This week we did the Montessori sand tray work for the first time. Z (3 years old) is progressing much faster than I expected on his sandpaper letters and numerals work. He knows all of his letter sounds and numbers, and he is already writing over dotted-line letters and numbers using broken crayons. (Click here to see why we use broken crayons.)
The next step for us is to get him to practice writing those letters and numbers without any dotted-line help. Enter the Montessori sand tray.
Before I go any further, I just want to say a couple of things first:
- Z (just turned 3 years old yesterday) has never had the confidence to write “freestyle”, although he was always happy to trace over dotted letters/numbers. Using the sand tray and being successful in this changed everything. He now writes his numbers freestyle on paper all the time!
- I love to create cute, short and happy videos with music. But I understand it can be helpful to view the video in its entirely with all of his reactions. So I’ve uploaded the unedited version here in case you want to view that.
What is the Montessori sand tray?
It is simply a tray filled with sand.
Its purpose is to help a child learn how to trace letters and numbers on his own, while allowing for the same tactile and sensorial experience as the sandpaper letters and numerals.
It is one of the easiest Montessori materials to DIY. You can use colored sand for a fun effect or to make the connection to vowels vs consonants vs numbers (blue for vowels, red/pink for consonants, green for numerals.) If you don’t have or don’t like to use sand, you can substitute with cornmeal. We used salt because I had plenty on hand. You can use sugar too but it might attract ants in the summer.
Alternatively, you can purchase an entire sand tray with sweeper here.
How to give a lesson on the Montessori sand tray:
Basically, you lay the sandpaper letter/numeral either in front of the child (perhaps using a display easel), or just next to the child so that he can refer.
For us, I decided that Z should have the sandpaper letter/numeral next to the tray so that he can trace it before writing in the sand tray.
If you don’t have or don’t want to buy sandpaper letters/numerals, I recommend this book for letters and this book for numbers which has similar textured letters and numerals for children to trace with their fingers.
For a more detailed presentation, this website outlines the lesson, some variations or extensions, and it has some nice photos to show you how other families made their sand trays.
Montessori sand tray — Potential problems and fixes:
In using it, we stumbled upon some minor bumps which wasn’t all that difficult to fix but made all the difference in world. So I thought I’d share those bumps and fixes with you.
- Rims not high enough. My original tray was the lid of our movable alphabet. It did not have rims that were high enough so the salt kept spilling over. So I used a small cookie tray instead and this worked perfectly. I also asked him to do this work on a larger tray so that any accidents can be contained within the large tray (this is more for my sanity.)
- Difficult to clear the writing. My album says to gently shake the tray to clear any writing. But my 3 year old had trouble doing that without making a big mess everywhere. Several ladies from the Montessori Facebook group I belong to suggested using a short ruler or something similar to sweep the sand, and this worked perfectly.
I hope this inspired you or helped in some way! I would love to hear your thoughts, questions or any feedback you have in the comments below, or on my Facebook page. I also have more videos on my YouTube channel. You can also follow me on Pinterest.