Montessori Elementary Homeschool Blog - with documentation of our infant Montessori, toddler Montessori, and primary Montessori experiences; as well as preparation for the upcoming adolescent Montessori homeschool years.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Movable Alphabet in our Home

In our home, the alphabet system we use is as follows, according to the AMI Montessori primary and elementary albums:

All letters are CURSIVE

sandpaper letters: 
pink consonants
blue vowels
(I made ours and our "box" is just a white cardboard box)

sandpaper phonograms:  
(we do have a nice wood box for these ones)

Small Movable Alphabet Cursive Red & Blue 5C/10V Wood Thick 3mm
The x is upside down in this photo

wooden movable alphabet: 
red consonants, blue vowels
organized alphabetically (ideal is NOT alphabetical, but this was affordable, and smaller, but still large enough to work with)

printed movable alphabet: 
(no not in print; this is cursive printed on the computer - these COULD be in print)
set 1: red
Plano 3701 Size Prolatch with Adjustable Dividersset 2: blue
set 3: black
I chose the colors - you could use green (phonogram) and black (rest of the word) to start, then add red for the later activities (red denotes "new").
All stored in a Plano 3701 Tacklebox - one alphabet per tacklebox. This box has curved bottom for ease of removing the letters; and just the right number of compartments needed in the right sizes!

NOTE: This set started out as a tile-based movable alphabet - I had the consonants in red and the vowels in blue - so that longer stories could be written. But then, we transitioned to full-color alphabets.
In a home with lots of children, you'll probably want both types - this post is just about what we have now ;)

This is not ours - but shown here to show
the contents of our tacklebox shown above :) 
For our homeschool and co-op, this has been enough thus far; but I will soon be adding another printed color set because of the number of children needing this material at co-op. For PRIMARY, 3 sets is sufficient, and you could get by with 2. For ELEMENTARY, you really want 3 sets for home use, possibly 4 for ease of use - it is used for a LOT of things, in particular word study and spelling games. It is easy to make and the tacklebox is perfect size.

At first, I did not print the capitals on the back - we needed the lower case right then, so I didn't take the time to add the capitals until we needed them and I just wrote some in; but the capitals should be on one side and the lowercase on the others; as well as cards for punctuation in one of the colors, so that longer stories can be written out. This is where children learn punctuation and capitalization - with this small movable alphabet.

So why the Plano 3701 Tacklebox?

  • With the dividers it comes with, there are enough slots for all 26 letters in the same box. You could even add punctuation if you are so inclined (there are sets in my primary album that include punctuation). 
  • the far and near sides of the bottoms are curved so the letters slip out so easily with one's fingers (flat bottoms do not allow for ease of removal at all)
  • The dividers stay in place so letters don't slip underneath (at least in my experience; the flat bottomed ones allow for sliding of the letters to the next compartment)
  • They are affordable at $10 each; and free shipping on Amazon if over $25; I've sometimes seen them in the $8 range as well. 

We have other alphabets, but this is it for our movable alphabet collection ;)

UPDATED TO ADD some close-ups of the tackle-boxes in question:

Photos of our actual colors ;)
Note the curved bottoms
(pictured is a smaller box - punctuation
 or use for numerals/operations/symbols)


  1. Why the choice for cursive? Did I miss your explanation on another post? If I have, I apologize.

  2. No apologies necessary!

    I have covered cursive a bit over at Montessori Nuggets, and there are additional Nuggets coming up on the topic. So I've not covered it here quite so much.

    A past post here on Montessori Trails indicates my son did learn lower-case print first; then he started writing in capital letters (noone taught him). He was 3 at the time. If I had it to do all over, we'd have started with cursive, and larger sizes than I originally used.

    My initial reason for choosing cursive was it was Maria Montessori's original alphabet provided to the children. I did not "get" this when I first started, although it is plain in all of her writings. I just didn't see it ;)

    As on ongoing practical matter, cursive has many benefits:
    --the curved line is natural to the children - they create curves ALL the time (scribbles, loops, etc).
    --the straight line is a standard of perfection but since cursive doesn't have to have many straight lines, a child can be successful in a wide variety of ways
    --it is an art form - it lends itself to beauty and grace
    --when learned at a young age, it is very easy to transition to print (see Montessori's story about her own concern "how do I teach these children print?" (and this is when print was nowhere as prevalent as now) - the children suddenly started reading Gothic print on a calendar
    --the transition is not the same in reverse - children who learn print first struggle to learn cursive - they've been trained out of their natural inclinations so long it is hard to go back to it.
    --creating words becomes easier because each word is a connected unit by itself
    --it better allows the development of the habit of staying on a straight line when writing, even without a line - since the letters within a word are connected
    --for those kids with dyslexia, it eradicates the b/d/p reversals and other letter confusions. There is still a slight issue with q/g but emphasizing that q is usually followed by u and establishing that pattern early on, takes care of that issue.
    --it is a faster way to write
    --it is more natural for me to write to my son in cursive and since he was in the sensitive period for language, cursive was just as easy to learn (if not easier), so it just fit. We've had our struggles along the way (from outside influences), but overall, this has been the case. Wish I'd known all of this sooner :)

    Ultimately, print is used for reading; cursive is for writing.

    Therefore the card-stock version of the alphabet above - I could have done in print, but I chose to continue with the cursive because the children I work with already know print and having the cursive reinforces it.

    I have *personally* found no benefit to learning print first and cursive later, but I am open to ideas! I know some people compromise with italics, but I find I can't personally do that either because italics aren't used routinely anywhere at all. And I want to give my son something functional.

  3. Thanks for the explanation. I've been noticing my almost 2 year old writing/drawing a line of connected scribbles and then saying it's so-and-so's name. I always write to her in cursive since reading your post here and she is starting to mimic me. Do you write sentence strips with words on them that the kids want to know? I was thinking of doing this with a picture where appropriate.