Tag Archive | Montessori

Cursive vs. Print

A friend asked me a question today that I have been asked many times: why does Montessori teach cursive first rather than print?

First, I’ll acknowledge that some Montessori schools do teach print first.  But every Montessori school I’ve been in that is faithful to Dr. Montessori’s research results starts by teaching cursive.

Second, let me state that I honestly don’t think it’s that big of a deal either way.  There are pros and cons to both, and children will learn how to write one way or another, sooner or later.  For me, I decided to go along with the Montessori theory that it’s better to teach cursive first.

There are several reasons behind that theory:

Natural writing motions.  Have you ever noticed that when young children are first learning to write, they’ll fill whole lines with one long, squiggly text?   I know I have pages of my own “writings” like that from my childhood, and Drama Queen is at that point right now.  Dr. Montessori noticed that as well.  Cursive writing is much more like the “writing” a child naturally does, as opposed to short, choppy lines and circles.

d, b, p.  Those three letters can be so confusing to young children.  As they’re learning about the world, they learn that an object is an object no matter which way you turn it.  A book is a book, a doll is a doll, a sock is a sock, a car is a car, a rectangle is a rectangle, even if it’s upside down.  Then along come these little letters.  Suddenly Mommy, Daddy, and Teacher are very adamant that this little shape is NOT the same when you turn it around!  What?!  Some cursive letters are similar to each other, of course, but cursive does alleviate some of the reversal confusion.  Overall, cursive letters are easier than print letters to differentiate from one another.

One continuous movement.  The shape of the letter allows the hand to just make one continuous movement, left to right.  The child doesn’t need to pick up her pen, with few exceptions (dotting the “i” and crossing the “t”).

Beauty.  Cursive writing has a beauty to it that is appealing to children.

Consistency.  All letters begin on the base line and move up, toward the right.

Difficulty.  Okay, this one may sound strange:  cursive letters are more complicated to learn than print.  So why start with it??   At five and six years old, the child is in a perfect culmination of three Sensitive Periods:  SP for Small Detail, SP for Refinement of Movement, and SP for Language.  This unique combination of spontaneous interest is the ideal time for the child to learn to write in cursive.  During this period, the child is eager to learn to write, and is able to naturally learn cursive writing.  Around third grade, when cursive is typically taught in traditional schools, the child is past that sensitive period and the task is more difficult.  So it’s wise to take advantage of this easier learning period to teach the writing style that could be more difficult.

Transition.  Once children have learned cursive, it is very easy for them to learn print.  The reverse is more difficult.  Also, a child who writes in cursive can also read print, but a child who only learned print cannot read cursive.

When it was time for me to first start working on Sandpaper Letters with Drama Queen, it was easy to make the decision to start with cursive; I had been convinced of the benefits in my Montessori course.  However, I was still curious to see how it would all work out.  I quickly began observing something another friend who begins with cursive had experienced: while Drama Queen was learning cursive letters in our lessons, she began writing capital print letters on her own.  I never spent a minute teaching her print letters, but it wasn’t long before she was fully writing in capital print letters.  I wondered if I was wasting my time with cursive since she never did that on her own, but I stuck with it.  It was just this past summer that she started writing her name in cursive rather than print.  When she is writing a note to someone, she usually asks me to write it on a piece of paper, then she copies it on her card.  Always before, she wanted me to write it “the way I write,” as she said it.  A few months ago, she switched to wanting me to write in cursive for her to copy.  All of a sudden it seems like, everything she writes is in cursive.  She absolutely loves any cursive handwriting assignments I give her, and even asks for more.  If it was up to her, she’d spend all our school time doing handwriting work.  There were a few times recently where before our official “school time” started, she was already in the room, hard at work on some writing.

IMG_5158                  IMG_5159

copywork                                            phonogram word list (She was copying from a list of print

words.  Also she got distracted and left off the “t” in “feat”!)

IMG_5163                                     IMG_5165

In her continent book, she chose to write in cursive.   Thanksgiving card (how do I turn this around??)

For us, I feel like following the cursive first philosophy has paid off.  Drama Queen is developing beautiful cursive handwriting, out of her own internal drive.  Plus, she easily learned print without any direct instruction, so at 5 years old, she can write and read in both.

Mr. BANG has learned all of his cursive Sandpaper Letters and recognizes all print letters as well.  Again, I haven’t intentionally taught him print – he’s just picked up on it.  Next week I’ll let him start his handwriting lessons, which will be cursive.  At this point, he hasn’t tried writing any letters of either form.

Which path have you taken?  What has been your experience either with cursive first or with print first?


Montessori For Everyone has a good post on this topic, including a great series of comments giving perspectives and rationales for both sides of the cursive vs. print “debate.”


Update:  I’m reorganizing my teacher cabinet and just ran across an article I printed last year but apparently never read.  It’s fascinating!  It’s written by a Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrician and explains the importance of waiting until both the left and right sides of the brain are formed before teaching children to read and write.  Also, she weighs in on this cursive vs. print topic from a scientific perspective.  Her comments are really interesting:

It makes more sense first to teach children to write the small letters of the alphabet in cursive before teaching them to print these lower case letters. When doing form drawings or writing in cursive, the right and left hemispheres are both active and working together. Printing of the lower case letters is a more abstract and advanced developmental task that requires the left hemisphere, which often isn’t developed enough for this task until seven to nine years of age. Girls may be ready to do this task by age six while boys often can’t do this task until after nine years of age.

She touches on handwriting again in her conclusion:

First grade is the time to introduce form drawing, learn the capital letters (as pictures that children can draw), and practice cursive writing. As the majority of children in the classroom strengthen their proprioceptive skills and integrate their right and left hemispheres (as evidenced by their ability to stand on one foot with their eyes closed, remember the shapes that are drawn on their backs, jump rope forward and backwards by themselves, and easily perform the cross lateral skip), then children can be more formally taught to read, and to learn how to print the lower case letters.

I definitely encourage you to take a few minutes to read the article, it’s very thought-provoking.  It definitely backs up Charlotte Mason’s philosophy that very young children need to be outside playing, not spending time in academics.


DIY: Golden Beads

One of my favorite Montessori materials are the Golden Beads.  These are math materials that really allow the child a concrete experience to develop an understanding of place value as well as addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division.

The first presentation with the beads allows the child to experience sensorially the differences between the categories, not only in bulk but also in shape and weight.  The unit bead, ten bar, hundred square, and thousand cube clearly show the geometric progression of the decimal system; each category is ten times the previous one.  That initial presentation is so important for understanding those differences, that I went ahead and bought the real set.  It’s not cheap, but it’s one of the materials worth the money.  (At Montessori Outlet, it’s around $35, and at Nienuis, it’s anywhere from $65-$160.)

Golden Bead Tray

However, once I was ready to move on to Formation of Large Numbers with Beads and Cards and the Collective Exercises, I really didn’t want to pay the money required to buy the full set of Golden Beads.  (One thousand cube is $30 and up.)  Wooden hundred squares and thousand cubes are much more reasonable (you can get 9 wooden cubes for basically the price of one bead cube), but honestly, I was doing this last minute and didn’t want to wait for a slow Montessori Outlet order to arrive.

wooden cubes

So I starting searching the internet for homemade alternatives.  I saw a lot of instructions on how to construct your own with real beads – whether with wire, pipe cleaners, or whatever else, but I wasn’t looking for something that crafty.  Plus, I didn’t want to have to run out and buy materials.  I kept looking.

I finally stumbled across a page which had a print-out of a cube pattern, complete with the dots.  Perfect!


I printed out enough to use for both thousand cubes and hundred squares.  Now, just as cardstock paper, I was going to lose most of the sensorial benefits of the Golden Beads, so I had to do a little work.

I already had foam board on hand, so I glued the hundred squares onto foam board squares so they would be at least somewhat 3-D.  That barely added any weight however, so I grabbed some coins.  I taped two pennies onto each square, between the paper and the foam.


For the cube, I taped a penny onto each square and then glued the whole thing together.  I had thought about trying to use foam board inside these as well, but decided not to.  Six months later, I’m kind of wishing I did – several of them are a bit dented in.

IMG_9105  IMG_9112IMG_9121

The final result turned out to be…definitely usable.  They are in no way up to the quality of the bead or wooden materials you can buy, but with a low budget, they do the job.  They cost literally pennies to make!  😉

You can see here how they compare with the bead materials in terms of size.

IMG_9124     IMG_9126

IMG_9120  IMG_9117

Leap Year Fun

When you are three and four years old, as my two children are, four years is pretty much an unimaginable amount of time.  While trying to help them understand the concept of Leap Year, I decided to do a fun project with them.  This was pretty much a spur-of-the-moment thing, so without any preparation, we spent the first part of our morning yesterday putting together a Leap Year time capsule.  We did some math (just using fingers) to figure out how old they will be four years from now when we open the time capsule.

I let them start decorating the box as I explained more about what it was for and how we would use it.  (I just grabbed an Amazon box that hadn’t been taken to the recycling center yet.)

We tried to think of things to put in the capsule that express who they are and what their interests are right now.  Mr. BANG immediately brought out his Cranky toy (the crane from Thomas and Friends), saying that that’s his favorite toy.  Once I reinforced that the things in the box would be put away for four years, he quickly put that back on the shelf.  However, Drama Queen brought out a single piece of wooden train track – perfect!  They have a huge bin of track pieces, so they’ll never miss that one.

We thought of some more things to put in that represent activities they enjoy:  stickers, a crayon, WikkiStix in the shape of a balloon (their favorite thing to make with WikkiStix, a little puzzle, etc.


Drama Queen helped me choose some recent photos of the two of them doing fun things, such as making Daddy’s birthday cake, meeting Daisy Duck in DisneyWorld, and Drama Queen dressed in her own self-made Peter Pan costume.  I just printed those off on my printer since I hadn’t planned ahead and ordered prints of them.

Mr. BANG got to work on making some artwork for the box.  He loves dot painting, so he chose a picture and started painting.  Drama Queen later made one of her own.


One activity Drama Queen loves repeating during school is to make booklets of her number writing.  She added one of those to the box as well.

As they worked on those things, I wrote out a list of things that would be interesting for them to reflect back on when they’re older.  I included items such as Favorite Thing to Do Outside, Favorite Thing to Do in School, and, of course, What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.  For the most part, I wrote down exactly what they answered, but there were a couple times that they said something random, so I put my observation of the real answer.  For example, when I asked Drama Queen about her favorite thing to play, she answered “truck driver.”  What?  She had driven a ride-on dump truck in my bathroom that morning…for about five minutes.  What she spends all day doing, though, is acting out Peter Pan, her latest obsession.  So I wrote down Peter Pan.  Also, I started out asking Drama Queen each question first, but quickly realized that Mr. BANG would parrot her answers.  (As he did with “truck driver.”) For the rest of the questions, I asked him first.

As we moved into our normal school lessons, I decided to take pictures of the children as they did their work.  I compiled those photos onto a couple pages and included them in the time capsule, along with a written out schedule of the day.


Once everything was in the box, they helped me tape on a note reminding us of when the box can be opened, then we stashed it away in Mr. BANG’s closet.  That may not be the best place for it as he gets older, but for right now his large, walk-in closet is used for family storage so it’s a perfect spot.

I realize that I’m posting this after Feb. 29, the special day of Leap Year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still do this project with your family.  The Leap YEAR is no where near over yet!  🙂

DIY: Green Boards

I’m actually a bit baffled by the subject of this post, the Montessori Green Boards.  I have two pages about them in my Language manual, and they are presented as an important exercise in developing beautiful handwriting.  When I was preparing to introduce Drama Queen to them recently, I assumed I would likely make them, but decided to check prices online first.  To my surprise, I haven’t been able to find them anywhere!  I checked several of the discount Montessori websites as well as Nienhuis, and haven’t found anything like the Green Boards described in my manual.  A search for the term “green board” only brought up personal-sized green chalk boards on which to practice writing letters.  Strange!  I considered skipping the Green Boards, thinking that they must not be very important if no one even sells them.  However, upon further reflection, I decided that I really like them and really thought Drama Queen would benefit from working with them.  So, I gathered materials to make my own green boards.

The Green Boards are an extension of the sandpaper letter lessons.  First, the teacher gives the child one-on-one lessons with three sandpaper letters at a time until the child is familiar with all the letters.  Then the child is able to play games with the letters, such as guessing which letter the teacher is tracing in the air, writing the letters in sand, or tracing a letter blindfolded, making the sound of it, and having a friend verify the correct sound.  The next step is for the child to work with the Green Boards, which contain several letters on each board.  The purpose of the Green Boards is to help children understand the relationships between the written letters – all the letters of a similar formation are grouped together on one Green Board.  This is how I grouped the letters (keep in mind that the letters are in cursive on the Green Boards):

c o a d g q

i u w t

n m v x y z

s r j p

e l b f h k

My Language manual’s description of the Green Boards is that they are similar to the sandpaper letters in terms of the size of the letter and the fact that the letters are made of sand, to be traced by the child.  Instead of on red boards (consonants) or blue boards (vowels), they are all on, wait for it… green boards.  I didn’t want to spend the time to cut sandpaper letters or even felt letters, as I did when I made the Sandpaper Numerals.  Instead, I wrote the letters in pencil (about half the size of the sandpaper letters).

I then used a black Sharpie to trace over the top and bottom lines and the middle dashed line.  This is the child’s first exposure to lines in letter writing.

I traced over the letters in glue, then sprinkled sand from the children’s sand table over the glue.

At first I was using Aleene’s Original Tacky Glue, but it wasn’t working well.  I ended up switching to plain old Elmer’s glue.  In this pic (which I couldn’t get to stay turned the right way), you can see the top with Elmer’s and the bottom with Aleene’s.

I made these with 12×12 green cardstock I already had on hand.  I didn’t have enough of one shade of green, so I used two different shades.  Also, I couldn’t fit all the letters on one strip, so I did some taping together once the glue dried.  (I also went back over the Aleene’s letters with the Elmer’s glue.)


I let them dry overnight, then they were ready for Drama Queen’s fingers the next day.  She initially was very excited about working with them, as she is with any new material.   I first introduced the “c” board.  I explained that all the letters on that board start the same way when writing them.  We went through the letters one at a time, with me tracing, then her tracing.  It was a good review for her.  Then we traced through the whole set quickly to really feel the similarity.

After the first board, I told her she could practice with that one more on her own, we could stop for the day and continue again the next, or we could continue right then to the next board.  To my surprise, she wanted to keep going through every board that day.  At one point, she proclaimed, “I never knew this would be so much fun!”

I put them back on the shelf after the lesson, but that evening I taped them to the closet door.  In that location, they can be an easy visual reference when she is writing, and they are low so that she can still trace them with her fingers at any point.


Sweep Away, My Son

One adult activity that many young children absolutely love to imitate is sweeping.  They’re eager to grab that broom and brush it along the floor just like Mommy and Daddy.  So fun!  Unfortunately, they’re not actually very effective with their sweeping.

You as the parent have the opportunity to give them a very special gift – teach them how to really sweep!  Of course, they enjoy just waving the broom around, but to be able to really clean an area of the floor like Mommy and Daddy do makes them feel confident and proud that they can accomplish such an important task.*

I recently gave Mr. BANG the sweeping lesson, which involves purposefully “dirtying” up the floor, allowing him to practice anytime he wants, regardless of whether or not there’s something already on the floor.

In preparation for the lesson, I cut up small pieces of construction paper to be the items he sweeps.  I set those in a Christmas container I had on hand, and placed those on a tray along with a small stack of stickers.  Those small colored circle stickers are ideal, but I chose some small square stickers instead, just based on what I could easily find in my sticker drawer.  (As a former teacher and current scrapbooker, I have no shortage of stickers!)  We already had a child-sized broom which I had purchased from Montessori Services.


Here’s the lesson, as I showed it to Mr. BANG.

1.  Carry the container of confetti to an empty space.

2.  Sprinkle one pinch of confetti over open area, then return container to shelf.

3.  Pull backing off of sticker and throw it away.  Place sticker in center of scattered confetti.


4.  Bring the broom to the confetti area, holding it vertically with two hands.


5.  Holding the broom with two hands, set bristles on opposite side of the sticker from you, and slide it toward the sticker.

6.  Walk in wide circle, pushing confetti toward sticker.

7.  Look around to see if there are any remaining pieces not on the sticker.

8.  Carry broom back.  Return with dust pan and brush.


9.  Sweep all bits into the dust pan, moving it as needed.

10.  Pick up sticker, fold it in half, and set in dust pan.


11.  Lay brush on top of dust pan; hold it like a tray in front of you.

12.  Sweep into trash can.

13.  Return brush and pan.

Mr. BANG loved this lesson, and proceeded to immediately repeat it on his own twice.  I did need to frequently check on him, though.  (As he repeated the work in the living room, I was working with Drama Queen in the playroom.)  The first time, he dropped a large amount of confetti on the floor and became overwhelmed by cleaning ALL of it up.  Both times, he had trouble getting those little paper pieces to slide onto the dust pan.  In retrospect, I actually think Cheerios, beads, or some other small 3-D item may be easier for a very young child to practice with.

Drama Queen also became re-energized with the thought of sweeping after watching Ethan.  She sometimes uses the confetti, sometimes just cleans up crumbs she sees on the floor.  She usually doesn’t bother with the sticker at this point.

*Do not immediately turn this into a chore that your child must do on a regular basis.  Just let him enjoy the experience of sweeping things up for now.

DIY: Spindle Boxes

Here’s a great DIY for anyone whose child is learning numbers, whether you typically use the Montessori method or not.  Probably all parents have smiled as their very young child sang the alphabet song, long before the child could use those letters in writing or even identify the symbol for each letter.  The same thing occurs with numbers – children learn how to verbalize a string of numbers in order long before they understand the concept of what those numbers actually mean.  That’s where the Montessori Spindle Box comes in.

The Spindle Box has 10 equal compartments, numbered 0 through 9.  The child puts the appropriate number of spindles in each box.  Doing this work helps the child understand that each number, a quantity in itself, can be made up of separate objects.  It also demonstrates in a concrete manner that zero represents no quantity.  In addition, it is an indirect preparation for the fact that there are no other symbols but 0 to 9.

For some reason, I absolutely love this lesson, and I absolutely love the Nienhuis material for it.  It’s a pretty easy DIY material, but I still had to convince myself not to spend the $30 to buy it!

Convince myself I did, though, and I must say that I love the result!  Dr. Montessori emphasized that materials for young children should be beautiful, and I think this one really is!

My first step was to decide what to use for my 45 spindles.  Popsicle sticks would work perfectly, but I didn’t have any of those on hand.  Unsharpened pencils could work if I had enough.  Q-tips were a possibility.  Sticks would be awesome when doing this as an outside activity.  I finally decided on toothpicks.

Next, I needed a container to divide into the ten sections.  We have a ridiculous number of Amazon boxes of all shapes and sizes tossed into our garage at this point, but I wanted something prettier.  I looked through the kitchen and found a beautiful tray that seemed like it could work quite well.

To make the dividers, I simply cut small strips of cardstock and held each in place with a piece of tape on each side.  I did my best to make them centered and equally sized.  I was a little off, as you can see, but I figure it’s close enough.

Next, I needed to add my numbers.  I have tons of alphabet/number stickers, so I just picked a sheet of those, stuck the stickers on cardstock, cut them, and taped them onto my tray.


The only other material I needed was something with which to tie together each group of toothpicks.  My manual says to tie ribbons around each group, but Drama Queen isn’t that good with tying bows yet.  Rubber bands would work, but I couldn’t find that many small rubber bands.  I was just about to decide to skip that step (I’ll explain all the steps below), when it occurred to me that I have a little girl.  Which means I have hair loops.  Lots and lots of colorful hair loops.  I raided her hair accessory container and chose 8 loops, each of a different color (she doesn’t have 8 of any one color).

To add a little festiveness, I used Christmas items to hold the toothpicks and hair loops.


The next morning, both kids were immediately drawn to the beautiful new materials.  These are the steps of the lesson, as Drama Queen did them.

1.  Bring spindle box, toothpicks, and container of loops one at a time to the table.

2.  Point to “1”.  Ask child to read it.

3.  Point at other numbers through 9, asking child to read them.

4.  Tell child and demonstrate how to place the toothpicks gently one by one, counting out loud, into the compartments.

5.  Demonstrate the first two or three compartments and allow the child to continue.  (Drama Queen was very eager to do it herself!)

6.  When all the compartments have been filled, show that the toothpick dish is empty.

7.  Show empty “zero” compartment.

8.  Say, “There are no toothpicks because this number is zero.  Zero means nothing, no quantity.’

9.  Get out loops and tell child, “We will tie together each group of toothpicks.”  Do not tie “1” since it is not a group.  This gives the sensorial impression to the child that the separate objects represent one number.  Double wrapping the loops was quite a challenge for Drama Queen at first, but she was determined to learn how to do it, so she kept working at it until she got it.


10.  Remove all loops and place back in box.  Return toothpicks to dish.

11.  Invite child to repeat exercise.

There’s also a fun Zero Game you can play with the child after she’s done some work with the spindle box.  You can do this with multiple children or just one.  Ask each child to carry out quick actions a certain number of times.  After asking a child to do something zero times, plead with her, “Why are you not doing anything?”  Allow her to explain that she was told to do it zero times.

Product Review: Geometric Cabinet from Alison’s Montessori

Last Wednesday, I was SOOO excited to win a Geometric Cabinet from Alison’s Montessori and Living Montessori Now.  Just TWO days later, on Friday afternoon, I found this on my front porch:

Talk about a speedy delivery!  If their shipping is always that fast, they are THE place to order Montessori materials you need the next week!

I was pretty much giddy when I opened the box and got to start playing with my absolutely gorgeous new cabinet.  It truly is lovely, as Maria thought materials for children should be.

To give a fair review, though, I do want to share some concerns I had about it as I began to look at it more closely.

*The top of it sags in the middle.  It’s practically unnoticeable unless you’re purposefully noting the fine details, so it’s not that big of a deal.  The only real problem from it is that not every drawer can fit in that space.  I tried to move some drawers around, and realized that other drawers won’t fit there.  Strange, but not a huge deal.

*One of the drawers is not a perfect rectangle, so the frames do not actually fit.  One corner is just a little shy of a 90 degree angle, so the frame in that corner has to overlap with the frame beneath it a little.  That’s annoying to me, but again, not a huge deal.

*The oval has a point at the top.  Have you ever seen an oval with a point?  What is that??  (For comparison, I’ve included the typical oval form that is used in Montessori materials.  This is an oval metal inset, which is supposed to be the same size and shape as the oval in the geometry cabinet.)


*There was one four-sided figure in the triangle drawer.  I don’t understand why a four-sided figure was placed in a drawer that is specifically for three-sided figures.  I took it out and replaced it with a triangle I found elsewhere.

*There was a rectilinear figure in the curvilinear drawer.  Again, why?  And again, I took it out.

*I ended up with two rectilinear figures and one triangle that aren’t part of the material in my manual.  I’m simply storing those in my teacher’s cabinet.

*The drawers were in a different order than what I had learned in my training.  That may be one of those things that’s taught differently depending on what type of training you received.  It was easy to just switch around the drawers (which is how I found out the top one had to stay at the top;  I just switched the contents for that one).

I must admit that I was disappointed over some of those things, but as I stated, most of it was easily corrected.  I’m still stuck with that pointed oval, which is so strange.

Despite those flaws, though, I still absolutely love my new cabinet and am still completely thrilled that I own it.  Drama Queen got to start working with it on Monday, and was so excited!  I had previously given her all the introductory lessons with my homemade Geometric Cabinet, so for this lesson, I was at the point of showing her how to work with a whole drawer.  I think she ended up working with each of the drawers that day – she just kept going back to it!


These are each of the six drawers of the Geometric Cabinet:

Drawer 1: 6 circles, varying in diameter from 10 cm to 5 cm

Drawer 2:  6 rectangles, varying in size from 10×10 cm to 10×5 cm

Drawer 3:  6 different types of triangles (isosceles obtuse, isosceles right, scalene obtuse, isosceles acute, scalene right, equilateral)

Drawer 4:  6 different regular polygons (pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon,  decagon)

Drawer 5:  4 curvilinear figures (quatrefoil, curvilinear triangle, oval, ellipse)

Drawer 6:  4 rectilinear figures (isosceles trapezoid, rhombus, right trapezoid, parallelogram)