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Building Words with the Movable Alphabet

Sweet Pea was about 4 years old when she was introduced to this work.

Word Building (Free Printable Movable Alphabet and Pink Series Word Cards)

From: The Movable Alphabet is a set of letters that allow children to build words before they have started either writing or reading.  It is a very classic and well-known piece of Montessori work.

Prerequisite: You and your child should know the phonetic sound that each letter makes.  The traditional Montessori method for teaching this is by using sandpaper letters (Living Montessori Now has a great article about using sandpaper letters here) and after that, the  I-Spy game is a great activity.  However, we had the most success with the Leap Frog: Letter Factory dvd.  Sweet Pea knew all of her letter sounds after watching it only a couple of times.  I can not recommend this dvd highly enough!


Word Building (Free Printable Movable Alphabet and Pink Series Word Cards)


  • Print my Pink Series Picture Cards.  Laminate them if desired, and then cut them out.
  • Separate the picture cards into sets of about 10.
  • If you are using my Printable Movable Alphabet, print it out.  Laminate the sheets if desired first, and then cut out the letters.  Sort the movable alphabet letters and place them in alphabetical order in egg cartons or a compartmentalized craft box.


  • Select a set of 10 picture cards to use.
  • Roll the towel or rug out on the floor if you are using it or allow your child to do it.
  • Look through the picture cards with your child and verify that he can correctly name each of them.  (Make sure that he knows that the “log” is a log and not “wood” for example.)
  • Select one of the picture cards and place it on the left side of the rug.  Say the name of the picture.   (“This is a dog.”)
  • Help your child sound out the first letter of the word.  Say the word very slowly and exaggerate the sound of the first letter   (“What is the first sound you hear in the word, Duh-ahh-guh?”)
  • When your child identifies the sound, ask him to find the letter it represents from the alphabet, remembering to call it by its phonetic sound instead of it’s real name.   (“Great, can you find the letter, Duh”?)
  • Have your tot place the letter next to the picture.


  • Next ask your child to identify the next letter in the word, select it and place it correctly next to the first letter.   (“What is the middle sound in the word, duh-Ahh-guh?  Can you find the “Ahh”?  Put it here next to the Duh.)
  • Finally, help your tot identify the last letter, select it and place it at the end of the word.  (“And what is the very last sound in duh-ahh–Guh?  Now, find the “Guh” and place it next to the “Ahh”.)
  • After the first word is completed, let your tot select a new card and help him build the word for it.
  • Repeat until your child has finished building all of the words in the first set of picture cards.
  • As your child gets more comfortable with this lesson, he should be able to start sounding out words with much less help from you.

Observations: Sweet Pea has always been fascinated by letters and words, so word building is an especially appealing activity for her.


Below is a video of Sweet Pea using the movable alphabet to spell the word “dog”.  She was already quite familiar with the movable alphabet and the word, “dog”,  so she did not need much help. 

This is a really great activity for all young children since it lets them create words before they have the dexterity to write or the mental ability to “decode” words by reading them.  It would be especially good for a home-schooled preschooler or kindergartner or any young child who is showing a lot of fascination with words and letter sounds.

 Notes from the Trenches:  Do not correct spelling mistakes.  You do not want to discourage your child, so if he is trying to build the word cat and suggests “k-a-t” or even “k-e-d”, that is okay for now.  Don’t comment on it, but just realize that your child needs more work in discriminating those letter sounds.  Go back and work with them on learning those sounds with other activities.  (Sandpaper letters, Leapfrog Letter Factory dvd, I-Spy Game, etc)

Also, note that since this activity is usually introduced prior to any reading instruction, you are not supposed to ask your child to read the words back to you.

To start, you can print and cut out the printable movable alphabet, but if you plan on doing much Montessori work, I suggest getting a wooden set.  I tried printing and laminating paper letters, using chip board and even foam letters, but none of them worked quite as well as the wooden set.  The paper letters were just not as engaging for Sweet Pea and we had trouble keeping the letters neat and separate in the plastic craft box.    Eventually I just went ahead and bought a small wooden set and I’m very glad I did.  I like that the small set doesn’t take up a lot of space, although the letters feel a bit fragile.   If your child is rough on toys or if you plan to use the set with several children, you might want to consider buying the larger sized letters.

Rating: 3 Stars * (Fun, Independent, Frugal)

Link-Ups: This post is linked up to the PreK & Kindergarten Community at Homeschool Creations.


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