DIY Montessori Sandpaper Letters

I've made a few Montessori sandpaper letter and number sets over the last year or so for M to use.  If you've looked at Montessori things, you may have noticed that everything is hands on.  Particularly the sandpaper letters and numbers, having sandpaper texture.  This is actually for a really good reason.  

Maria Montessori said it herself that "What the hand does the mind remembers".  Meaning, when a child's hand runs over the texture when learning to form the letter, the mind remembers that motion.  When handwriting time comes (along with other activities that would be prerequisites for that) it is much easier for the child.  Many children are learning to write with a pencil at the same time they are learning the motion to form their letters.  Montessori kids have the advantage here.

Recently I finally stumbled upon a cursive letter template that I didn't find when I first set out to make some.  Below I will quickly describe how I made some cheap DIY Montessori sandpaper cursive letters this week.  Perhaps I should call them "unsandpaper" as I used foam sheets for these!  I will also include some other DIY sandpaper letters and numbers I have made as well.

DIY Cursive Montessori Sandpaper Letters Foam letters instead of sandpaper
DIY Cursive Montessori Sandpaper Letters I Made

M has a lot of sensory sensitivities, so sandpaper actually hasn't worked out well for the most part.  In fact, she refused to even touch the sandpaper for a solid year on the ones in the print letters I made over a year ago.  Recently with the resurgence of learning handwriting she actually has, but I notice her fingers get stuck on the sandpaper (I probably used too gritty of sandpaper, but hey I used what I had).

DIY Montessori  Print Sandpaper Letter
DIY Montessori  Print Sandpaper Letter I Made

So, let's make some sandpaper letters!  

First, you are going to want to decide what size and font style of letters you want.  For younger kids just getting started, the larger the better.  Do you want to start with cursive, which is usually what is introduced first in a Montessori classroom?  Or do you want to go with print letters?  Here are some links to some articles that may help you decide if you aren't sure which way you want to go.

General sandpaper letter information with lots of links to other DIY versions:

Cursive template I used can be found here:

We mostly went with print for two reasons.  First, I could not find a template to use to make the actual sandpaper letters (even though the one linked below was around in 2012.  Oops.  I see them everywhere now, oh well.)  It was really hard to try and do the template letters to cut from freehand.  Second, M taught herself all the letters and their sounds on her own in print so we rolled with that.  It was fine though, she wasn't ready for handwriting at that time and the sandpaper didn't work out either due to sensory issues.

M Working With the Sandpaper Letters and Mini Language Objects in 2018
M Working With the Sandpaper Letters and Mini Language Objects in 2018

You need to decide what your base material will be and the material for the letters.

When I made my first set, I used medium sized flat wood planks I got from Hobby Lobby kind of like this.  They were nice, and if you have a toddler who may like to bend stuff, this might be worth the investment.

Another option could be laminated colored paper (preferably card stock but regular paper is fine too).  Recently I used colored printer paper and laminated it, and then trimmed corners in the end so we didn't get stabbed by pointy laminated paper corners (seriously, those are the worst).  I always trim my corners with this tool.  I have no idea how I got by before it in regards to laminated things.

I have also seen people use foam board (could be okay for kids who wouldn't try to rip it apart).  Almost any material that glue and the letter material will stick to will work honestly.

Anyways, select your base medium and prep it.  Paint or prepare the ones used for vowels in blue and the consonants in red (or pink).

Also, choose your letter material.  You can use materials like sandpaper, felt (if you have legit felt cutting scissors), foam sheets, glitter and glue, glitter glue, or glitter glue pens.  Get creative and use what you have.  You could even use fine grain sand and glue like I did in my DIY Montessori sandpaper globe blog post.

Note that for some letters, you may want to change your orientation.  In fact, in many of the sets you find in classrooms, the wood cards are not the same size.  For example, the card for the letter 'm' is much wider.  This is so that the letters are consistently sized.  

I found this very difficult to actually accomplish with what hobby lobby had available in terms of wood though, so my entire wood set is the same size.  I think my letter sizes are just small enough they all actually fit, thinking about it now though.

Next, print out your selected template and cut out the letters.  Some templates are backwards so you can put them on the backside of sandpaper, or you can lay them backwards.  For foam sheets it really doesn't matter as both sides are the same.  For letters with small holes in them (like the center of the letter 'o' or 'e' and so on) you can use a craft knife like an X-acto knife (like this kit here I really like).  Or, you can be a bit lazier and do what I do when I don't want to search for my kit.  I took a single hole puncher and for the letters with holes bigger than that I punched out a circle and used that to finish the hole up with my scissors.  For holes that are more like slits, with the foam sheets (probably don't try this with sandpaper) I just folded it enough to make the slit with my scissors and trimmed until it looked right.  

If you are going for a professional or very neat finish, I definitely recommend using an x-acto knife.  Or better yet, if you have a Cricut machine or similar, I think you could probably do this whole step with your machine!  If you have done this, let me know in the comments.  

Cut Out Cursive Letter Taped to the Foam Sheet, Ready to Cut the Foam
Cut Out Cursive Letter Taped to the Foam Sheet, Ready to Cut the Foam

Some tips I would give looking back would be to print your template on card stock if you can and definitely tape your letters to the foam sheets.  If you are using sandpaper, you may even glue them on with a glue stick and let it dry before cutting the letters out.

In this step, the cut out letters and the base come together with glue.  Be sure to spread the glue in thin, but not too thin, layer of the back of the entire letter.  Get the glue right to the edges, otherwise it may peel back up.  You could use fancy decoupage glue if you have it.  I just used regular school glue and it worked fine.  Glue them on and let them dry!

Glueing on the letter 'o'.  Note how the glue is spread out over the whole backside of the letter.
Glueing on the letter 'o'.  Note how the glue is spread out over the whole backside of the letter.

And that's it!  The steps are essentially identical for any type of alphabet you would make.  The same applies for sandpaper numbers.  Feel free to try different materials to provide that tactile effect too!


DIY Russian (Cyrillic) Alphabet Montessori Sandpaper Letters, with Glitter letter
DIY Russian (Cyrillic) Alphabet Montessori Sandpaper Letters, with Glitter!

Check out these Russian alphabet "unsandpaper" letters I have been working on.  I used glitter on laminated color printer paper.  I essentially just found a template for letters here, printed off the smaller sized cards on blue and red color printer paper, laminated, and trimmed corners.  Then I applied a thin layer of school glue over the letter, careful to stay within the lines, and sprinkled a ton of glitter over it.  I followed up with a second thin coat of glue that had been thinned out with water to seal it.  I have plans to make more sandpaper alphabet cards in various languages so stay tuned for a blog post about that.

DIY Montessori Sandpaper Numbers I Made
DIY Montessori Sandpaper Numbers I Made

I have also made sandpaper numbers previously, using glitter glue that comes in pens and small wood cards from Hobby Lobby.  These aren't as great, but I feel these could be improved upon (perhaps a follow up blog post?).

DIY Print Montessori Sandpaper Letters I Made
DIY Print Montessori Sandpaper Letters I Made

And of course, the actual sandpaper letters I made over a year ago.  These are on wood planks with sandpaper letters.  I had to paint the wood and sand the edges a bit.  I also used very gritty sandpaper because it's what we had on hand.  I would recommend something fairly smooth but a little bit of texture.

DIY Montessori Sandpaper Phonograms I Made
DIY Montessori Sandpaper Phonograms I Made

I have also made DIY sandpaper phonograms.  The only wood cards I had left were very small but it worked in a pinch.  I painted the cards green and used smaller print letters and made them the same way as the wood sandpaper letters above.

DIY Montessori Cursive Unsandpaper Letters Sandpaper Letters Pinterest Graphic and Link

Have you made DIY Montessori sandpaper letters or numbers?

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