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Your Child Can LOVE Learning to Write…Just Start With Sand!

Soft to the fingertips, not many can resist the temptation of playing with a pile of sand. Whether on the beach, in a box, or on a tray, sand provides an unforgettable tactile experience for all ages.

This Montessori sand tray letter-writing activity is best for children older than age three. It comes after your child has been introduced to a few tactile, or sandpaper, letters, although the delight of drawing freeform in and generally playing with sand can be introduced in toddlerhood.

What You Need

  • A medium-sized tray (the size of a piece of printer paper works well)

  • A good handful or two of sand or salt - enough to thoroughly coat the bottom of the tray

What You’ll Do

1. Immediately after reviewing the tactile or sandpaper letter you have already introduced, tell your child that you have prepared a special activity for the two of you.

2. Sit in front of  the tray of sand and say, “This is sand.” Then, set clear expectations for use by telling your child, “The sand stays in the tray. It is not for the table or for the floor. It stays in the tray.”

3. Now draw your child’s attention to your hands by rubbing them together and then extending only your index finger.

4. Silently and slowly draw the letter in the sand as your child watches. Say the sound (not the name) of the letter.

5. After a few seconds of gazing at the letter, shake the tray gently back and forth with both hands to smooth the sand.

6. Say, “Now it’s your turn to draw the ______ [sound of the letter, such as /b/].

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Tips for Success

Make sure that your child can be trusted not to eat the sand and always provide adequate supervision. If you’re using salt, please note that ingesting too much salt can be toxic to children.

Try This, Too

Encourage your child to write in the sand at the beach or in her sandbox. You can also write letters, or even her own name for her to “read”. For another variation on this activity, try a dollop of shaving cream on a table.

What Your Child is Learning

When your child is learning how to write, her fingertips softly pressing and sliding into a tray of sand will bolster her muscle memory of letter formation. This activity also provides a pleasant sensory experience and aids fine motor skill development.

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Print this free Montessori lesson

Download the printable version of this lesson and add it to your homeschooling binder or share with a friend.

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Download your free printable lesson.

  1. Download the lesson. You’ll get the lesson, plus gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home.

  2. Print and add this lesson to your binder, share it with a friend, or use it with your Montessori homeschooling planner.

  3. Try this activity with your child! It’s a winner!

    Skip the Kid Calendar and Lean In to Heart-Centered Time

    24 hours in a day. 

    7 days in a week. 

    52 weeks in a year. 

    18 years in a "childhood". 

    Add another 6 to 10 to become a fully formed adult being. 

    As adults, we are comforted by these facts, beholden to them, and bound by them - sometimes uncomfortably so. And we want our children to understand the concept of time as we understand and live by it ourselves. 

    We give them visual schedules, child friendly calendars, set timers, and try to teach them how to tell how time with analog clocks. We reasonably want them to understand that tomorrow is the day the grandma comes but not until next week is the annual family BBQ. 

    Our children walk through life sometimes frustrated and bewildered as we respond, in their view, so often arbitrariliy. At 7:30am we eat breakfast, 11:00ish we lunch, and it isn't time for dinner yet, honey - we have another few hours to go. The child setting the table "too early" is rightfully offended!

    On the playground, how often do I hear these words: "You can play for 5 more minutes, ok?" The tears come anyway, no matter how many more "5 minute warnings" are given. 

    We think to ourselves, it would just be so much simpler if they could understand how long it takes to load the car and drive home. That five minutes is meaningful to us. It's just that it's completely meaningless to a child.

    Today, I'd like for you to put aside your planner for a moment and imagine what time feels like to your child. Imagine a day that starts with the sun rising and ends with night falling with no schedules in between, just inclinations to move one's energy in a certain way. 

    If you're among one of the many, many parents who are trying to teach the concept of time to your two or three or four-year-old - or even if you are proud that your young child has mastered "telling time" through practice, I have to tell you this. 

    The concept of time as you know it is inherently inaccessible to children. 

    In toddlerhood, just knowing that there is a past and a present and a future is enough. We don't need to practice this concept in any formal way either - just having natural conversations about what happened yesterday, what we might do today and what may happen tomorrow is enough. 

    In the preschool years, clocks are fascinating mathematically, and so, for that matter, are reglular calendars. We can count the seconds and the minutes. We can model for them how we notice the hour and then count by fives to get to the minute hand. 

    We don't need to drill them until they can tell time and point to it constantly. It won't make them get dressed and get in the car any faster, and nor will it make them brush their teeth.

    It seems like your elementary child should be able to manage their time, but guess what? The concept of time is still fuzzy at this age! Hours pass without much awareness, and to-do lists are great, but the schedule flops without an adult intervening and reminding (often!).

    Teenagers are more capable, but yet again, are our expectations in check? Maria Montessori believed that teens should get a big break from pressure, from schedules, and from all academics in order to connect more with purposeful, hands-on work in the real world

    This would give their bodies time to process all of the turbulence that comes with the immense physical growth and the heightened emotions. This is obviously not a time of life to expect time management to be in full swing either!

    Come to think of it, maybe we are a bit too tied to the concept of time ourselves as adults

    When was the last time you lost track and played for hours as the sun went down? 

    If you can't remember, it's been way too long and you need to reconnect with your childlike self - the one who doesn't care about the clock says and follows her heart instead.

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    No Gadgets Needed: Your Old Favorite Toys Were As Awesome As You Remembered
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    With your sparkly glam makeup, and guitar-smashing hair bands, you were really something to remember.

    I can instantly walk into any Claire’s and blink and I’m eleven again with a poodle-like hairdo pulled back in a scrunchie getting my ears pierced for the one and only time.

    I’m wearing jeans rolled tightly at the ankles and an oversized shirt tied in a knot at the side. I’m nervous but I’ve got my Dirty Dancing soundtrack in my walkman, and I’m channeling Baby as I take a step toward adulthood.

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    But dear 80’s, just as iconic in my memory is your toy selection: Cabbage Patch Kids, Easy Bake Ovens, Barbie dolls, She-Ra figurines, Miniature Micro Machines, and Slap bracelets.

    The sheer number of hours we spent fiddling around with our tinker toys, army men, slinkies, and those silly wooden sticks that no one really liked picking up but pretended to.

    I’ll never get those hours back.

    Life presses on. But somewhere in my mother’s house I’m sure there is a box or drawer with a few remnants of that era of my life.

    We weren’t all obsessed about how educational these items were back then. At least, I don’t remember my mother talking about it. And yet in the past few decades, the emphasis in the overall toy industry has shifted from “good old fashioned fun” to “brain-based”.

    The problem is that a lot of toy companies are tricking us on purpose. The high-tech toys with the fancy labels aren’t actually so brain-based after all.

    Someone either hasn’t studied child development or is more interested in a fat check than helping parents provide a quality education.


    Fortunately, there are ethically-run toy companies that you can trust to have the needs of real children at heart (Monti Kids certainly comes to mind). There is also no end of DIY-obsessed parents sharing their tips, tricks, and hacks online through social media.

    Inspiration for true brain-based toys really does abound when you know where to look!

    As a mom and Montessori educator, I have always been interested in observing how children interact with their toys. Once you start watching, you’ll start to notice -- the toys with lots of buttons, the ones that spit out information and perform actions “on command” are played with very differently by children of all ages than, say, a simple wooden box and a ball.

    Plus, the research confirms it. Classic and simple wins over fancy & tech-infused.

    Maybe my 80’s nostalgia is well placed when it comes to toys, even though they were kind of silly when you look at them in retrospect.


    Deep breath here. Let’s see if we can make a brief case for Popples, as ridiculous as they were. (They were. Don’t argue!)

    1. They were cuddly. Can’t complain about that!

    2. They didn’t speak, flash, or sing when you pressed a button. At least my little furball didn’t!

    3. They could be “operated” entirely by a child’s hands.

    4. They could be used imaginatively by a child like any other plush toy, especially if there was no television-show connection to influence the play.

    Not bad. Not bad at all.

    Hey, are you Into Nostalgia Like I am?

    Get my free guide to today’s best toys for kids: modern alternatives to all of your old 80’s favorites!

    Here’s a sneak preview…

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    Download your free printable toy guide.

    1. Download the guide. You’ll get all the fun of the 80’s with all the modern convenience of today’s most popular Montessori-friendly toys. Plus, when you join my community of readers, you’ll get gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home.

    2. Keep it digitally, print, or share it with a friend.

    3. Add these toys, or toys like these, to your wish list for yourself or relatives. I can vouch for all of these personally!

    LOVE THE 80's?
    Get my FREE GUIDE to today's best toys for kids: modern alternatives to all of your old favorites!

    Learn how to meet your child's cognitive, social, and emotional needs with a reasonable selection of the most brain-boosting toys the modern world has to offer.

    And wallow with me - just a bit - in some well-deserved nostalgia.


      This is me in the 80’s: pigtails with those little hair ties with the balls on the ends, turtleneck stripes, and overalls. Nailed it!

      10 Homeschooling Tips #3: Be a Mentor, Not a "Teacher.”

      Your child doesn't need a teacher.

      She needs you to join the journey. Acknowledge that your role is to be a mentor, guide, or facilitator. Without this shift in mindset, it is easy to get trapped in a spiral of insecurity.

      Try to think of yourself more as a mentor to your child - that “educational consultant” who is available to provide resources and allow opportunities to visit interesting places in the world. 

      You are not going to directly feed her mind with knowledge.

      You are a protector of your child's natural inclination to learn.

      Your child knows what to do already! She is programmed biologically to be interested in life and new skills and to explore.

      Your job is to scaffold her education not based on what she is "supposed to be" learning but by celebrating her current strengths and helping to nurture what you see as yet undeveloped.

      This may sound funny, but the hard part about homeschooling is not finding the right curriculum or planning or finding resources - it's tuning into your child and allowing the development to unfold while you observe and offer support.

      Let her lead.

      Push aside your own worries and insecurities. You were meant to be your child’s mentor

      Psst: that’s what a real teacher is!

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