DIY Sandpaper Numerals

Sandpaper is quite important in a Montessori Primary class.  The Touch Boards are a Sensorial material that refine the child’s tactile sense and control muscular action by the necessary lightness of touch.  They also serve as preparation for writing.

The Touch Tablets, another Sensorial material, train the child’s tactile sense so that he can discern fine distinctions between varying degrees of roughness.

Once a child has worked with those, he is ready to start working with the Sandpaper Letters.  These are just as they sound, sandpaper cut into the shapes of letters and glued onto a wooden board.  They’re one of the key materials in the Primary classroom.  Their purpose is to make the child aware of the symbols which represent sounds in words.  The child learns the letters by means of visual, muscular, and auditory memory.  They are also a preparation for writing.

The Sandpaper Numerals have pretty much the same purpose as Sandpaper Letters, but obviously for numbers.

So, all of these are great materials, and no Montessori Primary classroom would be without them.  However…I do not run a Montessori Primary classroom.  I run a home.  That is based around Montessori ideas.  With a family budget.  Not a private school budget.  I really have to pick and choose which materials I buy (because they’re ridiculously expensive*), which materials I make (that can take a fair amount of time – and apparently I’d rather spend my time blogging), and which I just do without.

The Touch Boards and Tablets have not made it into our preschool yet. (Although I may make them for Mr. BANG.  It actually has been a detriment to Drama Queen to not work with those prior to the Sandpaper Letters.)  I did actually purchase the Sandpaper Letters.  And after much consideration, I decided to make the Sandpaper Numerals.  With no sandpaper.

That, my friends, is what led me to sit in Starbucks with a couple of friends the other night, sipping hot chocolate, exchanging girl talk (the you-won’t-believe-this-private-parts-of-the-body-conversation-I-had-with-my-kid type), and cutting up felt and foam.  This was the result:

It was actually very easy.  Due to the size of the foam pieces, I just cut them in half to achieve the perfect size for my boards.  Then I drew the numbers on felt.  I did it freehand, and you can certainly tell, but it’s good enough.  Then just a little snip snip with the scissors, a touch of glue, and behold…my own Tactile Numbers.  (Drama Queen prefers to call them Touch-a-Truck Numbers.  As she laughs profusely.)

They made quite a hit with that little girl.  She was super excited as soon as she saw them, and has spent a good bit of time practicing with them.  She has known her numbers, but never tried to write them before.  After her introductory lesson with the Tactile Numbers, she sat down with her sketch pad and wrote “911” all down the page.  She said she wanted to write it down so she knows what to dial when there’s an emergency.

Now, what do you actually do with these, you ask?

Here’s the official presentation, using the three-period lesson**:

  1. Bring the tray with the Tactile Numbers to a table.
  2. Take out number 1.
  3. Trace it and say, “This is one.”
  4. Ask child to trace and name it.
  5. Do same for 2 and 3.
  6. Do second period, guiding child to trace at every step.
  7. Do third period, having child trace, then asking, “What is it?”  First do it in sequence, then out of sequence.
  8. If the child appears to be very familiar with the numerals, you may continue on in the same lesson.  Put away the first three so they do not distract, then get out the next three for the new lesson.  Some children may be able to breeze through all the numbers through nine.  Otherwise, continue the lesson in the following day or days.  Always review the numbers starting with one.  Do not introduce the zero yet.

*I’ll compare for you the cost for each item from Nienhuis (what all other Montessori companies try to be like; this is the company that Dr. Montessori hired to make the first materials for her Montessori communities) and Montessori Outlet (my favorite discount Montessori store).

  • Touch Boards $35.40/$11.95
  • Touch Tablets $64.80/$19.95
  • Sandpaper Letters $94.50/$31.95
  • Sandpaper Numbers $29/$6.95

**Many, many Montessori lessons are given using the three-period lesson. 

  • Period one:  Introduce the item/concept and its name.  Give the child a sensorial experience with it.  (In this case, they trace it.  When working with Sound Boxes, they would shake the little cylinder to hear the sound of that particular one.) 
  • Period two:  Give the child many opportunities to handle and name the object/concept.  In the case of Tactile Numbers, it would be things like, “Trace the two and put it in my hand.”  “Trace the seven and turn it over.”  You make this a fun game and do it repeatedly, in a variety of ways.
  • Period three:  Allow the child to have a sensorial experience with it again, then ask what the name of it is.

9 thoughts on “DIY Sandpaper Numerals

  1. This looks like a fun project. So the object is to teach the child to both recognize and write his/her numbers (and letters)… why do it this way rather than having a child learn the sound and practice writing it out?

  2. That’s a good question. I’m having to really think through my answer, and probably won’t answer it completely. Where’s Dr. Montessori when I need her! 😉
    Montessori has a sequence of lessons, allowing the child to gradually develop a firm knowledge of the sounds of the letters, the symbols that represent those sounds, and how to write out those symbols. In parallel, the children are developing those muscles in the hand and the movements needed to write. I can write all those lessons out if you would like, but it’s basically so that they are ready to enter each new step of learning letters. All the preliminary work just makes it completely natural them to learn the next step. The teacher doesn’t “teach” them how to write letters as much as give them the exposure and opportunity, and the kids naturally pick up the new skill.
    Yep, it’s confirmed. I didn’t answer that very well. Maybe I should go pull out my theory book to help me explain it better! 🙂

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  6. I just saw this on Living Montessori Now. I LOVE the felt idea! I start getting excited when I already have the tools to make a project! I had heard of sandpaper letters but never thought of doing it with felt. Great idea!

  7. Thanks, Carolyn! I think they work really well with felt instead of sandpaper – the child still gets that tactile experience when tracing the number/letter, but it’s much easier to make! Have fun making yours!

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