Preparation for Writing

Children Ages 2 to 4+

Dr. Montessori believed that language development was a crucial component for supporting the child’s learning journey. She observed that children have the desire to form letters before they can learn how to read. Therefore, preparatory works in the Practical Life and Sensorial areas are offered to children ages 2 to 4 to prepare their hands and minds prior to writing and reading. When children show signs of readiness, the adult will witness what is called ‘an explosion into writing.’  The explosion into writing indicates that a child’s hands and mind are coordinated and at optimum level to produce written language.  Montessori materials


With my child, I have been focus on these preparatory works for the past months and have seen how the hands and mind aligned to allow for him to meet his needs during this critical period for writing development. In a Montessori environment, some of the works are presented in sequential order (Knobbed Cylinders Blocks, Metal Insets, etc…), while others are introduced based on a child’s needs and interests (screwing activities, push pins, etc….). In this post, you will find a short description of each material that directly or indirectly prepares children for writing. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is meant to illustrate how the Montessori materials consistently support a child’s development.

Sensorial Materials

The Sensorial area is a static area with specific calibrated materials that require precise craftsmanship. Through my experience, I have purchased sensorial materials from questionable manufacturers and I found out later that they were not properly calibrated. For instance, I couldn’t distinguish the weight of the baric tablets, the colors on Color Box 3, the pressure on the Pressure Cylinders, etc… I recommend you select your materials from a reputable manufacturer.

All the products suggested on this post are from Alison’s Montessori, which we use at home. Quality materials will guarantee you sensorial inputs that are clearly distinguished by the child’s senses. The materials below encompass direct and indirect aims. Direct aims are straightforward; the materials are designed to communicate directly with the child’s senses and help refine them. Indirect aims are more implicit. An experienced educator can anticipate the necessary prerequisites for developing a writing hand and find these benefits in sensorial materials. Many sensorial materials promote specific movements and hand/finger positioning that further reinforce a child’s ability to form letters and hold a writing device. The activities below are some examples to illustrate the way Sensorial materials contribute to a child’s hand and mind development:

Fabric BoxesFabric Boxes are excellent materials that require children to use a light touch with their fingers to feel the fabric. This skill will be transferred to the presentation on Sandpaper Letters. In effect, children must use a feather-like pressure of the fingers on the sandpaper in order to follow the course of the lines. They are, therefore; already familiar with the concept of touching lightly, which requires movement control and developed executive functioning.

Fabric Box 1

Rough and Smooth Boards – The Tactile Tablets and Tactile Tiles also contribute to the lightness of touch necessary for writing. The lightness of touch can be transferred to the pressure applied to a pencil when writing. Strong pressure on the pencil can lead to paper damage, fatigue, and frustration. The Tactile Tablets and Tactile Tiles also promote the ‘hand over surface’ position similar to the one used for writing.

Rough and Smooth Boards

Pressure Cylinders – The Pressure Cylinders also promote pressure exploration as the name states. They are also excellent at training the writing muscles used for writing. When writing, a child must apply pressure between the thumb and the index finger to hold a writing device such as a piece of chalk or a pencil.

Pressure Cylinders

Knobbed Cylinder Blocks – The Knobbed Cylinders are introduced to children as young as 12 months old! At around 2.5 years old, children are sequentially introduced to all four Knobbed Cylinders Blocks. The pegs located at the top of each cylinder offer such an opportunity for the child to practice the 3-pinch grip repeatedly. In addition to practicing other direct aims, the child spends a great deal of time with the hand/arm suspended over a horizontal surface, which helps develop brachial movements (shoulder muscling.)

Montessori Knobbed Cylinder Blocks
Credit: Picture from Alison’s Montessori (with permission)

Practical Life Materials

The Practical Life area is a dynamic, diverse, and cultural area in which the adult can use observation and creativity to decide on appropriate works which should be rotated at times.

Push Pin Exercise – What a great way to promote the 3-pinch grip! Every child is fascinated by Push Pinning activities. This exercise is quite diverse and can be used in conjunction with other content areas. For instance, if you are studying the continent of South America, you can offer a silhouette of the continent to push pin. The exercise promotes a higher concentration of attention while the hand receives further practice with the pincer grip and muscular reinforcement.

Montessori Push Pin Exercise
Credit: Picture from Alison’s Montessori (with permission)

Lacing – Observe a child lacing. Their wrists are in constant motion. Another prerequisite for writing is the flexibility of the wrist. Lacing ensures that the child is getting through a variety of wrist movements effortlessly. Our set below is a scaffolded series of lacing boards that help children learn to lace progressively and that also hold the children’s interest high.

Montessori Lacing Activity
Credit: Picture from Alison’s Montessori (with permission)

Graded Bolts Board – The Graded Bolts Board also gives children the chance to practice wrist movements. In addition, it is another work that requires a hand over a horizontal surface promoting writing hand positioning and brachial exercises.

Alison's Montessori

Nuts and Bolts #1 – Unlike the screwing materials as seen above, the Nuts and Bolts exercises Set #1 and Set #2 directly affect the fingers used for writing. In order to remove all the acorn and hex nuts, children must repeatedly roll them between their fingers. Children absolutely enjoy such activity! For the adult, it is a perfect opportunity to have children work on fine finger muscles and coordination. Montessori materials

Montessori Nuts and Bolts #1
Top: Graded Bolts Board
Bottom: Nuts and Bolts Board

Small Bead Sorting Set – Works such as the Pearl Transferring Exercise not only help with 3-pinch grip positioning and fingers inward pressure, it helps children develop the writing and reading track (from left to right.) Such work also help with refining hand separation, which is the physical capacity to separate the 3 pinch fingers from the ring and pinky fingers. This skill is a physical development of the hand necessary for writing. We offer different trays for Dry and Wet transfers as well: Marble Transferring Activity, Pearl Transferring Exercise, Ice Cube Transferring Set, Mixed Grain Transferring Set, Water Transferring Set with Mini Baster, Beans Pouring Activity Set, Pitcher to Pitcher Pouring Activity, Towel Wringing Set

Towel Wringing Set – The Towel Wringing exercise also exemplifies how Practical Life exercises play a role in preparing children’s hands and minds for writing. This exercise requires children to apply pressure in opposite directions (bilateral movements) to wring a towel. Children solicit their wrists and shoulders to work together in order to extract water from the towel. This works offers plenty of brachial movements, which help develop the shoulders area.

Montessori Pouring Activity
Bowl, Towel, Pitcher, and Sponge for Towel Wringing Activity
Credit: Picture from Alison’s Montessori (with permission)

Pre-Writing Materials

Geometric Cabinet – The Geometric Cabinet is often believed to have the sole purpose of learning geometric shapes. Dr. Montessori actually used the Geometric Cabinet as a Sensorial material to promote writing! In her book, Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, she describes how children learn the limits of lines by following the sharp edges of the insets and their respective frames. Children follow along the edges and learn how to navigate lines, curves, and sharp turns. As a result, they develop fine control of their movements, which skills are transferred to writing later.

The Geometric Cabinet
Geometric Cabinet
Credit: Picture from Alison’s Montessori (with permission)

Metal Insets – The Metal Insets are a continuation of the work with the Geometric Cabinet, with the difference being that children are now using a writing device such as colored pencils. Children can spend countless hours of work on the Metal Insets which is ideal for control of the movement with a writing utensil. This material is used closer to age 4 and is an essential material in a Montessori Language area.

Montessori Metal Insets
Metal Insets with Trays
Credit: Picture from Alison’s Montessori (with permission)

Sandpaper Letters – The Sandpaper Letters are first introduced as a motor exercise before being used to teach the sounds that letters make. Children are invited to sensitize their fingers before running them through the Sandpaper Letters. Memory muscling occurs when moving fingers through the letter, which sends strong sensory inputs. Later, children have already experienced the course that a pencil will take to form letters.

Sand Tray – The Sand Tray is another exciting material used after children have worked with the Sandpaper Letters. The Sand Tray is used to endlessly trace shapes. It contains a colored backing which is revealed when a child traces shapes (point of interest.)

The Sand Tray
Sand Tray
Credit: Picture from Alison’s Montessori (with permission)

Greenboards – The Green Boards are a series of 4 boards that consists of a board with no lines, a board with squares, a board with lines at equal distance, and a board with lines closer together. Before writing on paper, children are gradually be introduced to the 4 Green Boards. Their designs allow children to refine their letters formation through a narrowing process. Using chalk sends a sensory input that further consolidates memorization.

Green Boards
GreenBoards
Credit: Picture from Alison’s Montessori (with permission)

Pre-Writing Boards – In addition to all the Montessori materials presented above, we would like to share our newly create Pre-Writing Board #1 and Pre-Writing Board #2. Pre-Writing Board #1 consists of linear patterns that guide the learning writing hand using a stylus. It is ideal for training the hand to make connected letters such as in cursive writing. Again, repetition helps make the motion of the hand fluid, light, and steady. The material promotes the 3-pinch grip, as well as the reading track (from left to right.)

Pre-Writing Boards
Pre-writing Board #1

I hope this post brought you lots of inspiration to provide your child meaningful activities that will help her be prepared for a potential emerging interest in writing. If this interest isn’t showing, it is possible that the child’s interest resides elsewhere. Your task is to offer choices, to observe, and adapt!

This post has been made possible thanks to Alison’s Montessori for providing me with the materials needed to demonstrate that it is possible to offer a meaningful Montessori experience at home. I write honest reviews with the intention to share my homeschooling experience and inspire others to trust the Montessori method to provide children with a respectful learning experience.

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Montessori materials

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