The Path to Writing


Young children are often cognitively ready to express themselves through the written word, but have not yet developed their fine motor skills enough to write beautifully themselves. But how do we isolate the cognitive from the physical when it comes to written expression?

Dr Montessori’s insight was that by using printed “movable alphabets”, we can allow children to express themselves with the written word without yet engaging in the physical act of writing! Children as young as 3 can start constructing words phonetically, without worrying about the shape or form of the letters just yet.

This provides the cognitive & expressive practice the child needs, without overwhelming their hands with the physical effort they are not yet ready for. As with other materials, the movable alphabets illuminate a key Montessori principle: to isolate a single, specific concept for the child to thoroughly master — in the case, the skill of word-building.

Muscle Memory In Writing


Maria Montessori famously said, “What the hand does, the mind remembers”. The hand reports to the brain; the brain guides the hand; the cycle continues, resulting in the development of the intellect.

Thus, while learning to write, it is important to not jump too quickly into pen-paper work before building and refining the child’s muscle memory using their hands. The “sandpaper” letters give the child a concrete, tactile experience that helps imprint alphabet patterns in the brain.

In this case, this child is working towards mastering his understanding the letter “v” by tracing the corresponding sandpaper letter. This is critically important preparation before the child physically engages in writing the letter on paper or slates (and the coarse sandpaper is very enjoyable to run their fingers through!).

The Arts in Montessori


The arts represent the primal human need for communication beyond just words. Our earliest human societies valued music, dance, painting and theatre for this very reason: sometimes non-verbal modes of communication provide a more nuanced, enriched route to representing and sharing our thoughts and feelings.

For early learners, the arts can provide a deeply meaningful medium for expressing themselves on paper (as they literally don’t yet have the words!). The powerful feeling experienced by a young child on using artwork to communicate meaning provides deep motivation for the more abstract art that soon follows: that of writing.

To provide an opportunity for this to happen, Montessori educators integrate the arts throughout the classroom, both formally (through materials such as the Metal Insets) and in a more unstructured manner (an attractive set of crayons and paper, with no expectations on end product).

Sometimes, the latter is especially powerful, as in the case pictured here -- a 3 year old excitedly talks us through her drawing, telling us that this is a picture of “the sun and the sea”. For a child who cannot yet write, what a wonderful way to express meaning!