after using the
programs. Recently, for example, Carol observed
a five-year-old who had completed the MECS
program on Africa reading the names of African
countries from the classroom control chart. The
program had taught her to read by sight. MECS
has developed an excellent set of computer
programs that incorporates both Montessori
principles and curriculum elements from recent
Constructivist-based learning research.
Paul Epstein, Ph.D, is associate
professor of education at Transylvania
University in Lexington, KY.