When my daughter learned to read English, one of her favorite activities was matching letters and words to miniature objects. Not only were the tiny objects fun and cute, they were also very effective in helping her remember the phonetic sounds. Therefore, I was motivated to try this with Korean and create Montessori Hangul alphabet phonics boxes for my younger child.
I’m going to show you how we set up our alphabet phonics boxes and where we got our miniature objects. Please note that you can apply these concepts for teaching Hanyu Pinyin, Zhuyin Fuhao (bopomofo), and other phonetic alphabets!
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Teaching phonics with objects rather than letters
Miniature objects attract both of my children with their cuteness, and the 3-dimensions give more sensory input when my children are learning associated sounds in the target language.
Through Montessori teachers, I learned that the best way to introduce phonetic sounds is by focusing on listening and speaking while interacting with physical objects.
Montessori on Mars shares her compelling experience as a mother and teacher:
“Our daughter’s first alphabet work, the start of her ABC, did NOT have any letters (a, b, c, etc)–none at all…
Letters are actually codes representing something else that children experienced first in their lives, something they encounter more readily and more concretely in their environments everyday: Sounds. Spoken language.”
In other words, phonemic awareness is the first goal. When a child has a strong phonemic foundation, letter recognition is more meaningful and can be more readily learned.
The purpose of teaching Korean alphabet with hands-on activities
The Korean alphabet is arguably one of the easiest to learn. Many adults, including myself and our nanny, have learned it in less than 2 days. So why put in a lot of effort in teaching our children Hangul?
Korean is a minority language for my children, and they spend the least amount of time with this language. Therefore, Korean is much weaker than their English and Chinese skills, but I want them to have positive memories learning it.
To make up for lack of quantity of exposure, we try to maximize quality by providing positive, multi-sensory experiences in their minority languages.
Why we included Hangul alphabet symbols on our phonics boxes
Although the aforementioned advice suggests to exclude alphabet symbols during initial phonetic work, our children rarely get to see Korean words in their natural environment.
Furthermore, our nanny relies on visual cues (eg, print-rich environment) which serve as reminders to speak Korean.
Montessori-inspired Korean alphabet phonics boxes: What you need
- Multi-drawer storage cabinet (we used this multi-drawer cardboard box which is available in bulk here)
- Miniature objects
- Montessori Services (we got a few from here)
- Amazon (this set is for the English alphabet; did not need so many for our Korean set)
- Korean Hangul magnet toys (similar here and here)
- Also check your Lego sets (that’s where our tiny 바나나 [banana] is from), doll houses, gift shops before buying more things
- Alphabet letters:
- Blue and red stiff felt
- Cricut machine
- Korean picture dictionary for reference (we also recommend this picture dictionary for learning more vocab and phrases)
Here’s a close-up view of an empty phonics box!
Montessori Tactile Korean Hangul alphabet letters: How to make them
- With a Cricut machine, cut the alphabet from felt so that each Hangul letter has texture.
- Affix each Korean letter to the box with glue stick
- To create a control, create a second set of Korean alphabet letters.
- Glue second set of alphabet letters to the back of each space so that child can independently match the Korean letter. This will help the child know where to put back each box.
For English, you can easily buy Montessori sandpaper letters, but it’s hard to find these resources in other languages. Therefore, our phonics boxes are also useful as tactile letters.
If the Cricut is out of your budget, you can create tactile alphabet letters easily with puffy paint.
Significant of red and blue Montessori Korean alphabet colors
To remain consistent with our Montessori English alphabet resources, we used red for consonants and blue for vowels.
The Montessori alphabet color system is very clever. Not only does it help children understand the different letter types, the color also serves as a control.
As with English, all Korean words have a consonant and vowel. Later when kids are learning to spell, they can self-check that each word has both components.
When my daughter was younger, she used to struggle with identifying the vowel sound in a word, but the blue color served as a reminder.
Determine which objects to get with help from a Korean picture dictionary
In order to find appropriate mini objects to go with each box, we used our Bilingual Korean-English picture dictionary as a reference.
This Korean dictionary has real photographs, making it ideal for learning new Korean words and useful for playing i-Spy.
As you can see, the large font is also easy to read!
Tips for teaching Korean hangul alphabet with Montessori phonics boxes
- Introduce each sound through with a Montessori 3-period lesson; focus on the sound rather than the letter name
- Teach 1, 2, or 3 sounds at a time, depending on child’s comfort level. You may want to take out a few objects at a time and separate it into a tray so that your child isn’t overwhelmed or distracted by the objects in other boxes.
Below is an example of how we focused on a just 3 Korean Hangul letters for my son.
Here’s a look at what we included in our Montessori-inspired phonics boxes!
As mentioned previously, to provide a control, we glued Korean letters on the back of each box. This way my children can match the letter box to it’s space and learn the correct order independently.
Honest confession: At this time, we have only filled our consonant boxes. I haven’t decided what to put in our vowels boxes yet.
I’m thinking about putting pictures or objects that match Korean words with those vowels, but I’m open to suggestions!
In the future, I plan to create phonics boxes for the English alphabet. Since English is our family’s main language, I’m planning on teach my son how to read this last, just as we did with my oldest child.
Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or ideas to share!
Have you tried teaching the alphabet with phonics boxes?
If you try this activity, please let us know in the comments below!
We’d love to hear about your learning experience!
Tips on teaching Korean at home
- Teach Your Child a Second Language at Home with 5 Key Steps
- Raising Trilingual Kids in Australia: Reflections from a Taiwanese-Korean Family
- Raising Trilingual Kids in America: Insights From Korean-Taiwanese Parents
- 3+ Chinese and Korean Online Tutoring Programs for Children and Adults
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