What’s After Learning Letter Sounds?

[This post contains some links to my shop.  I’m going to show you a couple of ways you can use this material, found here.]

Alphabet Matching Cards

Alphabet Matching Cards

Are you a phonics reader?  Was it taught or caught for you?  During my time (sounds so ancient), I think we weren’t explicitly taught phonics.  Whatever phonics we did utilize, if at all, was learnt incidentally.  It’s hazy in my mind now how I learnt to read.  I think it was the mere exposure many times to a particular word (sight words) or eventually, one just figures out the pattern by trial and error.  After going through the Montessori course, it’s a bit clearer now how to move beyond learning individual letter sounds and I’d like to share a bit, if language learning is your thing!

When children first enter N1 or N2, one of the first formal curriculum they will encounter for language will be phonics – letter sounds.  The school may use various phonics tools like Zoophonics or Letterland, and/or employ really singable and memorable songs like Ants on the Apple etc.   The key point is to help the child learn the sounds each letter makes.

In addition to Ants on the Apple/Zoophonics/Letterland, there are a few activities to start the child writing (yes, spelling!) and reading.  I’ll list and explain some activities and materials used in the Montessori Pink Scheme in language learning as we go along.

  1. Sandpaper Letters 
    To help the child trace and develop muscular memory of the shape of the letters, the teacher introduces the child to the sandpaper letters.  She will introduce the sound, e.g. ‘p’.  Then she’ll ask the child to trace the letter.  This is to give the child tactile experience of “writing” the shape of the letter.  K’s school, and I suppose many others, will further reinforce their letter sound knowledge through drawing and art and craft.  I admit I’m a little surprised that they take 1 whole year to learn 26 letters (and not very well still, cuz K still can’t write very well).  But yes, actually, it makes sense that these little minds do take that long because it is a lot to master.  26 different sounds and shapes and they all look pretty similar!  If your child takes longer than that, please don’t worry or rush them and remember it is hard stuff for 3-4 year olds.

    If you are interested, you can make your own set of sandpaper letters for really cheap!  It just takes a bit of work and time.  First, buy some medium grade sandpaper.  I was kiasu and bought the roughest possible.  K made quite a fuss when I asked her to trace the letters.  Haha… Cruelty to small, tender hands?  Print out the alphabet in A5-size (or whatever size you like).  Cut them out.  Flip the letters and trace them onto the sandpaper.  Cut the sandpaper letters out.  Mount them on card stock or construction paper.  For a more detailed tutorial on how to make them, see this post from our very own Kiasuparents.com .

    DIY sandpaper letters

    DIY sandpaper letters

    Or, you could get one of these letter frames and ask your little trooper to trace the frame.  That could work as well!  Your child can also match the letters to the corresponding frames.

    K tracing the frame of K.

    K tracing the frame of K.


    K tracing K on the flipside of the card, which shows the standard way of writing.


    Matching wooden letters to the corresponding cards

  2. Large Movable Alphabet 
    Montessori schools also use a material known as the Large Movable Alphabet which is a set of individual wooden letters that the child can feel and touch.  They learn to match the moveable alphabet to the corresponding sandpaper letters as a follow-up activity.  Montessori’s method always follows the principle of introducing the child concrete to abstract representations of a concept.  Since print is abstract, she tries to concretize it by letting the child handle and play with wooden letters – to touch and manipulate.

    Matching Large Moveable Alphabet and Sandpaper Letters

    Matching Large Moveable Alphabet to Sandpaper Letters

    You’d be a carpentry genius if you try to DIY yourself!  I’m not, so I bought 1 set myself and had another gifted to me by dear friend Mummy J!  But if you don’t mind not having the neat wooden frame that houses all the letters so beautifully, there are many cheaper options available, example, those plastic letters with magnets at the back or this Matching Alphabet set.  Basically any set of letters that can be moved around will do!  I like the 3D effect and the weight of wooden letters.  If not, you can even print and cut those letters out yourself.

  3. Segmenting Words into Letter Sounds (Using Moveable Alphabets)
    This next part is when your child is already very familiar with the individual letter sounds.  Now, we’ve got to help him/her break words down into the sounds and then put the sounds together again.  This is the beginning of reading!  Exciting eh?

    So I show K a picture card (or toy or object) and we talk about it.  What is it?  Where do you find it?  Of course, we pick easy 2-3 letter regular phonetic words which are familiar to her.  Regular words mean if we segment the sounds, they can be sounded back together e.g. jam.  ‘Apple’, though a familiar word, is NOT a regular word because air-pe-pe-le-eh put together does not sound like “apple”.  So I ask K, “What sounds can you hear from the word ‘jam’?”  I repeat the word many many times and if it’s the first time we are sounding the word, I may even have to segment it for her.  On good days, she can pick out the sounds quite easily.  On distracted days, I’m talking to a flighty bird and hitting my head against a wall.  She manages to pick out the sounds and I realize that she’s good at hearing the beginning sound and getting better at the ending sounds, but she’s not too good at hearing the vowels yet – which is quite common, I guess.  Then, I arrange the sounds in the correct order and we read out each sound again.  I then blend the sounds for her to hear – je-air-mm, je-am, jam.  We do no more than 3 words a day.  And I try to repeat those same words till it comes more naturally for her.  We have been stuck at words with vowel ‘a’ for the longest time, since maybe last September and we are moving very slowly onto the ‘e’ words.

    Sounding out the sound and searching for the letters.

    Sounding out the word and searching for the letters.


    Found all the letters!

    The point is after they get so good at segmenting words into sounds, they can do spelling tests just by hearing the words!  Of course, this only applies to phonetic, regular words and not sight words, like ‘dinosaur’, to which, there aren’t many shortcuts unfortunately.

    There we go!  3 or more different ways to use this educational toy over a pretty long stretch of time.  The Large Moveable Alphabet is used throughout Pink, Blue and Green Schemes (all the way to 5-6 years old where they learn longer words and combination vowels).  Quite worth it right?  Only problem with this (and other letter sets) is that there is only 1 letter of each.  How then do you form longer words or words with repeated letters?  e.g. ‘bee’ or ‘add’?  Print/write your own and make multiple copies of each letter!  K’s school has jotterbooks where the child sounds out the letters, then paste each letter to form a word.  The teacher lets them draw and articulate what the word reminds them of or means to them.  Such a great idea to help the child contextualize words and not just rote learn all these words in what seems like a vacuum.

    Final word.  I’ve tried pushing, I’ve tried taking a more relaxed approach in teaching K to read.  Definitely, without a doubt, relaxed is better.  Introduce these activities gently and slowly to your child.  If he/she shows no interest, finish up and put it away, pull them out again a few weeks later.  Eventually, he/she will catch on and when they are ready to read and when they want to learn, you’ll be ready for that window!  In addition, read, read, read to your child!  It’s, without a doubt, a great time of bonding.


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