Thursday 28 June 2007

Sandpaper Letters

These have been my pet project the last couple of weeks.
Montessori developed the sandpaper letters to help children develop the muscular impression of the letter as well as to introduce the shape and sound of each letter. They are multi-sensory which is important for children still in a tactile stage of development.
Dr Montessori believed that children should learn to write before reading because it is easier. If a child is asked to write a word, say "cat" he already has a visual image of this word in his head and only needs to take apart the word, letter by letter to reproduce the word. Reading on the other hand, the child needs to clarify the sound of each letter, one by one and then put each letter together, c - a - t then ca then cat. Before he has combined all the letters together he has no idea what the word can be. Obviously as his reading skill increase he will intantly recognise some words but every time he comes acrooss a new word, he has the same problem. Although phonics is an importnat part of the language process, English is not a phonic based language and so children need to be exposed to "sight" words too. Anyway, back to the project in hand..

Firstly, it took me an age to decide how to do it. At first I couldn't find any pre-cut board the right size so I considered using laminated card instead. My 'great' plan was to print out the letters onto the right coloured card (blue for vowels, the rest pink) and then laminate them. I was then going to use glitter glue over the letters to give a textured finish. Luckily, I had the sense to make a test one before embarking on the project, just as well since the glitter fell off after 2 days. Back to square one.
Then I discovered that Tokyu Hands sell pre-cut boards 100mm x 150 mm, perfect.
After scouring web groups like the yahoo based Montessori By Hand and Montessori Makers I came up with a fab idea (well, someone elses suggestion) to use the non stick tread that you use on stairs, she explained that because the glue on the back is super strong it was a great alternative to sandpaper - which I was trying to avoid using, I thought it would be much harder job to actually use sandpaper. So, off to the home centre I went, only to discover that they only do the stair grip stuff in strips. Bummer.
So, I decided I was going to have to go the sandpaper route when I had a bit of brainwave, sticky backed felt. I remembered it being super sticky, so I dug a scrap out and stuck it to laminated card to see how it was and also to a bit of painted wood. Both were fine but then I decided I might as well go the whole hog and use the boards.

The finished letters are FAB, the felt is also raised off the board making it more distinct, I am very chuffed with myself.

To make the sandpaper letters....

1: Buy all the bits you need: 26 boards, pink and blue paint, brushes, sticky backed felt in a light colour, small dot stickers,
stick of glue.
2: Paint the boards (I noticed that a lot of commercial boards put y on a blue board)
3: Print out the letters. I downloaded the Montessori font, for free here. I like this font because it is kind of between standard letters and cursive. Set up your document so that the page is the same size as the board you will be using. You need to make sure
there is enough space either side of the letter for the child to be able to hold the board firmly. You need to flip the text
over so that it is backwards on your screen. Most of the letters I did at a height of 200 but some odd letters, f and j were
too long so I had to make them smaller. I recommend printing out just one first to check it is OK.
4: Print out the letters, cut round them roughly.
5: Use the glue and stick the letters to the back of the sticky felt paper backing, if you have got it right, once the letter is cut
out it should be the right way.
6: Cut out the letters.
7: Stick to the painted boards (once they are dry).
8: Add a small green dot where you start to write the letter and a small red dot at the point where you finish writing the
9: I added a small yellow dot to the bottom left-hand corner of each board so that the child knows which way up the letter
should be.
10: Find a suitable box or basket to store the letters in.


  1. Great job, Jo. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you x 2 :)
    Your detailed instruction will definitely help me :)
    Love the sticky-backed felt.
    Your "Sandpaper Letters" are beautiful :)
    Thanks for sharing :)

  3. This was SUCH an incredible idea that I totally copied your idea. You can see my final masterpiece here:

    Thank you so much for this tutorial!!!


  4. thankyou for posting, i just spent more time than I'd like to admit the last two days looking for free D'Nealian print, with no success, and here it is! Thank you!!

  5. Hi, Thanks for sharing this. How did you open the .sit file that has the fonts? I too, have spent more time than I care to admit looking for a template for the D'Nealian font. It says the font is free, but I would need to give my credit card info to be able to get the software for opening the .sit file. Thank you so much for your help! -N

  6. family of faoxes, can't help with the.sit question, I double click to open.

    Rachel, my boards are 10cm x 15cm that's because they were the size available. they may have been better a bit bigger but then they wouldn't have fit on my shelf very well.

  7. I'd love to use your idea instead of trying to cut all the letters out of fine sandpaper! I doubt mine will look as gorgeous as yours, but I know they'll be useful! Thank you!

  8. This is such a great idea! Thanks for sharing.
    Instead of pink, I think I will be using red...primary colors! ;-)
    (Can you tell I'm a teacher?)

  9. Hi! Thanks so much for sharing your incredible ideas! If you used Word could you tell me how you flipped your text? I have tried text boxes, word art etc with no luck! Thanks!

  10. sorry Angela,
    I used photoshop and I am pretty clueless when it comes to word.

  11. I followed your link to the Montessori font (which is fab!) but it comes in a .sit format. How did you make it a usable format to be used and installed??


  12. hmm, it has been a long time, I don't actually remember. I have just clicked through to the site and they have revamped, I have a feeling there was a help page there before. I googled and came up with this...

    The .sit files you got are compressed archives, much like .zip files. I've linked below to a free app that'll handle them as well as many other formats.

    Once you've got those unzipped, simply double-click on the font files you want installed. Font Book will open, showing previews of the fonts, and you can click on the "Install Font" button at the bottom of the preview window to install the fonts you want to keep. You can use Font Book to organize and enable/disable the fonts on your Mac.

    (There are two folders where fonts are kept: /Library/Fonts, and ~/Library/Fonts, where the ~ character means your home folder. If you prefer, you can add the fonts to one of these folders yourself instead of using Font Book; putting them in the one in your home folder will install them only for you, and putting them in the main library will allow all users on that computer use them.)

    hope that helps

  13. I was wondering what kind of boards did you use, chip board, card board, ply wood? Thanks, also I love your site and cant wait to try out some of your ideas!

  14. I used wood, proper wood but I'm not sure which kind of tree it came from, it was pre cut and the right size, bit expensive but still cheaper than buying the set or paying to get wood or board cut to size.
    I would recommend using acrylic paint and a coat of varnish, I used emulsion for the pink and it took forever to dry and seemed to be tacky for months.

  15. Love the idea of the dots!

  16. I just found this: I couldn't get the .sit open either :)

  17. I am liveing Phuket ,Thailand. my daughter going to Montessori school. but unfortunately, Many parents misunderstanding about Montessori method here in phuket. that why I start my blog in blogger to introduce Montessori school in Phuket,Thailand. I liknked your blog to my blog. Thank you so much!! your site is so great to understand!!

    1. I am considering making the sandpaper letters to save money for our school, but found online I can buy a set of 26 letters for $37. Can I make them significantly cheaper than that?

    2. That is difficult for me to say, I can only tell you how much it would cost to make them here, in Japan. You would have to go to the home centre and check out the prices. It would have been cheaper if I had bought the wood uncut but at the time we didn't have anywhere to cut the wood so getting pre-cut pieces was easier.


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