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