DIY Montessori Sand Writing and Drawing Tray – Preschool Learning Activity

Use this handy, fun Montessori sand writing tray to teach your child how to write their letters, and ultimately, learn to read! It comes with a free printable for all the letters.

DIY Montessori Sand Writing Tray with Free Printable for the Letter Cards

It might look like Gabe has a blue skin disease on his cheeks, but it’s just some marker he thought would make a nice face decoration.

Montessori Sensitive Period

Our four-year-old, Gabriel, is having one of those sensitive periods (as described in the Montessori Method) where he is hungry for counting and learning how to read. It has been fascinating to watch – he has long known how to count to 10 and most recently, 20, but had no concept of one-to-one correspondence (where a number is assigned to an object, or counting). One day, I showed him, with our snap-on (Unifix) cubes, how to count them one-by-one. I wasn’t sure if it stuck or not, because he listened for a few minutes, then used the cubes to build a spaceship. Next thing I know, he’s counting everything in sight. In just a matter of minutes, he had learned this very important skill!

I believe this has nothing to do with him being the next Einstein or me being a super, fabulous teacher, but much more to do with being human. All children go through phases where they are ready to learn something and when they’re not ready, you get resistance. But during that readiness, that sensitive period, they will soak up information like a sponge. I’m trying to take advantage of those periods as best as I can and not to push him when it’s too much (another reason I really like homeschooling – I can go at his pace).

DIY Montessori Sand Writing Tray with Free Printable Letter Cards

Along with counting, Gabriel loves to write and color. I’m following the Montessori method for teaching reading and writing, which starts first with writing the letters and learning the phonics. We created our own Montessori sandpaper letters last year, and they helped tremendously with learning phonics and how to draw the letters. But we have yet to make our own sand tray.

How To Use It

It’s really easy – just place the letter they want to draw in front of them and have them trace it in the sand, sugar or salt. That’s it! I like to teach the letters in groups and not in alphabetical order, like it’s taught in the Montessori method. Here’s a great explanation of why at Living Montessori Now.

How To Store It

I got the idea to use our Melissa and Doug lacing and tracing boards (where to buy) box to put the sand and letters from This Mumma’s Life. It’s a great idea because it has a little compartment where the laces normally go and it’s perfect to place the letter cards.

In the past, I just used a glass brownie pan and covered it with plastic wrap when we weren’t using it. However, there is no place to put the cards except on the table beside them. If I leave this in the schoolroom, I know the boys will dump it out when I’m putting the baby to sleep or at other mischievous-loving times, so I keep it in the laundry room for now, but Gabe has to ask to use it, which I don’t like.

Can Use Salt, Sand or Sugar

I used a combo of colored craft sand and sugar. I thought salt might sting when they have cuts (and it dries my skin out), but the sugar is a little sticky. The colored sand leaves dye on their hands (ick), so I might try and buy a tiny bag of undyed sand from the craft store next time I’m there. But this works fine for now. If your child doesn’t like to have dirty hands, then I do not recommend sugar.

Laminate the Cards to Practice Handwriting

If you laminate the cards (I love the laminator I bought from Amazon (buy here), they could even use a dry-erase marker to practice handwriting. Of course, laminating also helps with longevity and with Gabe being the oldest of three boys, I need something that’ll last! Krista from This Mumma’s Life also hand-painted all her letter cards, which is a lovely idea, but I love printables, too, and can share that with you, so I opted to do that. I used a font (Print Clearly from – it’s free!) that is a good handwriting font.

Get your free printable card pack here!

Montessori Sand Writing Letter Tray – Uppercase

Montessori Sand Writing Letter Tray – Lowercase


About Sara McFall

Sara is the owner and founder of My Merry Messy Life, which started in 2011 as a way to chronicle her journey to a natural, chemical-free lifestyle and to share her passions of mothering, real food, homeschooling and crochet. She is a mama to three precious and energetic little boys and wife to a university professor who loves to sing, dance ballet and ballroom, and live simply and naturally.


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