Sensorial Preparation for Writing
Many of the sensorial exercises, by their very nature, are a remote preparation for academic learning. For example, the child who has learned to listen carefully will be able to perceive
subtle differences in the sounds of the letters. Of equal importance to language, skills are the geometric materials, which help the child to concentrate on different shapes.
Learning to write
To be able to write, a child must develop a two-fold skill
. He must commit to memory the shape of the letters and their corresponding sounds, and
he must develop the muscular skill necessary for using the pencil with control.
For a child to try to acquire both aspects of this skill at the same time is often discouraging and frustrating. It is extremely difficult for him to try to learn the path for making the letters at the same time that he is trying to learn hoe to move the pencil with control.
The materials which Dr. Montessori designed offer the child the opportunity to learn the shapes and sounds of the letters in a way that is completely independent from his perfection of the motor skill. The child, therefore, in the Montessori classroom learns to write not by writing
but by performing a number of purposefully structured activities which prepare him both indirectly and directly for facility in handwriting.
Learning the shapes of the letters with the sandpaper letters
The child meets the alphabetical symbols by using the Sandpaper Letters
. Each letter of the alphabet is outlined in sandpaper on an individual card, the vowels on blue and consonants on red.
The teacher shows the child how to trace the letters with two fingers following the same direction in which the symbol is normally written.
Use of this material gives the child a three-fold impression-he sees the shape, he feels the shape, and he hears the sound of the letter which the teacher repeats when introducing it.
The fact that the letter is made of sandpaper, rather than ink, invites the child to trace the shape. This is an important step in learning to write. The repetition of this exercise fixes the path of each of the letters in the child’s muscular memory.
Learning the sounds of the letters with the sandpaper letters
In a Montessori classroom, the child learns the phonetic sounds of the letters before
he learns the alphabetical names in sequence.
The phonetic sounds are given first because these are the sounds he hears in words.
The child first becomes aware of these phonetic sounds when the teacher introduces the consonants with the Sandpaper Letters.
Perfecting the Motor Skills with the Metal Insets
The child in a Montessori classroom learns to control a pencil by filling in outlines—an activity which does not weary her because she enjoys it. To make the outline, she uses equipment known as the Metal Insets
Each inset represents a different geometric shape.
After selecting a figure and tracing it on paper, the child fills in the outline with a colored pencil of her own choosing.
At first her strokes are erratic and often extend beyond the outline. By degrees they become more accurate and uniform. Progress in muscular control can be noted by comparing the child’s designs from week to week and from month to month.
Eventually she makes more intricate designs by superimposing two or three other shapes on the original figure. When colored, this effort resembles a stained glass window.
Crayons and paint are not used for this activity because the purpose is always pencil controlled.