handwriting practice, Montessori, sand tray

5 Handwriting Practice Activities That Are Engaging and Fun

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Montessori handwriting practice lessons

We’re switching gears and going into the Montessori handwriting practice sequence.

My previous blog post discussed writing phrases with the hands-on Montessori moveable alphabet. There are a few additional lessons with the moveable alphabet I haven’t covered yet, but right around this time, your child may also start to express interest in exploring handwriting. 

Writing words with the moveable letters is a beautiful opportunity for young children to write and express their thoughts without picking up a pencil, which can be frustrating. 

Every child is different, and we want each child to progress into handwriting with a pencil when ready naturally. Handwriting is a big topic and a huge step in your child’s development. 

Here we will explore the five handwriting practice lessons in the language sequence I learned from my Montessori training. I’ll also share how it went with my almost five-year-old daughter, Annie, at home!  

handwriting practice pin

In This Post

The writing process and developmental skills

Handwriting is a very complex task. Children combine their different skills, such as fine motor, language, communication, storytelling, and art experiences, to do the act of writing. 

Mastering fine motor skills doesn’t always happen simultaneously with cognitive development. Therefore, the journey of handwriting will look different for each child.

Parents and educators must model good handwriting skills and show enthusiasm for writing and reading. We model that we love the written word while reading to our children. 

As adults, we also offer various writing materials that are fun and exciting and help our children with handwriting.

What Pre-writing skills and activities do children need?

Before moving on to letter formation, offering opportunities for pre-writing handwriting practice and skills is essential. 

It can be frustrating for a child to be forced into formal handwriting instruction before she is developmentally ready. Also, we want to prevent inefficient pencil grips if forced too soon. 

Scary Mommy’s articleIt’s Okay—And Totally Normal—That Your Pre-K Kid Can’t Write Yet, says:

"we need to expose our kids to print often and talk about it—including books, road signs, cereal boxes, kids’ magazines, etc. Also, when we write and they are watching, we should model the correct letter formation (First letter in uppercase, the rest in lowercase, etc.) And, we should encourage our young kids to play with letters—wooden blocks, magnetic letters on the refrigerator, etc. because kids learn by playing and we must always remember that."

Examples of skills young children can work on before letter formation include:

Fine motor skills include peg boards, play dough, crayons, other art materials, and tweezing.

Eye muscle and focus like pouring water, clothespins, dropper/baster, throwing a ball, building a tower, and crossing the midline.

Coordination between right and left, like scissors, stringing beads, folding paper or napkins, and hammering nails.

Visualization and spatial awareness like drawing a picture after hearing a story, writing letters in the sand, and writing words with the moveable alphabet.

Visual-motor skills like copying shapes, letters, and numbers, patterning, following mazes, and coloring within the lines.

Posture control, like sitting upright while doing activities at the table.

Self-regulation, like settling to sit and focus on work.

handwriting practice, Montessori, sand tray
trace the letter in the sand

Also, it’s important for your child to have the ability to:

  • establish hand dominance for drawing
  • have an efficient pencil grasp
  • understand the left, right, top, and bottom
  • make basic shapes and lines
  • recognize letters and numbers and ask how to make them
  • have an awareness of print as a communication

These pre-writing skills and activities will help build a strong foundation for handwriting. 

I learned from my Montessori training that many classroom materials offer indirect preparation for handwriting. This includes activities in practical life, sensorial and art exploration that develop fine motor control

During this process, your child will also have an efficient pencil grasp and become aware of print as communication at her own pace.

Direct handwriting preparation

Montessori metal insets, handwriting practice, Montessori, metal insets
tracing the pink triangle frame metal inset

Additionally, before our children begin to write, they observe us, the adults, as we model and show our love for reading and writing. 

We show them the parts of a book (cover, title page, table of contents) and parts of the paper (top, bottom), moving from left to right, and sometimes we point out capital letters, spaces, and punctuation. 

At the same time, some direct preparation for handwriting happens with Montessori lessons, such as the metal insets, which is the first activity I discuss below. Also, the sandpaper letters offer your child the “feel” of the letters in a hands-on way. 

The sand tray and the chalkboard lessons discussed below also give your child direct handwriting practice for forming letters. 

Here are the 5 handwriting practice activities

handwriting practice, Montessori, metal insets
tracing the blue inner circle with the knob

The metal insets are a beautiful iconic Montessori language material. They are like tracing stencils used for direct handwriting practice. If you don’t have the metal insets at home, you could try different shape stencils.

The metal insets give practice in pencil control, grip, and a lightness of touch. Also, all of the strokes of the ten metal insets shapes are those necessary to write the graphic symbols of the alphabet.

The ten shapes each have a pink outer frame shape and a matching blue inset shape with a knob. They go together like shape puzzles. 

Three shapes (circle, square, and triangle) are shown in the pictures above, but there are also seven more shapes: oval, ellipse, rectangle, curvilinear triangle, trapezoid, pentagon, and quatrefoil. 

It’s important to note that while tracing, you go counterclockwise to prepare for handwriting. 

The children love tracing the shapes with colored pencils; you can make various patterns and designs with them. 

2. Sand Tray

"Touching the letters as if they were being written initiates the muscular training that prepares for writing."

handwriting practice, Montessori, sand tray
trace the sandpaper letter first
handwriting practice, Montessori, sand tray
trace the letter in the sand

The sand tray is another direct preparation activity in the handwriting practice sequence. 

Your child starts by tracing a sandpaper letter and then tracing the letter in the sand. It’s important to model to your child first on tracing the letter, making sure you go counterclockwise to prepare for handwriting.

The sand tray is a great lesson for a hands-on sensory experience and a big classroom hit. The younger children (three-and-a-half) love this activity. 

Check out my blog post about sandpaper letters to learn how to make them at home. The sand tray activity is easy to DIY at home!

3. Chalkboard

handwriting practice, Montessori, chalkboard
tracing the sandpaper letter first
handwriting practice, Montessori, chalkboard
writing the letter with chalk on a chalkboard

Like the sand tray, the chalkboard writing practice activity starts with tracing a sandpaper letter. Then, you write the letter on the chalkboard.

With the chalkboard, though, your child gets the opportunity to practice writing a letter’s formation. 

The best part is that your child can always erase the letter and start again if she doesn’t like how it came out. There is less frustration this way. 

Your child starts with a blank chalkboard like in the pictures above. Explore all of the letters in the alphabet. 

Then, you can move on to chalkboards with a grid or lines to practice letter size, consistency, and line placement. 

4. Handwriting rugs

handwriting practice, Montessori, handwriting rugs
organizing letters by height, ascenders, and descenders on the lines

Handwriting rugs are a great hands-on tool that helps your child with continued handwriting practice and line placement. Several variations of the handwriting rugs are used for each child’s specific needs and where they may need extra practice.

For example, in the above photo, my daughter, Annie, is sorting the Montessori moveable alphabet letters and placing them on the line based on their letter positions on the line.

On the first line, she sorted small letters that fit between the two lines. On the second line, she sorted letters that go above the line (ascenders); on the third line, she sorted letters that go below the line (descenders). 

It was a funny observation to see her sort all the blue letters (vowels) first and that they were all small and fit in between the two blue lines!

Other handwriting rug activities include sorting the letters based on the beginning stroke on a blank rug with no lines. For instance, the letters c, d, qog, and a, all begin with that first stroke when we write them in print. 

The fun part is that you can also use the handwriting rugs with lines on them when writing words, phrases, sentences, and stories with the moveable alphabet. 

5. Paper

handwriting practice, Montessori, paper
first trace the sandpaper letter
handwriting practice, Montessori, paper
write the letter v with a gel crayon on blank paper

After your child has explored various indirect and direct handwriting opportunities, including fine motor and art activities, tracing sandpaper letters, metal insets, and writing letters with the sand tray and the chalkboard, it’s time to practice writing letters on paper.

You start with unlined paper. First, your child traces a sandpaper letter and then writes the letter on the blank paper. It’s important to focus on one letter at a time.

Different colored paper and writing materials, such as colored pencils, markers, or crayons, are encouraged to keep it fun and exciting. In the photo above, Annie is using a purple gel crayon.

Annie had a great time practicing writing letters with the different art materials. 

After practicing writing letters on blank paper, your child can move on to writing letters on lined paper. Your child can always return to handwriting practice with chalkboards with lines. With chalkboards, you can always erase and try again!

handwriting practice, Montessori, paper
writing the letter n with colored pencil on colored paper

"we may say that the two mechanical factors of writing are resolved into two independent exercises, that is, drawing, which gives the hand the ability to handle the writing instrument, and touch the letters of the alphabet, which serves to establish a motor memory along with a visual memory of the letters."

handwriting practice, Montessori, paper
writing the letter a on paper

Concluding Thoughts about handwriting practice

For the past several months, Annie’s favorite thing to do has been drawing pictures and telling stories about them. She also loves to write her name and the first letter of her last name. She is starting to write other letters.

I have found in the Montessori classroom that when young children around four years old start to spend a lot of time drawing at the art table, they are about to begin to write. I found this to be true with Annie at home, as well. 

Simultaneously with the handwriting practice activities, your child works on writing words with the moveable alphabet. Her writing and reading adventure seems to come together, and she naturally begins to have “aha” moments. 

It’s important to remember that every child is different, and we want each child to go at their own pace so that there is little frustration when picking up a pencil to form letters. 

Note: my upcoming blog posts will go into each one of these five handwriting practice lessons in great depth. Keep an eye out for those.

Has your child started handwriting practice activities yet? Which one of the five lessons would you like to try next with your child? Leave a comment below!

 

More Montessori Resources

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Montessori handwriting practice activities

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23 thoughts on “5 Handwriting Practice Activities That Are Engaging and Fun”

  1. I appreciate your reminder that every child is different and should be allowed to go at their own pace when it comes to writing. My daughter needs to improve her handwriting for sure.

  2. Catherine Shane Cabuhat

    These are awesome tips to know especially for a new mom like me. I agree with you that we can’t force a child to learn immediately at an early age.

  3. It’s important to develop these skills as young as they are. The sand tray looks really fun. I like it the most!

    1. Hi Beth,
      I’m happy you enjoyed reading about handwriting practice. The Montessori sand tray is a big hit with the kids!

  4. Barbie Ritzman

    The sand tray for writing is a unique and fun idea. Love that it is getting kids to learn away from a computer

  5. These ideas are just fabulous, I love the one with the sand tray most, what a nice way to learn, it must be very calming as well, truly an excellent idea.

    1. Hi Ivana,

      The sand tray is a favorite with the kids for handwriting practice. All of the hands-on activities are so calming!

  6. This was such an informative article for me to read. I think my kids would benefit from these exercises over the summer break for practicing their handwriting.

    1. Hi Steph,

      I’m glad you found the handwriting practice activities helpful to do with your kids!

  7. Handwriting is an important skill everyone needs to learn. Technology has replaced some of this need, but will never replace it completely. I like the idea of the sand box most of all.

    1. Hi Bryan,

      Yes, I agree. It’s important to remember to include hands-on handwriting practice.

  8. Its important that the activities are engaging and fun. or else learning can be difficult. Thank you for the ideas.

  9. Rose Ann Sales

    These are all really great and wonderful ideas to practice hand writing for kids! Thanks for sharing this with us

  10. This site always has the best ideas and information for teaching our children. I appreciate all the details on why handwriting practice is important for our children. The sand block looks like the perfect ‘toy’ to help in this endeavor.

    1. Hi Stephanie,

      Thank you so much for the kind words and I’m happy you enjoyed reading about handwriting practice!

  11. It’s amazing how these Montessori handwriting activities develop fine motor control and help children develop an efficient pencil grasp naturally. I’m left-handed and was taught how to write by a Catholic nun who didn’t appreciate that my hand always smeared the paper. At least she didn’t hit my hand with a ruler like my mother said they did at her age!

  12. Great post! As a former preschool teacher I know just how important developing fine motor skills is for handwriting. It truly makes such a difference! These are great ideas to help develop better fine motor skills, thanks for sharing these ideas!

    1. Hi Valery,

      Thank you! It’s so great to explore Montessori’s unique handwriting practice activities.

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