It seems no matter the ethnic background, cultural upbringing, lifestyle or language spoken at home, there is something special about seeing your child hold a pencil and “writing”. It must be a parent thing. However, there is so much more that needs to happen before this to prepare the child and more importantly prepare those little muscles for lifelong skills such as writing. (I’m really trying not to digress into fine motor and pincer grasp, a topic I absolutely can’t get enough of). One of my favorite Montessori written language materials/tools are the sandpaper letters. You can read more about what they are and how to use them here. As a part of our multi-lingual Indian language(s) (Gujarati, and now Hindi) immersion at home, we DIY’ed our very own sandpaper letters. I hope this inspires others who are multi-lingual to make their own and carry on the beauty of their own mother tongue. I will link to more resources below to make your own sandpaper letters.
The sandpaper letters accompanied with the sand tray have been the two simplest tools in our home to help promote oral & written language. They are such inviting and interesting materials, even the younger brothers just can’t resist!
It was only after reading more about Maria Montessori’s approach to language development, I came to understand that from a child’s perspective, holding a pencil is a LOT of work. There are so many other amazing things that those ity, bity hands can and should be doing to build that confidence, strength, and coordination (still really trying not to jump into fine motor, maybe a post for another time) in preparation to writing. Materials like these have really been a great way to introduce writing and develop prewriting skills without the pressure of holding a traditional writing tool like a pencil or crayon.
It’s amazing to see how as they trace the tactile letters their brain is really imprinting those shapes in their mind. There is visual, muscular and sensorial learning happening. You can see Big Brother (my oldest son, 4 years old) in action below processing what he is feeling on the Gujarati sandpaper letters and then jogging his memory as he traces it onto the sand tray. First tracing the Gujarati sandpaper letter /k/. Then using his fingers to trace it into the sand. Since he is already using other writing tools, sometimes he will choose a pencil and paper or chalk to do traditional writing instead of in the sand tray.
Big Brother speaks and reads in Gujarati at home but we are focusing more on writing these days. In the last six months, we have seen so much more detail and interest in coloring, drawing, tracing and so on. His natural interest had always been in books and reading, so we followed his lead. He was a natural reader by 3, and now, as his Guide (teacher) beautifully explained, his body is trying to catch up to his mind. And in his case, his multi-lingual mind. It must be doing translations and processing so much all day long! It really is all so beautiful to slow down and see. Montessori’s approach has reminded me that there really is no rush when it comes to developing a skill. It is the process, which is allowing them to master it, not the skill itself. So remember, holding a pencil and writing beautifully will come but the steps in between are just as special and so important.
Are you inspired to make your own? Here are some wonderful DIY resources that helped me along the way. And know, my first set of DIY “sandpaper” letters were 3×5 index cards with puffy painted letters on them, to give the same tactile feeling (as seen below). So, so simple!
We did the same thing below with numbers but used vinyl on wood. You can click to the right on the picture below to see the video.