Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Life in the Pink Tower: Sandpaper Letters and Zen

This is a well received lesson in our home.  I gleaned this from my time spent in the classroom as the sandpaper letters is always a favorite with the children.  It is easily the "work" I have the most experience with and am most comfortable guiding them through.  As always I take my classroom experience and tweak it to best fit our home.  Here you see Grace using the sandpaper letters which we have expanded to include a sand tray and the "Red Letter Book" on this particular day.  Sandpaper letters are generally introduced at about 3 years old, Grace is 5.5 and has been working with sp letters for several years.  This has been an extended process because Grace has an articulation disorder.  Learning letter sounds is challenging when you can not produce the sound.  This rolls over into a lot of frustration.  Montessorians often refer to "following the child".  This is exactly what I must work on with Grace.  Looking to her cues of readiness, not the standard.  I'll post more on the challenges of speech disorder another time.  FOr now back to the sandpaper letters.
In the classroom the sandpaper letters are in cursive.  Children learn to write in cursive rather than print.  I prefer printing, so our sp letters are lowercase print. ( In my mind italicized is ideal.)  Here is a great link http://www.ehow.com/how_4510034_use-montessori-sandpaper-letters.html to give an overview of how to work with the letters.
The lesson I am showing includes the sandpaper letters.  We begin by tracing them with our fingers and repeating the sounds.  The next step is writing them in the sand tray.  This sand tray is actually a small desktop zen garden, easily purchased and simply remove the rocks and rake.  It is wonderful because we use it as both.  Writing letters in the sand (dirt) with a finger is as basic and primitive as writing gets.  Perfect for practice of letter formation.  When she was done writing her letters we looked for objects in which we hear those particular letters.  Makes great use of those little toy figures she loves so much.  Littlest Pet Shop may not be the most Montessori of materials but they do the job perfectly.
I want to add for each step I give Grace space and leave her side.  She choses when she is ready to move on.  Forcing her to do 'just one more' or saying 'you can't be done already!' or even "are you still making that same letter?"  None of that is beneficial, quite the opposite.  Although if the child begins to misuse the materials (i.e. sprinkling sand on the floor) offer a reminder of the correct way to use it and if the child continues simply put the materials away.  You can let them know you will bring them out another time when they are ready to use them as shown.  I like to think of it as everything has a function and that is what we use them for--Chairs are for sitting, pencils are for writing, blocks are for building, etc... I don't believe this stifles creativity in the least bit.


  1. Your blog is so inspirational. My 5 yr old is challenging me at the moment and I'm struggling to find ways to stimulate her and give her the attention she needs. This activity will be perfect.


  2. Are you using block letters because there aren't any sandpaper italic letters? I went with italic (Getty-Dubay, which is local to you guys! Love it, seriously.) They do recommend the sand tray in one book I have, but I don't know of any sandpaper letters. Some DIY would probably solve that though. A little late for me, wish I'd been more together on this back a few years ago!

  3. Sarah- I went with the block letters because we already had the Red Letter Book and that is how they are presented. We also have Getty Dubay Italic work book for our 6 year old. We call it her "calligraphy" book. Papa is her teacher with that subject. (He is OCD about lettering.) From me they get a hodgepodge of styles and it is evident in their writing. Handwriting is quickly becoming a lost art and we hope to instill an appreciation for it in our girls. But for now I am just happy if they write anything. DIY sandpaper letters are a great idea. I think you can order templates.

  4. That's what I figured! (That you had the book). I also had block lettering stuff from my mother -- I wish I had started with the Getty Dubay but I didn't even know about it then! If I have another, DIY getty-dubay letters are definitely on my list of things to do.

  5. Thanks for that suggestion- my 5 yr old is having trouble with writing his letters and I think the sand tray idea will be perfect. Less stress, because it's so much like playing in the sandbox!


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