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Introducing the Montessori Sandpaper Letters at Home

The Montessori language materials for 3 to 6 year olds are so amazing! They breaks down the process of learning to write and read so beautifully. And each material meets a child exactly where they are at that moment. As you may know, I've been sharing parts of Gus' journey with Montessori reading and writing and how we are support that journey at home. And, finally, we've reached the sandpaper letters! 

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The sandpaper letters are a Montessori activity that can help your child learn the alphabet and start to read.

I actually introduced the sandpaper letters to Gus late last autumn right around the time he turned 3-years-old. It was my hope that we would work through them together through the school year and then he would have a solid foundation moving into Children's House this year. Well, then Covid happened, and he did get some work with them, but not as much as I was envisioning. So, he is still working with them today (although in a slightly different capacity - I'll share how soon!) 

We use cursive sandpaper letters here at home because at school they are introduced to cursive first. I'm also a firm believer in the power of cursive for other reasons. But print is also a totally valid choice. I think it's more important to just stick with one or the other as you introduce then it is exactly which you introduce. Sandpaper letters are also a super easy DIY! 

To introduce I used the Montessori 3-period lesson to introduce a couple of the letters at a time. If you aren't familiar with the 3-period lesson, in a super nutshell:
  • First Period: the adult says the name of the item being introduced and lays it in front of the child
  • Second Period: the adult asks the child to identify (either by pointing to it or by handing it to the adult) one of the objects that the adult introduced in the first period. Here the child is not asked to verbally identify the item
  • Third Period: the child is directly asked what the name of the object in front of them is
Depending on the child and the work being presented, you might move through all the stages in a 3-period lesson all in one presentation. Or, you might only move through part of it and return to the work for the further stages when the child is ready for more. 

So with the sandpaper letters with Gus, it looked like this: 
  • First period: "Gus, I want to show you something very special! Come join me at the table. These are the sandpaper letters, they each make a different sound. This is /m/" Then place the letter M (which I only identify by it's sound) on the table and slowly trace it with two fingers. "/m/" I repeat the sound one or two more times while tracing it, then go to the next letter. "This is /p/ ... /p/" I would continue until my small stack of letters was gone, again, usually 2-3 at a time. AND LETTER SOUNDS ONLY. 

  • Second Period: "Gus, let's play a game!  Can you point to the /m/? You found it! Would you like to trace it?" Then he would. This would continue for a few minutes highlighting each of the letters that I was introducing. On my first introduction of a new letter I would end by asking him to hand me the letter and then I would pack them away. I only moved on to the third period when I had a pretty good feeling that he would be able to have some success in recognizing and saying the sound. 

  • Third Period: With all the sandpaper letters laid out in front of Gus, I would point to one of the letters and say "Which letter is this?" If Gus answered correctly I would say, "yes, this is /p/!" and then I would trace it and offer him a chance to trace. If he answered incorrectly I would instead say "I have the /m/" and then trace and offer him a chance. Then we would continue to repeat until I could tell he was done with the work. 
I introduced new letters every week or so, following his cues. I would place the letters on the shelf in a small pile on a tray. In a classroom, they might be displayed so they could all more easily be seen. We just didn't have that kind of room here at home. 

And, that's it! That's how we introduce sandpaper letters here at home! In my next post, I'll share some of the follow up work that I used with Gus to help him return to the sandpaper letters without as much adult influence. 

The sandpaper letters are a Montessori activity that can help your child learn the alphabet and start to read.

Have you introduced sandpaper letters at home? Did your children like them?


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