In the Primary Montessori classroom, children learn the sounds of the alphabet using the sandpaper letters. Beginning around age 3 each child is introduced to a few letters sounds at a time until they have mastered a good portion of the alphabet. Using the sandpaper letters, they trace the letter as it would be written while making the sound of the letter. They see, feel, and hear the sound as it is being pronounced. The shape of the letter becomes part of their muscle memory. The Primary children learn through touch and not memorization.
Dr. Montessori found that children were capable of encoding words months before they developed the hand-eye coordination needed to control a pencil. Words are built using the movable alphabet using objects or pictures representing a cat, bug, mat, etc. The child will sound out the letters and begin to build the words. They will naturally write larger words until their fine motor skills strengthen.
During the time children compose words with the moveable alphabet, they are practicing concentration and body control with the Practical Life and Sensorial materials. Letters are being written in sand, with chalk, and even water against chalkboards. These materials allow for practice without the frustration of writing on paper with an eraser. They are then introduced to the metal insets, which offers practice in pencil control, lightness of touch, as well as design qualities. It is the three materials; sandpaper letters, moveable alphabet, and the metal insets, which are the core of the handwriting and word building curriculum for the three and four-year-old.
The Kindergarten students begin using specially lined writing paper during their Kindergarten year. This helps with establishing where each letter sits on the line. Their writing naturally becomes smaller and formation improves. The Kindergarten students practice handwriting daily.
The handwriting sequence in the Primary classroom prepares a child’s mind and hand to be able to write. After a child has learned to write letters and words, practice and development exercises will help them improve their handwriting as they progress into their elementary years. Their writing will become legible, beautiful, and unique. Each child will learn to write but each does so in their own way. Uniqueness is fixed when the mechanism of writing is well established. Once a handwriting style is set, it tends to remain fairly well intact throughout adulthood thus highlighting how important the handwriting process and preparations are so this childhood acquisition will be correctly set.