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The Montessori sandpaper letters are used in the language curriculum to teach phonic recognition of the letters. The preschool child sensitizes his fingers, then traces the letter while saying the phonic sound. The path that he follows is the same followed in proper formation of the letter in handwriting exercises. He traces the letter over and over again. The stereognostic experience imprints the formation into the child's being.
Further practice can be done with the sandpaper letters. Using a tray filled with sand or cornmeal, the child can trace the sandpaper letter, then try to recreate the shape in the tray. He can also trace the letter in shaving cream, or along the outside of a ziploc bag filled with colored paint.
When he is ready to use a pencil, the child can also trace the sandpaper letter, then try to recreate it on paper.
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Writing numerals is much more difficult for some children than writing letters. In the Montessori math area, she created sandpaper numerals. They are similar to the sandpaper letters, in that they are used to identify the numerals from 0 - 9. They are also presented in the same fashion that the numerals are written, again stereognostically imprinting their formation on the child.
Supplemental activities are the same for the sandpaper letters: tracing in a sand tray, shaving cream, or on a bag of paint, and later taking pencil to paper.
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The metal insets are the Montessori materials that refine the child's pencil control. They are made up of stencil-like metal frames in the following shapes: circle, ellipse, oval, curvilinear triangle, quatrefoil, square, rectangle, triangle, trapezoid, and pentagon. Each frame also has a metal inset with a tiny knob that fits inside.
The paper that is used with the metal inset activities is cut 5 1/2" x 5 1/2", the same size as the actual frames. This way the child worries less about holding the paper steady when commencing with these activities.
The first presentations are of using one colored pencil with one frame. The circle, being the simplest shape, is often demonstrated first. Deliberate emphasis of properly holding the pencil is given by using the subdominant hand to place the pencil into the three-finger grip of the dominant hand.
Starting at the 2 o'clock point on the shape, the child moves around the frame counterclockwise, in the same direction used in actual letter formation. The metal frame helps her maintain control over her movements.
After the child has mastered tracing the frame, she begins to practice making lines inside the shapes. She makes vertical strokes, connecting the top of the shape to the bottom, and horizontal strokes, connecting the left side to the right. These strokes are commonly used when writing letter and numerals.
For fun, and further pencil control skill development, she can also start making spirals by moving the frame a few centimeters in any direction around the paper, then tracing the shape again. Other shapes can be overlapped, with patterns of vertical and horizontal lines drawn in the newly formed shapes within.
Later, the child uses the pincer grasp with the subdominant hand to hold the metal inset as she traces around it. She tries to match up the inset tracing to the frame tracing, each one represented by another color. She can also practice coloring in the shapes, staying with in the lines.
Work with the metal insets is highly encouraged prior to the preschooler receiving any formal handwriting training.
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Montessori Materials Teach Handwriting Skills
Maria Montessori developed specific materials to teach handwriting skills to young children. Her sandpaper letters and numerals use the stereognostic sense to imprint the correct path of formation into the child's brain. Her metal insets provide a way to teach and refine the child's pencil control.
Montessori Materials that Teach Writing to Preschoolers
Within the Montessori classroom, there are numerous activities that prepare the child's hand for writing. Initial activities are found in the Practical Life area. More can be found in the art area. Finally, Maria developed a few manipulative activities also used to prepare the hand for writing.