This was a popular post on my old blog, so I thought I'd repeat it here. I made these sandpaper letters for my younger son more than three years ago and they're still in fine shape. He's now almost seven and still likes to make rubbings every now and then with these; his younger sister is 2 1/2 and likes these letters as well. We use them as manipulatives in the true sense: my children hold them, spell with them, make rubbings and drawings with them. My goal was to have big, textured letters they could play with. I have absolutely no background in Montessori education, nor much knowledge of it; the only similarity between these and the Montessori sandpaper letters, as far as I know, is that these also use sandpaper.
Computer paper (for printing)
5 sheets 9"x11" fine (150 grit) sandpaper
18"x24" illustration board
Heavy-duty craft knife
Yes! Paste or similar paste
Helpful to have: Finer x-acto knife; cutting mat; metal ruler
I wanted a simple, almost blocky font. I started by Googling for "outline font" and settled on "le mans," found here. (I adjusted the "I" and "J" by hand a bit, so the "I" didn't look like an "l" and so the "J" had a more pronounced curve.) I printed the alphabet in capital letters at 325-pt font (usually 4 to a page). I then cut out each letter individually and placed them face down on the back of the sandpaper. (Because you want the letter to appear correctly when looking at the rough side.) Trace with a pencil.
Cut out the letters from the sandpaper. You may want to use an old pair of scissors for this, as they won't be much use for cutting anything else when you're done. I used the x-acto knife to cut out the insides of letters such as "A" and "R."
I then traced each letter onto the illustration board. Mine was white on both sides, so it didn't matter which way I traced, but I found it easier to trace face down again so that the edges of the sandpaper didn't shave my pencil to bits. To cut out the illustration board, you'll need to use the heavy duty craft knife and the cutting mat, as it's not easy to cut. I used the metal ruler for the straight edges (position your blade against the metal and follow its edge down the line). For the curves, I first scored gently and slowly worked my way through the layers; the x-acto knife is better for this, although I could sometimes finish it off with the heavy-duty knife. I did this in batches, because it does get tiring.
Once all the letters were cut, I brushed the paste onto the illustration board letter and smoothed the sandpaper letter on top. Sandwich the letters face down in between sheets of wax paper and press them under heavy books. Allow to dry at least overnight.
Typically the Montessori letters are pasted onto rectangles, color coded for vowels and consonants. That would certainly be easier to cut out of illustration board, but it didn't suit our needs. I want my son to be able to hold the letter and feel its shape around all the edges, not just on the top surface. But you could finish these any way you choose.