A First Sand Tray - for Pre-Writing Skills!!


Montessori toddler prewriting fine motor skills using sand tray to draw people

I recently presented Otto with his first sand tray! He isn't interested in phonics or letter recognition but he loves drawing and mark making. A sand tray is a wonderful way to encourage and develop pre-writing skills. The child can draw a picture and then shake the tray to start over again, it's fun and economical. Like finger painting, this is a good way to encourage mark making without the child having to use a tool. 

Sand is tactile and feels wonderful. I suggest using a fine, dry sand. Here we've used fine salt that I've coloured. I love to use different colours to keep interest and just because I like the contrast. I'm not suggesting that you buy a sand tray, it's likely that you can create an effective sand tray using a tray that you already have at home. This tray is the Ikea Ostbit tray and it's so versatile, we use it all the time. This tray has a low edge so it holds the sand in but the child can still easily reach into and write in the tray.

Otto took to his sand tray straight away drawing circles and people. Later I presented some pattern cards so that we could explore and encourage different lines and strokes. If you have an older toddler or preschooler interested in mark making, I absolutely recommend giving this a go. 

Montessori toddler prewriting fine motor skills using sand tray to draw people

Lots of circles.

Montessori toddler prewriting fine motor skills using sand tray to draw people

His 'tadpole' person. 

Montessori toddler prewriting fine motor skills using sand tray to draw people

At home the sand tray is wonderful for free play and exploration. Otto is free to draw what he likes, this is fantastic, creative, self expression. 

Montessori toddler prewriting fine motor skills using sand tray to draw people

This is a messy clean activity. We use the sand tray on our outdoor deck. No matter how careful Otto is there is still sand on the table and floor. But it's clean in that it easily wipes or sweeps up, there is no chance of staining like paint, or drawing on the table like with pencils.

Montessori toddler prewriting fine motor skills using sand tray to draw people

I like just a fine layer of sand on the tray so the child's marks are clearly visible. 

Montessori toddler prewriting fine motor skills using sand tray to draw people

While I'm not wanting to introduce letters I do want to encourage a wide range of marks and lines. I've printed and presented a range of pattern prompt cards. There is no expectation for Otto to copy these exact but we can look at them and introduce words like up, down, across, straight, curvy, above, below, next-to, long, short.

Montessori toddler prewriting fine motor skills using sand tray to draw people

Zig-zag - I could see Otto's little finger going up and down. Out of all the cards Otto likes the horizontal and vertical lines the most. He actually really likes them and seeks them out. There is some opportunity for counting here too.

Montessori toddler prewriting fine motor skills using sand tray to draw people

Two fantastic books that I love about lines include wiggles (with tactile cut-out lines for the child to trace) and A Line Can Be which is also so good for language development.

Montessori Prewriting Sand Tray cards at How we Montessori

1. These cards are my original inspiration for the sand tray prompt cards but I actually ended up using 2. cards from Walking By The Way.

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