Our Language Sequence for Early Writing… Part Two
This past summer I wrote in detail about our Language Sequence for Early Reading and Writing. It was very heavy on the reading side and very light on the writing side. Honestly, other than sandpaper letters and the moveable alphabet, there is no overlap in the two sequences. Since we are moving through the parallel sequences of reading and writing in our Montessori homeschool preschool, I thought I would take time to share what the early writing sequence looks like in our home.
Quick note: in the traditional approach, writing is taught before reading. Children learn their letter names and are taught print. In Montessori, we start with what the children already know, sounds. We play sound games and then move into the sandpaper letters where the focus remains on the sounds as the correlation between sound and letter is taught with the tactile exploration of the letter. Children are often taught cursive first as opposed to print because of it’s accessibility. It requires less fine motor skill than printing, results in less letter reversal/confusion, and printing is easily picked up later (whereas cursive is not as easily picked up later).
Montessori Early Writing Sequence Outline
- Pre-Writing Activities
- Sandpaper Letters & Moveable Alphabet
- Metal Insets (parallel to sandpaper letters)
- Large Chalkboard on Easel/large chalk and itty-bitty chalk (parallel to sandpaper letters)
- Sand Tray
- Blank small chalkboard
- Letter Families (Waseca)
- Square board with lines (Waseca)
- Sorting Symbols
- Writing on Paper
- Upper and Lower Case Letters
- Capital letters, periods, commas, and question marks (5.5 and on/middle of year three or Kindergarten year)
- Spelling Work (Will likely proceed or overlap with Waseca language work)
- Waseca Language Work
- Creative Writing (Haiku prompt)
In Montessori we focus on building the strength of the entire hand before we begin to introduce writing. Through both practical life and sensorial work, we build the child’s focus and coordination. Sensorial activities lay the ground work for reading, writing, math, and science exploration. The activities are incredibly intentional and often include fine motor work (the little knobs on the cylinders or the puzzles for example). Practical life is full of both fine motor and gross motor work. Some of the trays/activities we provided for practical life that prepare the hand to write are: chunky crayons, painting, sidewalk chalk, cutting and snipping activities, geoboard, peeling activities (think bananas, oranges, stickers, paper, and tape), hand crank paper shredder, early sowing work, working with tools such as nuts and bolts, screw drivers, and wrenches, using an apple slicer, lock and key, pin punching, the dressing frames, and transfer and pouring activities are all excellent pre-writing work.
Sandpaper Letters & Moveable Alphabet
The sandpaper letters are a fantastic pre-writing and pre-reading activity. They are the first step in bridging the concrete understanding of sounds that children already have of their language to the abstract concept of written symbols. From a writing perspective, they serve to build muscle memory of the shape of the letter. You will see your child organically begin to write letters (or something very close!) on their own as they work through the sandpaper letters and they may begin to be very interested in how to write (if they are not already). The parallel work to the sandpaper letters are the metal insets. (more on those below) but you can also model handwriting anytime the child requests and set up invitations to write (or trays depending on your space) as well. At this point in the sequence we are not teaching formal handwriting. We are just letting the child explore to their interest while they learn the sandpaper letters.
The moveable alphabet is the first expression of creative writing that the child will engage in. Once the sandpaper letters are mastered (the child consistently brings the correct sandpaper letter when requested), then the moveable alphabet is introduced. The child will be spelling phonetically and writing his or her thoughts. I go through how to trouble shoot if this is not occurring here. At this point we are promoting creativity not correcting spelling or even guiding the child’s writing. We are just holding space and giving invitations to create freely.
I go into more detail on these materials in our overview of the reading sequence here and how to present the sandpaper letters plus games to play with them to keep them fresh here.
The is the first formal training for writing and it is not letter focused. The hand is not quite ready to practice letters yet. Instead, this material teaches the proper way to hold a pencil and promotes motor control while creating familiarity with the curves and angles found in letters. This material is used in both 3-6 and 6-12 so it will be on our writing shelves for years to come. I go into more detail on how to present, the exercises, and extension activities for these here.
Large Chalkboard on Easel
Our easel is a frequently used item in our home and has been since we got it for our oldest almost three years ago. Both girls love to draw, paint, and write. It is a great way to allow exploring writing for children that are interested but are not quite ready for the fine motor movements of writing. We provide both large, sidewalk chalk and the small itty bitty chalk (we grabbed ours here from learning without tears). The big chalk is easy and builds confidence. The small, itty bitty chalk bits are perfect for promoting proper pincer grasp. Because of our daughter’s interest in writing her name (and occasionally other things) we have recently set up invitations to write on this chalk board. I’ll will write something like her name, then create a space to trace and leave out chalk or water + a paint brush. She has really enjoyed doing this and requests it sometimes now.
Sand Tray (parallel to the sandpaper letters)
This is an extension of the sandpaper letters. It allows your child to begin tracing the shape of the sandpaper letters they are familiar with in the sand with their fingers first, and then with a stylus once they are consistently doing this well. We have had a sand tray on the shelf for drawing in the past but have not used it for writing yet. We will be through all the initial presentation of all the letters (both single and double) and still exploring them after this week so I plan to add this to the shelf soon!
Blank small chalkboard
We grabbed this chalkboard to use for this activity. This will be the first introduction to writing individual letters that we do. We will explore single letters initially with the small chalkboard. This is introduced once the child has mastered sandpaper letters and has done the preparatory work by making of few of the letters in sand with the stylus. This is the presentation we will use (blank square board). After the initial presentation, encourage the child to continue practicing from time to time.
Letter families (Waseca)
After the child has had some time with the blank small chalkboard, then we move to letter families. I grabbed the cursive boards from Waseca. They are grouped by stroke families. Each letter has an accompanying story to help the child remember the motions for its strokes. These stories come from Waldorf education, but Waseca has created a Montessori follow up activity with their cursive boards. I love our set and I can’t wait until this is on the shelf after the new year.
Square board with lines (Waseca)
For our square board with lines, we will be using the cursive boards from Waseca. There are five chalkboards for lettering practice. One side has the letters from the same stroke family to trace, and the other side is blank. We will use the 3rd presentation here for the blank side.
Sorting Symbols (parallel to the work with chalkboards)
After I have introduced two or more of the stories that go with the letter families I will will introduce the sorting symbols activity as a follow up. There is more than one presentation that go with this section. One is to sort the sandpaper letters by letter family. The second is to sort the moveable alphabet on a chalkboard (these are parallel activities). The third is sorting by placement on paper or chalkboard with lines. Once you have introduced alphabetical order (this is after sound and letter association is mastered. You can read more about this here and here), you can also sort by alphabetical order.
Writing on paper
In Montessori, the beginning writing paper is pink and white with lines. This shows the child where the letter should fit. Some letters, like c, will fit on the strip of pink. Some letters, like b, will extend into the white. We will be using the presentation found here. If you are teaching print first, you may like this presentation (although both presentations work for practicing single letters in cursive or print). Once the child has had some practice You can find a free download for the beginning writing paper here and here. You can also purchase in bulk from Viking but I’m leaning towards printing our own.
Upper and Lower Case Letters
These are a set of cards that can be hand made (I plan to simply handwrite mine) that show both the capital and lower case letter. We will learn each of the capital letters with the three period lesson (3 at a time like the sandpaper letters) and then begin to practice the letters on chalkboards or writing paper.
Capital Letters, Periods, Commas and Question Marks
These are set of grammar lessons that teach capital letters + periods, commas, and question marks. This is done very conversationally and hands on after that. We will be using the presentations on Info Montessori found here.
This is simply a box containing laminated cards with samples of writing. This should be a mix of different things (ideas here) that will be both new and old for the child. Something familiar alongside of beautiful sayings or poems for example. We will be doing the presentation found here.
This work is very similar to transcription. In fact, it is simply a conversation that happens with the transcription cards. Spelling at this point is not corrected by the teacher. Instead, there is a self correcting element that comes with the act of transcribing. This presentation gives some great ideas for conversationally drawing attention to things and for teaching the child to self evaluate/self correct.
Waseca Language Work
This is a beautiful work that creates a way to work on spelling further without correcting. It is a self correcting work that the child practices. I am back and forth on whether or not we will dive into something like this in primary (3-6). I am also back and forth on whether or not I would DIY this or not. Still on the fence. Will update this when I decide BUT if I include it in primary, this is where we would plug it in towards the end of the school year next year. It may not be necessary. It also may not be something our daughters are ready for in Primary. This of course will likely vary by child as well.
At this point, the child will have been writing creatively since beginning to play with the moveable alphabet. They will have written stories and perhaps some poetry but we are going to take it to the next level by introducing the concept of a Haiku. IF we have space in the 3-6 classroom, we will do this then, if not, this will be a fun thing to plug into the creative writing work in early elementary as well. Info Montessori has a great presentation for this.
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