At an early age the child meets the alphabetical symbols by using sandpaper letters. By using the material, the child sees the shape, feels the shape, and learns the sound of the letter, to which the teacher repeats the phonetic sounds of the letters before he or she learns the alphabetical names in sequence.
After the child has learned the phonics and shape of the alphabet with the help of the Sandpaper Letters, the child is ready to make words with the large Movable Alphabet. For this activity, the teacher prepares a box of toys representing three letter words with the short vowel sound, such as a “bed”, a “lid”, a “fan”, and a “cup.” First the child selects an object, such as the bed, and says the name of it very slowly so the child can hear each sound, b…e…d. The child then selects the letter to represent the first sound and places it beside the object on a mat.
To build the motor skills to write with a pencil the child in a Montessori classroom learns to control a pencil by filling in outlines, an activity which does not weary the child because he or she enjoys it. To make the outline, the child uses equipment known as 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 their own choosing.
After the child has worked for a while with Metal Insets and the Sandpaper Letters, a day comes when the child realizes he or she is able to make words with a pencil. Montessori called this phenomenon the “explosion into writing” (Montessori, 1967, p. 84).