Montessori Activities for Toddlers — Sandpaper Letters

The way Montessori teaches letters is very different than the way it is taught in traditional schools.  I think the Montessori way makes a lot more sense, and I have seen how it allows very young children to begin sounding out words for themselves at a very young age.

Rather than teaching the alphabet song, Montessori teaches letters phonetically.  Instead of saying the name of the letter (who came up with those?!), we say what the letter sounds like.  Montessori also teaches lower case letters first.  Why?  Look at this text.  How many upper case letters do you see compared to lower case?

The first language work for teaching letters is the Sandpaper Letters basket.  For toddlers, you start with just four letters (3 consonants and a vowel).  I’ve always had a, s, t, and m in  my first sandpaper letter basket.  I bought the full set of sandpaper letters here, and I will pull out different letters when the first ones have been mastered.

sandpaper letters 2

To present this work, you first trace the shape of each letter while making its sound.  You can do this in the form of a three period lesson.  In the first period, you trace the letter and make the sound.  In the second period, you say, “Where is /a/ (the sound, short first for vowels)?”  and the child must point to the correct letter.  In the third period, you point to one letter and say, “What is this?” and the child must say the correct sound.  L is able to complete the second period but not the third yet.  In the classroom, I would stop there until the sounds were mastered.  At home, I do it a bit differently.

sandpaper letters 3

I’ve noticed that L is very interested in repeating sounds that I make, so I added the extension to this work a little early.  I put in one small animal that begins with each of the letters.  After we trace each letter, we take out an animal and make the sound it begins with.  For example, I say, “/a/, /a/, alligator.  Alligator starts with /a/.”  We repeat that with each letter.

sandpaper letters 4

This is a neat little hack I learned from a Primary teacher at one of my schools — you can make a “phone” using PVC pipes to help the child hear the sound clearly.


The Sandpaper Letters are a precursor to writing.  Tracing the rough sandpaper lets the child feel the shape of each letter even before she is ready to write.


The order of presentation for the sandpaper letters that I follow is:

First basket:   a  s  t  m

Second basket:   c  r  i  p

Third basket:   b  f  o  g

Fourth basket:   h  j  u  l

Fifth basket:    d  w  e  n

Sixth basket:   k  q  v  x  y  z


14 thoughts on “Montessori Activities for Toddlers — Sandpaper Letters

  1. Thanks I love the phone idea. I read this because I’m interested in education theory because my youngest is 12. But I have just been given what could be a valuable too for my 21 year old with speech difficulties and my 12 year old with speech & reading problems. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. My Little Bear has been fascinated with letters for a while now, although he is recognising more capitals as his interest started by looking at peoples names on cards, shop signs, etc. I have also been teaching him phonetically, it makes so much more sense!

  3. I love this! My son is almost 4 and I haven’t been able to find a way to teach him his ABC’S that work. I’m homeschooling him, so you get a big FOLLOW from me! Thanks for sharing your ideas!!!!!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this idea. I have made the phone fr my little one who is currently struggling with long sounds. One go and we are already doing an amazing job of ‘f’. I’m going to borrow my friends ‘sandy letters’ to practice some other sounds. She was so pleased that she could hear herself saying the sound correctly.

  5. Such a simple and beautiful explanation. Makes it so clear for even a layman like me. How old is your daughter. Mine is 19 months.. so when should we start this?

    1. She is almost 2 and a half, but each child is different. I would start once your child is speaking clearly and is interested in repeating new words and sounds that she hears in her day to day life.

  6. The sandpaper letters sounds like a great way to teaching writing. And that PVC phone is a cool idea too. Thank you!

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