276 THE MONTESSORI METHOD
The teaching proceeds according to the three periods already illustrated.
First. Association of the visual and muscular-tactile sensation with the letter sound.
The directress presents to the child two of the cards upon which vowels are mounted (or two of the consonants, as the case may be). Let us suppose that we present the letters i and o, saying, " This is i! This is o! " As soon as we have given the sound of a letter, we have the child trace it, taking care to show him how to trace it, and if necessary guiding the index finger of his right hand over the sandpaper letter in the sense of writing.
" Knowing how to trace " will consist in knowing the direction in which a given graphic sign must be followed.
The child learns quickly, and his finger, already expert in the tactile exercise, is led, by the slight roughness of the fine sandpaper, over the exact track of the letter. He may then repeat indefinitely the movements necessary to produce the letters of the alphabet, without the fear of the mistakes of which a child writing with a pencil for the first time is so conscious. If he deviates, the smoothness of the card immediately warns him of his error.
The children, as soon as they have become at all expert in this tracing of the letters, take great pleasure in repeating it with closed eyes, letting the sandpaper lead them in following the form which they do not see. Thus the perception will be established by the direct muscular-tactile sensation of the letter. In other words, it is no longer the visual image of the letter, but the tactile sensation, which guides the hand of the child in these movements, which thus become fixed in the muscular memory.
There develop, contemporaneously, three sensations when the directress shows the letter to the child and has