Sandpaper letters are traditionally used in a Montessori education, but can be easily incorporated whether you follow Montessori principles or not.
Montessori letters provide a tactile, sensory experience for children. These sandpaper letters provide and excellent opportunity for children to learn and understand the letters beginning at a young age.
What are Montessori sandpaper letters?
The sandpaper letters used in Montessori education are found on wooden squares, typically 6.25 x 4.75 inches in diameter. Each letter is created using high-grit sandpaper in either cursive or print.
Vowels are presented on a blue background, with consonants on a pink background to help differentiate.
Here are a few examples of Montessori sandpaper letters:
How are sandpaper letters used in Montessori?
Maria Montessori included the use of sandpaper letters in her methods because she found that children were able to better learn and internalize the alphabet. Sandpaper letters engage three sense: visual, auditory and tactile.
In contrast to the typical method of letter learning, where children see the letter and are asked to memorize it, Montessori letters require children to engage with the letters in various ways.
How to Introduce Montessori Letters
In the Montessori method, children first trace the letter with their finger, feeling its shape on sandpaper. Next, they learn the sound the letter makes, rather than its name. For example, the letter B is not identified as “Bee”, but rather, with the sound it makes – “buh”.
Finally, they put this knowledge in place by engaging in letter matching and object sorting based on the look and sound of each letter.
Sand paper letters are typically introduced in groups of three or less. Montessori students learn lower case letters first, and often learn cursive before print as well.
Once sandpaper letters have been mastered, the Montessori moveable alphabet can be used to help students practice.
What age should you introduce sandpaper letters?
While there is no set age to which children need to begin working with Montessori sandpaper letters, Maria Montessori suggests beginning to introduce letters during the sensitive period for reading and writing.
Most children are ready for an introduction to sandpaper letters around the age of 4.
It is also worth noting that in the Montessori method, reading always comes before writing. Children first learn the sounds of the letters and then begin matching those sounds with objects. This knowledge gradually transitions to reading and creating different words using the Montessori moveable alphabet before they even begin trying to write.
What Montessori letters should be taught first?
If you are using sandpaper letters within the true Montessori method, you’ll notice that one main difference is that the letters are not introduced in alphabetical order.
Rather, the letters are taught phonetically, based on their sounds. While there is no set, specific order that needs to be followed, the letters are most commonly introduced in some variation of the following order.
Montessori letter order:
- Set one: c, m, a, t
- Set two: s, r, i, p
- Set three: b, f, o, g
- Set four: h, j, u, l
- Set five: d, w, e, n, k
- Set six: q, v, x, y, z
In a traditional Montessori setting, children learn cursive first, before print. The reasoning behind this is that cursive letters are much easier to trace, since there is only one starting place with no starting or stopping points within the letter.
However, many Montessori settings now introduce print sandpaper letters first. When introducing Montessori letters to your child at home, you have a choice as to which alphabet you choose to introduce.
Three Period Lesson for Montessori Sandpaper Letters
The Montessori three period lesson provides a structure that parents and educators follow when it comes to introducing topics or skills of any kind.
A three period lesson first introduces the new vocabulary or skill, provides children with many opportunities to practice the skill, and then allows children to demonstrate their mastery.
Montessori letters are typically introduced in a three period lesson, which would look as follows:
- Introduce the letters: finger tracing with letter sound. Parents or teachers first demonstrate how to trace the sandpaper letters with their fingers while making the sound, and then the child tries to replicate.
- Identify the letters: find the letters based on their sounds. A parent or teacher makes a letter sound and asks the child to find the letter.
- Memory of the letters: identify the correct sound based on the letter. Parents or teachers place a letter in front of the child and ask them to make the correct sound.
Alphabet Activities Using Sandpaper Letters
The Montessori three part lesson is used when introducing and practicing every single letter. Once children have achieved mastery and are able to recall the letters based on simply seeing them, there are many activities they can use to practice their knowledge in a fun way.
After sandpaper letters have been mastered, the Montessori moveable alphabet can be very helpful to create various games and activities.
Here are a few alphabet activities your child could try to practice their knowledge of sandpaper letters.
- Tracing sandpaper letters with fingers
- Playing with sound baskets (baskets with the letter + objects that begin with the letter)
- Creating sound baskets (finding items to place in a basket that begin with the given letter)
- Organizing the letters in alphabetical order
- Matching items with the corresponding sandpaper letter
- Matching moveable alphabet letters with the corresponding sandpaper letter
Whether you plan for your child to receive a Montessori education or not, sandpaper letters can be an incredibly effective way to introduce the alphabet to your child.
You can choose to invest in Montessori letters or are make your own sandpaper letters, but either way, your children will benefit from a sensory learning experience.
Using sandpaper letters is a great way to practice new concepts in various different ways, encouraging full mastery early on.