Monday, June 6, 2011

Sandpaper, Sounds and Sorts

The school room has been full of our family room furniture as that room has been renovated over the course of the last month or so. Although our Montessori work did continue throughout the dust and mess, it wasn't blogged about very thoroughly. As I photographed today's work in an almost back-to-normal learning space it occurred to me that everyone is due for an update on Me Too's language progress.

Despite daily practice for almost a year, Me Too was not progressing through the "I Spy" stages. The problem seemed to be that he was not developmentally ready to link the sounds he knew to the concept of an object beginning or ending with that sound. He finally (when he was ready) broke through that barrier about a month ago.

Dwyer recommends that the sandpaper letters be introduced after the child can complete all stages of "I Spy" with any of the 40 key sounds in any position. Then, only after all 40 sandpaper letters are mastered does the child see the movable alphabet.

Me Too's "I Spy" delay was causing him to miss out on his sensitive period for the sandpaper letters. For this reason, I decided to modify Dwyer's approach slightly and introduced the sandpaper letters. I continued "I Spy" activities parallel to this and added some sound sorts to try another approach toward solving his "begins with/ends with" problem. I will still wait to introduce the movable alphabet until he has mastered all the sandpaper letters and can play "I Spy" at all levels.

Me Too loves sandpaper letters and uses them in a much more "best practice" manner than Kal-El ever did. There are old posts you can read in which I was soo frustrated with Kal-El because he would watch me trace them and then trace them himself completely wrong again and again and again... Me Too is really careful about his tracing. He remembers the symbol and the proper tracing for each sound after only one presentation. He has already learned about a third of the 40 letters. That third is a good mixture of consonants, vowels, and double-letter sounds.

I'll never know whether my adjustment to the approach was responsible or if Me Too was simply ready to grasp the concept. The first day we tried a sound sort I watched things "click" almost immediately. My gut says that the answer is "both." We attempted the first sound sort with two sandpaper letters he already knew ("a" and "b") and a basket of object that began with one of those sounds. He started out as usual, meaning he insisted everything started with "t" and was placing the objects randomly on one letter or the other. Then, I tried it a different way. I had him choose an object from the basket and place it on a letter. I think he put "apple" on "b." I said "bapple?" He laughed and put it on the other letter. I said "apple" and he left it there. We went through all of the objects in the basket this way. It really gave him the giggles. He continued to place letters incorrectly (more and more on purpose) for a couple of weeks and ask me how I would say it starting with that sound. One day he suddenly just started doing it right. He still asks me a couple times here and there what a word would sound like starting with the wrong letter just to be silly. Frankly, it's a pretty good learning experience that way. It's like that "I like to eat apple and bananas" song.

Here he is flying through a "sh" versus "t" sound sort this morning.

I presented the "th" sound today. Me Too likes it when his lessons line up with what Kal-El is working on. The "th" sound is tough for both boys because they both still tend to use the "f" sound instead for an unvoiced "th" and a "d" sound for the voiced (such as "fank you" or "hand me dat"). Kal-El is at a point developmentally where studying the sounds and the letters is improving his speech. Me Too isn't quite ready. We are just increasing his awareness.

I made a sound bin full of objects that start with unvoiced "th" sounds that both boys could use. I thought that those of you working with kids at two different stages like this might appreciate a glimpse of how a material can be used with both. Me Too was simply presented with the sandpaper letter and then we explored the objects in the bin together. We worked a lot on him watching my lips and tongue while I said the words and then repeating them with varying degrees of success.

The bin also contained a small box full of labels for Kal-El to read and match to the objects.

As usual, I used a large basket and collected objects from around the house rather than accumulating miniatures for this purpose. Pictured you will find "thing" (as in "the Thing" from the Fantastic Four), thermos, thousand, thorn (from the backyard and bagged for safety), thorax (card from our "parts of" collection on the insect shelf), thimble, thick and thin (represented by the prisms from the brown stairs which were used to teach this concept to begin with).

Kal-El wanted to show off his favorite one:

Kal-El is continuing to read a new handmade-by-me book almost daily. Today's had sentences like: "Thad thinks the thin stick will help Chip jump."


  1. The stage of learning when the concept clicks is so exciting! It amazing what happens when you follow the child. Me too might be a stronger visual or kinesthetic learner. I am always impressed with the work he does in other areas.

    At what stage will you add tracing the letter in the sandbox?

  2. Evenspor: Me Too will be four this month.

    Anon: He already traces his numbers in the sand box. He has initiated doing the letters that way, but I have noticed a disconnect between the tracing of the letter on the sandpaper letter (correctly) and the transfer to the sand (incorrectly). So, for now I am not encouraging him to do that (but not discouraging when he initiates).

  3. FYI, the link on your Dwyer posts that goes to the NAMTA site is broken, but it is still available on their site if you do a search for it.

    I have Montessori Read & Write, do you think the pamphlet is essential? I couldn't find their shipping rates listed, and I hate having to offer up all my information just to see the total in the cart. :)

  4. i always read your blog with interest!!! :-))))
    (di u do the sandletters by your self?)

  5. (uh sorry, i left a comment with my husband account (guicho). i'm nicoz^^)

  6. nicoz, No...I bought the sandpaper letters.

    Sheryll, The shipping when I bought the pamphlet was about $12 :( I wouldn't say the pamphlet is "essential." Do you have the Gettman? Both the Gettman and Montessori Read and Write follow the "Dwyer approach." If you follow one of those you are doing Dwyer. You can get the "what to do when" from the other two. The pamphlet just provides more depth, philosophy, and the why's and wherefores to what you are doing.

  7. He's doing wonderful! I love hearing about the work you do with your sons. It's such a joy!

    Lori @ Montessori MOMents

  8. Wow! Good for Me-Too! I'm really glad that you have shared that you strayed away from the exact Dywer plan. Sometimes its hard to remember that following the child is still more important then following our plan! :) I really am going to start working with Pup on the first stages of reading exercises, and I love the sound boxes you make! I think we will do a sound of the week next fall for her! Thanks for all you share and all the help you give.

  9. Awesome - way to listen to that mama spidey sense! Looks like it was just what Me Too needed. Thanks for linking up to Montessori Monday! :)

  10. I know this is a very old post, but I was wondering about how Me Too was doing his sound boxes at this age. Did you do them with him or would he do them independently?

  11. Mel,

    I had to demonstrate the sandpaper letter each time he had a new one, and then would tell him to choose something from the box...after that he was on his own and also could and would choose the boxes off the shelf independently if it was no longer a new sandpaper letter.