This article is also available in Spanish
By Michelle Becka
Recently, the Primary students at MNW explored how the child in the Casa is introduced to the symbols for the sounds of our English language. As part of their exploration of the Sandpaper Letters, and their discoveries of how we present writing letters on a chalkboard and paper, we discussed how letters are actually shapes; shapes that were arbitrarily assigned to represent a specific sound or, in some cases, a few different sounds. We can think about these shapes in a similar manner to how one might appreciate a piece of abstract art, or a beautiful design.
Children, when practicing writing the letters, will often notice the properties of the letter in an artistic way. For example, looking at /b/ and deciding it looks like a banana, or that the /s/ looks like a sailboat, or maybe that the /m/ goes up and down like a roller coaster. The child is blessed with a beginner’s mind! At their first Sandpaper Letter lesson, the child does not yet know what sound the shape represents, and thus first appreciates it as simply a shape.
In order to attempt to recreate this experience for the students, they were introduced to images of some of the different languages that are spoken by a few of our international students, including: Chinese, Tamil, Vietnamese, Russian, and Farsi. Some of the images that were shown represent single letters, and others represent words.
Take a look at the images below and see if you can capture for yourself what a child might be feeling when they view one of the Sandpaper Letters, that sensation of appreciating the shape and form of the letter, even though you do not know the sound it makes or the meaning it represents. Next time you are presenting handwriting in the Casa, keep this sensation alive. Have fun appreciating with the child the beauty of the form and the shape of the letter, as well as the sound it makes. Handwriting is certainly a marvelous thing, especially when it is seen as beautiful and creative!
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Michelle Becka obtained her BA in Sociology from The University of Arizona in 1994. After moving to Portland, she discovered Montessori education. She attended Montessori (Institute) Northwest when it was located in Oregon City, and graduated with her Primary Diploma from MNW and her Masters in Education from Loyola University Maryland in 1997. Michelle worked as a Primary teacher for 17 years at Childpeace Montessori in NW Portland, and became a Primary Trainer at MNW in 2017. Over the years, she has done many workshops on topics such as non-violent communication, positive phrasing, helping children solve conflict, and yoga with children.