Have you ever handed over a learning tool to your child, have them try it and then just have so much joy burst out of your soul when you realize you’ve just handed over the very thing they needed to overcome some obstacle they’ve been facing?
This is how I felt when Zachary used our DIY Montessori sand tray. In fact, I think I actually screamed out loud for sheer joy, so thankfully we were home by ourselves.
You see, with all the sandpaper letter and number practising that we had been doing, I knew that he was ready for the next step — handwriting. But he was afraid and unsure. I have to admit it was a bit unusual for me to see such a hesitation in him, because my older son Matthew was always so bold to try just about anything that I was always trying to slow him down.
Zach only used our sand tray for about 2 weeks, but the timing was perfect and 2 weeks was long enough for him to get to the next stage — writing using a chalkboard.
In my Montessori language album, having the children write on chalkboards is the next step after sandpaper letters and the sand tray. I use this language album as my guide, however here’s a written lesson that you can use.
There are 3 types of chalkboards for different stages: blank, equidistant lines, and double-lined. If you do a search, be sure to check both the terms “Montessori chalk boards” and “Montessori green boards” as some vendors have a different name for them. From what I understand, they are generally 30cm x 50cm (or 12″ x 20″) and should have square lines at the back for practising numbers.
To test the waters before we invested in these chalkboards, we used a smaller DIY version that was basically a beautiful slate board that I picked up from the dollar store a long time ago. I put this into a tray along with a bowl of chalk and a bowl of water with a small sponge cube.
My lesson to him goes something like this: Take out a sandpaper letter, trace it, then take a chalk and write that letter on the chalkboard. Next put the chalk back into the bowl, then pick up and squeeze excess water out of the small sponge before using it to wipe off the letter using the same strokes. (This is a technique that I borrowed from Handwriting Without Tears.) Finally, put the sponge back into the water bowl, and repeat with the other letters.
This worked really well for us, but again it only lasted for about 2 to 3 weeks. I’m not complaining because after that he was pretty much ready to go all out just using markers or pencils. Ever since then we have just been using plain paper or his sketchbook to scribble letters or words.
For us, the sand tray and chalkboards were short-lived but highly necessary and important steps. Had I not known what the next steps were and just pushed him to go from sandpaper letters to handwriting on a piece of paper, we would both have gotten so frustrated with each other. Both my sand tray and chalkboards were DIY versions and in hindsight I’m glad we ended up not spending too much on this because as it turns out, Zach didn’t need them for very long.
I guess my point, besides how we used the chalkboard, is this — that it’s always worth having a guide (or album/curriculum) so you know what’s the next step. Try to dig deeper to find out what’s causing any hesitations with the child and then introduce the next baby step to see if maybe he’s ready. And if he’s not ready, I wouldn’t push the issue. On the other hand, if he’s more than ready to move on after only a couple of weeks, then don’t hold him back.
Do you have any scream-and-jump-for-joy moments with your children? I would love to hear your stories!