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Take Another Look at the Metal Insets

"In this way...children perfect themselves in writing without actually writing."
—Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method

As Montessori teachers know, the Metal Insets are the direct preparation for writing. This activity follows extensive indirect preparation using the Practical Life and Sensorial materials. Children perfect large muscle control before small, and simultaneously develop eye-hand coordination. The knobs of the Cylinder Blocks and Geometric Cabinet assist the development of the fingers used in holding a pencil. The spooning and pouring Practical Life exercises also help develop these muscles.

The control of error built into the Montessori exercises helps children learn to self-correct and focus. Before children write letters and words, the brain needs to mature enough so children understand the connection between what is desired and what they can accomplish.

Metal Inset Lesson Reminders

It might be fun and informative to review your own Montessori album to refresh your presentation of the Metal Insets. A few things come to mind:

  • Correct posture is important. Be sure children are seated comfortably at a table with their feet on the floor.
  • Exactness is a point of interest and a control of error. Point out how to line up the inset over the paper, how to carefully trace the shape and how to stay within the outline.
  • A proper grip is essential. Demonstrate and reinforce how to use the thumb, index, and middle fingers to hold the pencil.
  • Fill in the shape with parallel lines, left to right, top to bottom, just as words appear on a page.
  • Vertical lines will become closer as children develop more control.

It might be more inviting for the children if new pencil and paper colors are introduced. A new presentation of the material may help children return to the activity.

Metal Inset Extensions

Once children have successfully completed the exercise many times, and are able to fill in the geometric space with control and ease, you may introduce other activities to perfect the skills. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make a booklet which includes drawings of all the Metal Inset shapes.
  • Introduce the use of more than one inset to create more elaborate designs.
  • Show how to use the frames of insets to superimpose the shapes.

Montessori points out that the ability to stay within the lines and control the pencil leads to mastery in writing the letters that have been learned by tracing the Sandpaper Letters with their fingers. These physical and mental connections pave the way to what Montessori called an "explosion into writing."

Images: Fresco, Grazia Honegger. (1993). Montessori Material Contained in Some of the Cathologues Published in New York, London, Bucharest, Berlin, Gonzaga from 1910 up to the 30s, 2nd ed. Dual language edition, English and Italian. Castellanza, Italy: Il Quaderno Montessori Editions.

—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.

For products to help children create beautiful Metal Inset designs, visit the writing section of our website.

—Originally Published 2012

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