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  • Sarah N

Shiller Learning Language Arts A Review: Montessori or Not

Originally posted April 11, 2019


Finding a homeschooling education program that fits all of a mom's or family's desires and a child's needs can be a challenging task and despite the ridiculous amount of curriculum available can sometimes seem impossible. This has been the case for me, who loves Montessori, but really can't commit to doing Montessori full time as I have no training and don't have the time or energy to be constantly creating activities and "following" exactly what my child is up to. I wish it was different but I have been trying for two years now to implement Montessori at home and yeah, my efforts while valiant, don't look like the classroom. The occasional Montessori activity on a tray or engaged cleaning toddler just haven't reached the mark. There is part of me that wishes I could just keep sending them to school but homeschooling is really the best option for our family. My husband feels that I need a set curriculum so that I don't go crazy trying to piece together things... unfortunately its probably, however much I hate to admit it, sage advice.


I recently stumbled across Shiller Math online in Carrot's Are Orange's post about her homeschool curriculum choices. I thought if Marnie was doing it, it must be the real deal.

Unfortunately I had already bought Right Start Math for the girls, and I felt like I need to at least give it a try before I change. Even if I couldn't justify another math program, the Shiller language arts curriculum looked interesting.

Open and Go Montessori! That's definitely what I needed. "Montessori at Home"- Yes, please. I was ok with it not being perfectly true to Montessori as long as it told me what to do, used the materials and the general principles. Step by step Montessori curriculum was a dream come true. I've spent more money on trying to find this than I'm probably willing to admit...I'm even enrolled in the My Montessori Homeschool Language Unit (A review to come).

We did a couple of sample lessons that are available online- I liked them; my girls liked them and I was super excited this was the answer. I purchased the digital version as we already owned Montessori metal insets and a moveable alphabet and tracing tray and shipping to Australia is expensive.


Language Arts Kit A: You can read the full description at Shiller Learning

Main Materials:

*Lesson Books

*Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme Books

Virtual Download is about $100 and the full kit is $230

Additional Materials include:

*Moveable alphabet --

(I recommend purchasing one from Alison's Montessori for around $21 w/out box or $36 w/ box.The box is totally worth the extra $15 dollars)

*Montessori insets

(You can purchase plastic ones on Amazon for around $15 or the real metal ones with shelves from Alison's Montessori for $75)

*Work Rug

(Amazon has a similar one for around $16, or we just use woven rugs we found at the dollar store)


(You don't need quinoa necessarily, rice, salt, sand: anything you have in your pantry that can be use for tracing will be fine)

*Play dough

(You can get a 10 pack for $8 on Amazon)

*Washable Crayons

(Target has these for about $3)

That all adds up to about $66 for extra materials (assuming $3 for grain). $141 if you go with the real metal insets and alphabet with box.


We've been using the curriculum now for almost 2 months now with both girls.My husband printed all the booklets out and spiral bound them. Although they are beautiful to look at, I overall am sorely disappointed with what I received.


- Confusing Placement Tests

My eldest (4) took the online placement test for us to determine which level to start at. We were told by the system to start in level 1 and I purchased this for her with the idea of using it for her younger sister as well.However, my daughter already was competent with all her letter sounds and recognition and the list of lessons that the system said she needed to do were not actually right. I finally worked out they were misnamed in the system and hence made it look like she needed more than she did. In reality she just needed some lessons on the Season, Syllables in words, and mispronunciation. Obviously the letter lessons were absolutely boring for her. The other lessons that are left that she needs I don't feel necessitate a whole curriculum and perhaps we should have started in Level B. Its not until book 4 that the curriculum even starts to be near her level with beginning building words and blending sounds.

- Introduces Letter Names from the Start

Anyone who knows anything about the Montessori method of teaching language knows that the phonetic letter sounds are introduced before the letter names. The letter names are actually unnecessary for reading and according to Montessori (and other educators as well) by teaching letter sounds first children are able to succeed at reading more quickly. She claimed that a child would learn the letter names almost without any formal education later. This has certainly been the case with my eldest. Shiller rejects this approach and teaches letter names along with phonetic sounds in a much more traditional way. This is NOT Montessori.

- Introduces One Letter at a Time (a glorified letter learning program?)

Montessori introduces the letter shapes and sounds with the sandpaper letters and the three period lesson. She introduces three letters at a time. This allows the child to differentiate between the letters more readily and to learn multiple letters at once. I heard developer of the Fast Phonics:The Easy Track to Reading program speaking at a conference say that by giving one letter at a time we actually "dummy" learning letters down and unintentionally make it "boring" for the child's brain. You can hear Renee Elison speak here. The Fast Phonics program claims it can teach any child all their letters in a week. Shiller Language only introduces one letter at a time.

- Songs are Not Helpful

There are songs that go with each letter. They are like "Jump for J". The song says a series of words and the child is meant to jump on the J words. Again they use the conventional names for the letter. Also I found these songs to betoo fast, not very musical or helpful for memory. Even my 4 year old who is very competent with her letter sounds and phonemic awareness was not really able to do this to the pace of the songs. The songs have no real melody and are not something a child is going to remember or enjoy singing.

- "Dump Shapes on Mat"

Montesssori is very particular about how materials are carried, used and carefully placed on the mat. I almost had a heart attack when I read the lessons about the shapes. The child was told "You may dump the shapes on the mat." Let's just say every Montessori bone in my body was screaming... And I instead showed my child how to gently place each shape carefully on the mat.

- Lacking Phonemic Awareness Exercises

I feel the program is lacking in phonemic awareness exercises. The Montessori method has a whole series of pre-reading exercises for developing phonemic awareness before letters are even introduced. Although there are some activities that help with phonemic awareness, I don't think there are enough, and I haven't come across any of the staple ones in the Montessori method like "I spy."

-Review is Hard

I found the program set up makes reviewing hard. There is only one lesson on each concept (there are a few exceptions to this). The idea is that you go back to anything that the child hasn't mastered and re-teach that lesson. In theory this makes sense, but I found it difficult to evaluate and stay on top of. I think the idea of this is reminiscent of the Montessori method, but without a clear way for the child to practice lessons on their own and confusing lists of what the child needs review on, i didn't find the Shiller method effective. Review of a few lessons are built into the curriculum, which I appreciated, but not enough.

- My kids do not seem to enjoy it very much

Ultimately every time I offer that we get out and do our Shiller Language, I get moaning..."let's not Mom."..."Can I do my other book instead?" I believe I have tried hard to make it fun and be positive about it, but they don't seem to really engage easily. Neither child has ever once asked me to read the Mother Goose Rhyme book to them. They don't seem to enjoy it very much when I do read it despite trying to pick the most interesting rhymes I can find.

- Meant to cover 2-3 years of language arts! WHAT!?!

Shiller claims that their Language Arts kit A covers everything from pre-K to grade 1. From what I can tell from looking through the books, this basically means that curriculum spends 3 years learning all the child's letters and shapes. My oldest daughter was able to recognize all of her letters by their predominant phonemic sound when she was 2 (She learned this basically on her own by asking us which letter were which in an alphabet book). I can tell you even with my younger one who hasn't been even half as interested it won't take her three years to learn them! I was so excited at the prospect of a curriculum that would get us through three years of school. And now I am so utterly disappointed at the prospectus for those 3 years.


This curriculum is very expensive compared to other options. Even purchasing the virtual kit was $100 USD (that's even more for us in AUD). I thought this was worth it assuming the curriculum would cover a normal Montessori classroom prospectus for a 3-6 year old classroom. My expectation would have been to be taken through at least the Pink Series. However the curriculum as far as I can tell does not do that. Had I purchased the physical books, I would have been able to return them, but having purchased the virtual kit, there is no such option.


-It is open and go You can just open up to the desired lesson, read and do. This is a great time saver in a curriculum.

- Uses a variety of activities The program does teach concepts using several different activities and that seem to appeal to a variety of different learning styles.

- Inclusion of practical life and grace and courtesy The curriculum includes lessons in grace and courtesy such introducing ones self respectfully.

- Readers (but my kids don't like them very much)

The McGuffy Reader Primer was included as a reader (It seems is only used in Level B but was part of download with level A). I like the idea of using a very traditional, tried and true reader...but the black and white pictures and semi confusing story content doesn't appeal to my girls.


If you are starting with a younger child, want to spend time learning each letter, don't have expectations of what a "Montessori" curriculum should look like, want an open and go program and need some new ideas for activities than maybe this program is worth a look at for you.

If you are looking for more authentic Montessori, if its important to you that your child learns the phonetic sounds first, if you want your child to not spend three years learning their letters then I don't think this program is for you.

LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK If you think I have misrepresented anything about Montessori or the curriculum please let me know. I wanted so badly to love this program, but unfortunately- I just don't.

Has anyone found any programs that do what I am looking for? Is the math program the same?

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