Sensory Sand Trays Great for Letter Practice


My husband and I first saw the Sensory Sand-Writing Tray at a Montessori school.

We watched as the school’s director filled a wooden tray with sand and then used two fingers to draw a large letter. He explained that young children may have difficulty with fine motor skills (like controlling a pencil,) but from a young age, they can write using their entire hand.

With a little shake, the sand was smooth again. And the slate was ready for a new letter!

This kind of hands-on learning and innovative thinking is what attracted us to the Montessori method.

Montessori Sand Tray At Home

We made our own fine motor sand-writing tray for the kids to use at home using a bottle of colored yellow sand from Hobby Lobby which we put into a dollar store rectangular baking tin. (*If you have pets, use a pan with a lid.)

Our daughter is old enough to practice writing Sight Words using Sight Word Cards as a guide.

For our 3 year old son, we set out cards with shapes so he can practice drawing shapes in the sand, too.

And, what kid doesn’t love to just touch sand?

For other Critters And Crayons posts on Montessori-inspired activities, materials and topics, please check out:

Bio: Trica is a blogger and mom of two at Critters and Crayons. Find her Collaborative Montessori-Inspired Activities And Ideas Pinterest Board for more great ideas!

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  • http://crittersandcrayons.com/ tricia

    Thanks for allowing us to guest post! Love your blog, Melissa- Enjoy DC!

  • Marie

    Your daughter is so cute… I love the color of her Sensory Sand-Writing Tray.. This is really helpful for the toddlers to learn writing the letters of the alphabet. Thanks for sharing the idea…

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  • http://theoutlawmom.com Chrissy @ The Outlaw Mom Blog

    Great idea, Tricia! I love how people with little ones never use baking pans for their intended purpose :-) We’ve tried this activity with rice and with flour, but never with the most obvious choice – will have to try this now! Thanks for sharing :-)

  • http://Lisa OOOoo! A sand day!

    What a great idea – and so easy!! I’ll try this for spelling/writing, and then let the kids play with the sand and some measuring tools to see where that takes them. I’m thinking writing and math both done in sand :) I’m sure we could do science in this too. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://beginningreadinghelp.blogspot.com Michelle Breum

    I love sand, rice, and finger paint to teach children to form letters. Forming letters can be taught even before a child can hold a pencil correctly. I think it’s important to teach correct letter formation early. Once a child practices making letters a certain way, it can be very hard to relearn the correct way.

    I’m curious. What style of writing do you teach? Schools in my area teach D’Nealian or Manuscript printing. I started a discussion about this on my BlogFrog community. http://theblogfrog.com/1501335/forum/157686/what-style-of-printing-do-you-teach.html

  • http://namzola.blogspot.com/ Nami

    What kid doesn’t like playing with sand, indeed! This is a great idea even for older kids as a sort of stress reliever, wouldn’t you say? Thanks for sharing this – as always, your ideas rock.

  • http://crittersandcrayons.com/ tricia

    Thanks for the wonderful comments, guys! I have to tell you all- I took out the tray again today- since the post was running, it seemed appropriate. My son is refusing to draw his letters with his fingers. Instead, he is drawing numbers and doughnuts with his mini-monster trucks. haha! I think a Montessori Guide would say that we should channel that kind of play into the learning process…so I think we’re on the right track, still! haha! :) Thanks, again, Melissa!

  • http://crittersandcrayons.com/ tricia

    Michelle Breum- I hadn’t considered the style of writing we were teaching…But, our Montessori School Director knows we do these activities at home and suggested that we focus first on lower case letters since that is what they are emphasizing in school- I would say we use Basic Manuscript Handwriting techniques that match up with websites like this one: http://www.handwritingforkids.com/handwrite/manuscript/alphabets/alphabetisforword.php?ID=4

    Thank you for such a thought-provoking question. We moved a lot as a child and I entered an elementary school that taught D’Nealian handwriting. It was completely new to me and I did NOT do well at it since we were only there for half a year. :( I remember it was a very pretty form of writing, though!

  • http://www.schoolsparks.com/kindergarten-worksheets School Sparks Renee

    Colored sand is a great idea. Love how easy it is to “clear the board” by shaking. Also thought your idea of putting the word card in the sand was a good one – the card stays in place and easy to see. Renee

    • http://crittersandcrayons.com/ tricia

      Thank you, Renee! :)

  • http://PragmaticMom.com Pragmatic Mom

    That looks fun. I was also thinking it is great to use to practice Chinese Characters for kids learning Mandarin Chinese.

    I also saw this cool thing on pinterest: use large zip lock bag, fill with hair gel, glitter (optional) and dye with food coloring. Then use bag to trace letters with your finger. Or Chinese Characters.

    The person said to get hair gel at the dollar store. It’s portable too! And perfect for practicing the alphabet — squishy but not messy.

    • http://crittersandcrayons.com/ tricia

      Pragmatic Mom- I saw that, too! I sent that to my friend moving to China! Such a neat idea with the hair gel in the bag!

  • http://mamasmiles.com maryanne @ mama smiles

    We’ve done this with cornmeal, but I bet the kids would love colored sand! And I really like the sight words idea – haven’t done that!

    • http://crittersandcrayons.com/ tricia

      Cornmeal would work perfectly and it is probably very accessible! The best part is that we wouldn’t have to worry if they put their fingers in their mouth! Great idea!

  • http://crittersandcrayons.com tricia

    Pragmatic Mom- The Chinese Characters idea is GENIUS- and the portable baggy idea is BRILLIANT (especially for road trips!!!!) We are teaching our kids Chinese and Korean characters- and that is a great way to teach them, for sure- Especially as important as the brush strokes are in Chinese lettering! Thank you!

  • Carol

    What can I say to your post. This is very helpful to children to develop their skills and academic subjects.

    • http://crittersandcrayons.com/ tricia

      Thanks, Carol!

  • Miles

    Great post, as a mom I can use every ideas that you share here with us in order to provide the best for our children… Thanks a lot.