The aah, buh, cuhs: The Key to Reading.

Can you sing the sounds of the alphabet?

No, not the letter names, the actual sounds

Think about it. Other than the alphabet song and alphabetizing your collection of movies, what purpose does knowing the order and name of our 26 English letters serve you? 

Learning to speak and communicate is hard-wired into our DNA, but reading is still a painfully meticulous process each of us has to learn on our own.   The key to reading is an awareness that words are made of individual sounds, and then having the skill to analyze the individual sounds in a word. In the Montessori classroom, we turn this into a game!

Read on to learn how to play this at home. 

The aah, buh, cuhs blog post

The Sound Games

Montessori begins with the phonetic sounds, the most common in our language.  This is all single consonant sounds and the short vowel sounds. 

Sound games begin with listening and identifying these sounds at the beginning of familiar words (Leanne starts with (L)), and then at the end of the words.  As your child is able to master more sounds, you can also pick out the sounds in the middle of words together.  It takes some practice to segment words in this way, but it gets easier the more you practice! 

All the sounds on common objects

A simple sound game can be played with any object you see, or any familiar word you say. Having a collection of small, easily recognizable objects is ideal for this game, but you could play with small pictures at home if that's all you have.  Choose objects with a variety of beginning sounds, or a variety of ending sounds or of middle sounds, etc.  Any child who can talk can play this game! 

Gather a collection of small objects to play sound games.

(paraphrased from my AMI album)

Stage 1: Beginning Sounds

  1. Take out 3 objects with distinct beginning sounds from each other. Choose one object and pronounce the name clearly. Pronounce the name several times. "Bug, Bug"

  2. Isolate the beginning sound, and exaggerate the sound in the word if possible “b, b, bug.”

  3. Give the information “Bug begins with (b).” Repeat this again if needed.

  4. Continue with the other two objects, following the same steps.

  5. Play a game: “I’m thinking of an object that begins with (b). ” Be sure to say the sound, not the letter name. Wait until your child points to that object. Continue with the other two in this way, just once for each sound.  The point is to hear the sounds, not memorize that bug begins with (b). 

  6. If you and your child have time and she is still interested, you can keep playing this game with 3 objects at a time.  

Stage 2: Ending Sounds

This is played in the same way as the beginning sounds, but now the focus is on the ending sounds. Choose three objects with different ending sounds and emphasize the sound at the end of the word (bu…G).

Stage 3: Middle Sounds

This is played in the same way as the beginning sounds, but now the focus is on the middle sounds. Choose three objects with ONE middle sound. and emphasize the sound in the middle of the word (b...U...g). Later, you can present more than one middle sound after the child has had some experience with just one middle sound. “Can you hear one of the middle sounds in “turtle?” ask for only one of the middle sounds, not all of them. This is much harder! 

Stage 4: Game Without Objects

Invite your child to think of something that begins with a sound "Let's think of words that begin with (f). Take several answers before asking another question, or having your child pick the next sound. This can also be done with ending or middle sounds. No materials needed!

Stage 5: All Sounds

Take out one object and invite your child to say all the sounds she hears. She may miss some. You can repeat the word back to her and stress this missing sound (t-ur-T-l) to see if she can then hear it, or just try that object again later.  This can also be done in casual conversation as a game. “What does ____ begin with? Can you find something that has _____ as an ending sound?


Get a printable of these sounds games to play at home!  

Cards include a bonus six games, all English letter sounds, and a list of objects.

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These games requires an adult or older child to make the sounds correctly.  If you are using objects, keep a collection of at least 8-10 available for a game, and ideally between 30-40 so you can switch.  This is not restricted to the alphabet: phonograms sounds can be used too! 

You can find objects in the dollhouse section in craft stores, or purchase them here.  Game pieces, Christmas ornaments, and small toys will also work.  

It is important to follow this progression of beginning-end-middle-all, so your child can gain confidence and clarity in her skills.  Be sure you have played the game several times with a variety of the sounds before you move on to the next stage.

 If at any point your child grows tired or uninterested, you should stop the game, and play again later! 

Now, go find 10 small objects in your home and put them in a basket or box.

Here's what I found: 

Sound Game objects from around the house

Easy right?  Keep those objects in a box, along with a copy of our sound games, and you're ready to play!  


About the Author:

Leanne Gray, M.Ed has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. 

She's on a mission to raise a generation of kind, confident, responsible children, and does this through her work with families and schools.   Read more here.