The child traces the letter while giving the sound.

The Sandpaper Letters

The Sandpaper Letters

Roberta Frosolini


The child develops a muscular impression of the letter shapes.


  • Develop a visual impression and muscular memory of the letter shapes
  • Learn the phonic sound and the writing direction of the letter shapes




  • Lower-case letters cut out in the finest sandpaper and mounted on card (vowels on blue cards, consonants on pink)
  • A container for the letter cards


The phonic sounds associated with the letters

Control of Error

The difference between the rough and smooth surface of the card


In the Montessori method, the sound of the letters is taught before their name. The letter sounds are taught in the three following steps.

(Maria Montessori suggests that you and the child wash hands before starting to clean and “sensitize” your fingertips.)

Step 1. Choose two or three letters that differ in sound and shape and place them face down on the table. Select the first letter and trace over it while giving the sound. Trace the letter a second time. Now, let the child have a turn. Do the same with the other letters.

The muscular memory is the most tenacious in a small child and is also the readiest. —Maria Montessori in The Discovery of the Child

Step 2. For a second time, you place the three letters in front of the child and, one letter at a time, you may ask: “Can you trace and show me ‘s’?” Repeat this with the second and the third letter.

Step 3. Once the child is able to associate the sounds with the letters effectively, place the three letters in front of her and ask her to trace and give you the sound. While pointing to the letters, you may ask: “Which is this?”

At this stage the child may wear a blindfold while performing this exercise.


You may like to make the letter cards by yourself. A good quality card and the finest sandpaper will make the letter cards last longer. Drawing a line at the bottom of the card will help the child know which direction the letter goes.

Prepare a tray with fine sand and offer the child plenty of opportunities to practice with the letter formation.

Tracing the letter direction can also be practiced on a small chalk board.

You can also play sound games, such as Simon Says… or you can just invite the children to think of words, giving them their initial sounds.

You may prompt them by saying: “Can you think of/find anything starting with the sound…?”