Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Big and Wonderful News!

Everyone needs great friends. They make life lovely and bearable. Sometimes it is your support network that keeps you afloat and brings out the best possible in yourself. Sometimes GREAT things come out of being together when life gets tough. I never used to have these kinds of friends. I never really held onto friends when I was younger. But when you go through the hard things in life those friends make the difference between being carried and feeling it all. My friends Katie, Milly, and Leticia have woven in and out of my life for years. We’ve had spells when we didn’t get to see much of each other for one reason or another, but whenever we get together it is as if we never spent any time apart at all. Montessori brings us together. Our love of children brings us together. Friendship brings us together.

We always start by chatting about our lives, our loves, and our woes… but eventually the conversation turns into deep, meaningful discussions about Montessori, about education, about what the world really needs, and how the heck are we ever supposed to do something worthwhile about it. We can get awfully passionate about it all and I’m sure it would be really fun to be a fly on the wall. 

One December night in 2019 we got together for dinner and started talking about our desire to make Montessori more accessible and understandable to everyone. To children, parents, homeschooling families, teachers, support staff, administrators, schools, and the world. That night changed the direction of our lives.  

That night Foresight Montessori was born.

I am thrilled to introduce my dear friends and business partners to all of you. We are working together to make our vision for guiding successful education, home, and life journeys a reality. 

Find out more about us and what we aim to do at, @foresight.montessori on Instagram and @foresight.montessori on Facebook.

The future of the Helpful Garden blog

I'm certain everyone would agree that this has been an incredibly different year. I have sometimes been so stretched but always feel like my little Early Childhood Sequoias bubble is so precious. I have learned so incredibly much in the process of guiding little persons in the midst of a pandemic, but I haven’t been able to get to the blog. Luckily I now have help!

In the coming months The Helpful Garden will be moving to a new home, but don’t worry, you won’t have to go looking for something new. When you get on the blog it will redirect you to the new landing page. Look for more information about this move soon. The free resources will be moving with us and you can look forward to more products and so many resources. The best news is that the planners everyone has been asking me about are finally here! We know many of you have been waiting patiently, or impatiently, for these planners. We have spent so much time in preparation and development of these new Teacher Planners, because we wanted to make the best product for you. We have made lots of exciting changes in all the levels including Early Childhood, Elementary 1, and Elementary 2. I EVEN learned how to paint on the computer so they would be beautiful for y’all! 


We have been planning, developing, and creating for months! We are excited for the future of The Helpful Garden, Foresight Montessori, and to becoming Montessori’s North Star.



Sunday, April 5, 2020

Montessori Botany - Seeds


Children simply adore the study of seeds.  Nothing speaks to energy and new growth quite like a seed and the potential life inside.  Sequoias Class has begun learning all about seeds even if it is long distance.  This post will take you through the sequence of seed presentations and works for the Early Childhood classroom.  Look forward to the second installment as our studies continue.

In the Montessori environment we always first introduce the real thing and then move to further abstraction of study.  In order to study seeds we will soak many large bean seeds in a bowl of water so we can explore them later.  It takes several hours, or even overnight for the beans to be ready.  When we are teaching in a classroom we don't want to soak too many or they will go to waste or start to really stink.  We try to soak only as many as we think will be used in a day.  Typically a child who takes this work from the shelf after a presentation will dissect 4-5 seeds on their own.

soaking beans in a sunny window

Once the outside (testa) of the seeds are supple and the seed is swollen they are ready to be dissected and explored.  The guide (teacher) will invite a student, or small group of children (no more than 3) to observe this presentation.

For this presentation you will need -A paper towel folded, tweezers, beans that have been soaking in a  small bowl until supple a tray to hold all the items, and a paper with parts of the beans glued as in the example photo:

Dissecting Seeds Presentation Tray

Dissecting Seeds Presentation
*Lay a vinyl mat or hand towel down on the table.
*Go to the shelf and retrieve the bowl of beans which have been soaking for several hours or overnight.
*Place the bowl of soaking beans at the top left corner of the table.
*Remove one seed and place on the mat.
*Say, "This is a seed.  This seed has been soaking in water for several hours.  I can see that this seed has gotten plump with water.  See how much bigger it is?"
*Point to the hilum of the seed and say, "This is the hilum of the seed.  It is where the bean was attached to the seed pod."
*Point to the micropyle of the seed and say, "This is the micropyle.  It is a small opening in the seed."

*Without speaking remove the testa (seed coat) very carefully from the bean.  Trying to keep it as intact as possible.
*Point to the testa and say, "This is the testa of the seed.  It is like a coat for the seed.  It helps to protect what is inside."
*Peel apart the two cotyledons of the bean seed being careful of the embryo inside.
*Point to the cotyledons and say, "These are called the cotyledons.  They will give the new plant the food it needs to grow."
* Point to the embryo still attached to the cotyledon and say, "This is the embryo of the seed.  It is the baby plant." (sometimes it is really helpful to have a red water soluble marker to mark the embryo with so the child can discern it from the rest of the plant)
*Carefully break off the radicle and say, "This is the radicle.  It will grow into the root of the plant."
* Carefully take off the epicotyl and say, "This is the epicotyl.  It will grow into the stems and leaves of the plant."
*For older and more advanced students who can write: Demonstrate creating a sheet with the parts of the seed glued and labeled.  It will take at least two seeds to create this work.
*Place the unused been seed parts into the compost.  Demonstrate how to clean up all of the pieces and return to the tray.  Then place the tray back on the shelf.
*Let the child(ren) know they may use this work whenever they choose now.  Ask if they would like to work with this work.


After the introduction to the actual seed and its parts the child can be introduced to the Parts of the Seed Puzzle.  I definitely have strong opinions about this work.  In many Early Childhood classrooms there is not a puzzle of the seed parts but it is ever so helpful and highly engaging for students.  There are many puzzle out there that seem like they would be more confusing than helpful to the student.  
I love this set of puzzles that details the entire growth process from seed to young plant.

Growing Process Parts of Puzzles
When a puzzle is not available there are other options such as this one made of felt.


After the child has had some experience working with the puzzle (or if they choose not to use the puzzle but have experienced dissecting the seed) they are ready for the Nomenclature Cards for the Parts of the Seed.

When presenting this work begin by laying out the control cards only (picture and word card) and do a naming lesson.  This again goes over the vocabulary first introduced in the Dissecting the Seed presentation.  Once all the parts have been named you may take the Movable Alphabet to build the words.  Young children really do love to build the words.  You can find a printable Movable Alphabet here.

Once this presentation has been given you may, at a different time, formally present the Three-Part Card Lesson.  This video is a great explanation into how to give a Three-Part Card Lesson.
Seed Nomenclature Cards Laid Out with Booklet
Early Childhood Parts of the Seed Nomenclature Cards
click on image for link to file


Booklets just might be THE absolute favorite paper work in the classrooms I have directed.  The children love to color them in and take them home.  Sometimes children want to skip the nomenclature card set and move straight into making the booklets.  I am careful to let them know they may do this work once they have worked with the nomenclature cards at least a few times.  After a while it becomes an understood boundary the children are happy to work with.
Early Childhood Parts of the Seed Booklet Blackline Master
click on image for link to file


Children love to watch a seed germinate outside of the soil so they can really understand what is going on.  In this little experiment the child has the opportunity to set up their own seed germinating factory.  Use dicot seed if possible, such as a bean or pea for this work. 

All you need is a tray with plastic baggies, paper towels pre-cut to half size, bean or pea seeds, and tape. Children should get help to write their names on the baggie with a permanent marker.

Germinating a Seed Tray
Demonstrate WITHOUT SPEAKING how to create this work and put it on the window including writing the name.  After the presentation is finished you may say, "When you need to have your name put on your baggie please come and find me or the tonekeeper."  Once the seed(s) are in the baggie the child can tape them up on a sunny window and watch their seed germinate over the next several days.


This work is especially helpful for more advanced students who can draw something that approximates reality.  That is often a second or third year student in the class.  There is no need to draw the picture every day, unless the child is self-directed in this.  Every few days is just fine.  The children are usually keen to keep track but often need a bit of a reminder of it as an option.

My Seed Growth Diary
Click on image for link to file

With Love,

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Continent Studies - Africa Part 1


It has been all hands on deck these past two weeks since we have had our school suspended for COVID-19.  Since that time I have been working with many other Montessorians across the globe to get things into the hands of educators and parents.  I have been wanting to get back to blogging with regularity for some time now but have had other very pressing and difficult circumstances in my family's life to take care of first.  I am so glad things had gotten to a good place before all this happened.  I am also so grateful I have this platform already in place to make an impact for my own students as well as for so many others.  I wish to thank my readers for the outpouring of love and kindness at this time and in the past.  I want to be one of the helpers.  Thank you also for being one of the helpers.

We are gearing up for our Africa studies in Sequoias Class and I've been knee deep in creating new materials that are friendly to not only the classroom but for home as well.  In this post I will endeavor to share what I have made and a few other things I absolutely love.

Continent Globe
Continent Puzzle Map

Setting the Stage

Whenever we are introducing a new continent for study I will always take the Continent Globe and Continent Puzzle Map together during a Line Time.  We will sing the Continent Song together while pointing to the continents on the Continent Globe first and then again using the Continent Puzzle Map.  The WHY behind doing this is simply - the younger the child the more often they need to see that these things mean the same thing.  With the continued one-to-one correspondence practice more children will pick it up.

Every time we begin a new continent of study the children in our class renew their interest in coloring, cutting and pasting, and painting the continents.  

More advanced Early Childhood students will appreciate making their own Continent Globe.  This is also very beneficial for adults to create when a Continent Globe is not available.  If the child is really interested you can have them do the coloring with a little support.  The cuts make it difficult for Early Childhood students to know what color belongs where but it is such fun work.  I take whatever color they should be using and make a small mark in the spot to color.  This way they can be as independent as possible with the least amount of interference from adults.  Once colored they will need plenty of support in taping it together so it forms a globe.  

Continent Flat Map Work
The Colored Globe Cut Out
The assembled Globe
This following Coloring sheet is so helpful for this.  Whenever there is work that has a specific way to be done you should create a Control of Error.  That is one which is colored in the correct colors as an EXAMPLE. I always write EXAMPLE on the paper or else it may grow legs and go home with some little one.  Even then it may happen, but much less often. 

Continents of the World Coloring Sheet
This can also be used when a Continent Puzzle is not available.  You can print off two sets, color one set in the continent colors and the other with the blue ocean.  Then you can cut out the 
continent set and use them in place of the Continent Puzzle Map.

Assembling the Continent World Coloring Sheet to be used in place of a Puzzle Map
Continents Coloring Sheet Assembled as replacement for Puzzle Map

Introduction to Africa

Once we sing the Continent Song I will point to Africa and ask which continent this is.  Once that has been answered I will tell the children we will now begin our study of Africa.  There are two very good ways to introduce a continent.  The first is with ARTIFACTS and the second is through PICTURES.

In Montessori Classrooms we sequence our work from most concrete to most abstract.  Artifacts are the most concrete representation of a continent.  I find artifacts from friends who have visited and brought things back for me, by visiting my local second hand shops, and sometimes online.  I try to get as many things second hand as possible.  Carvings, textiles, jewelry, money, art etc. all make great artifacts for students to explore.

Add in photo of artifacts

Line Time Photos of a continent are large enough for everyone at the circle to see.  We want to give an overview of the continent in a short enough time to keep the interest of the entire group while whetting their interest for more.  That is easy to do with all the continents, but Africa is fabulous!

Introduction to Africa Line Time Cards

Once I have introduced our Continent it is time to give small group lessons for these very cool works.

This work is so lovely for the youngest students to use and they love it.  All works on a Montessori shelf should have an indirect purpose.  This work with play dough and the fitting into the small spaces of the map develop both the gross and fine motor control of the child.

Africa Play Dough Map
This work helps the child with the fine motor control as they tear green paper strips into pieces small enough to be glued onto the paper.  The older the child the better they will be with the fineness of their tears.  It is a great thing to challenge your older and more advanced students to stay as much in the lines as possible.  This also develops hand-eye coordination.  I have included a page of green in case there is not access to a green sheet of paper.  It works best to cut the papers the child will use into a 1/4th of a sheet or even into strips 2 inches wide.

Africa Tear Map
When presenting this work I will show a small group of children the African Mask cards and then invite them to color, watercolor, paint, or use oil pastels to create a beautiful mask with the African Masks Coloring/Painting Pages. They are meant to be cut in half.  We keep a smattering of the masks on a tray for the children to choose from.

African Masks

African Masks Coloring/Art Pages

Something the children seem to enjoy a lot is the bold patterns of many African textiles.  These cards could to be printed twice to make a matching set.

African Textile Cards
  They could also be traced to make clothing like you see here using the Clothing Cut Out Patterns
Clothing Cut Out Patterns

This new work has been fun to create.  It is best suited for more advanced students to do independently.  Younger students will love doing this with a little support.  Follow their needs and help only as much as they need.

African Savannah Diorama Animals

African Savannah Animals Diorama Completed

Keep a look out for Installment 2 of Africa Activities!
Stay Safe!  Stay Healthy!


Saturday, March 21, 2020

Phonemic Awareness Series

It is undoubted that we are facing some uncertain times with the concerns over COVID-19.  As a Montessori Blogger I want to do what I can to help the families who find themselves homeschooling not by choice but by circumstance.  I have been working along with many Montessori Collectives to support teachers, administrators,  and families in keeping as much continuity in the lives of children as possible.  I have updated both the Pink and Blue Reading posts to include all of my updated works and have realized that this post was never completed and published.  This is what I can do.  These are my gifts to the world in times of trouble.  I wish to be one of the helpers.  I am still finishing the explanations on the bottom half of this post but I need to get these files into the hands of parents.  I will publish this post and then continue working on it.

Phonemic Awareness is a vast and important arm of successful reading.  Without Phonemic Awareness skills, even beyond the recognition of letter sounds, children will be hampered in their success.  When a child has solid Phonemic Skills their footing is more sure and their success is greater.


Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #1 - Compound Words for Line Times
Compound words and easy and VERY fun for children to practice and to try to distinguish from other kinds of words.  Every day at Line (circle) our class practices at least a few of Phonemic Exercises and Compound Words is hands down a favorite.  The Compound Words for Line Times document can be used with whole groups to first present the idea of compound words, and then to further practice.  After we have practiced several times I will listen for compound words in everyday discussions at line.  I may say something like, "When I was listening to Joy I heard her use three compound words.  I heard her say playground.  Let's practice that ... play (pause) ground, put it together - playground.  I heard her say backyard.  Let's practice that ... back (pause) yard, put it together - backyard."  and so on.  We use our hands to practice.  The right hand is the first word, the left is the second word. We begin with both hands in the air and drop each one down as we say each word individually and slowly.  Then we bring them together to say the compound word.
Phonemic Awareness Skills Series Level #1 Compound Words For Line Times
Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #2 - Compound Word Cards
Once the children have practiced this work at Line plenty of times I will place these cards on the Phonemic Awareness Shelf for use.  They include the compound words and the + & = cards with a control of error to help the children be as independent as possible.  They do need a short presentation to aid them in laying out the cards in the below arrangement and to show them how to check their work.
Phonemic Awareness Skills Series Level #2 Compound Word Cards

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #3 - Syllables Counting for Line Times
There may possibly not be a more important skill than syllabification.  The further I take my research and learning into language the more syllables show up as a key skill.  This syllable work is a beautiful beginning.  These cards are large enough to be used at Line Time.  We look at a picture and clap out the number of syllables we think there are.  The children hold up their fingers and then we turn around the cards to check to see how we did.  I will generally do at least 3 pictures and then ask for words that go along with what we are learning.  Dinosaur names are fabulous for this work.

Phonemic Awareness Skills Series Level #3 Syllables for Line Times

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #4 - Syllable Counting Cards
 Once the children have had some practice with syllables at the Line this shelf work can be introduced.  It uses many of the same pictures as the whole group work but we add Red Bingo Markers for marking the number of syllables a child thinks there are in a word.  The control of error on the back further facilitates independent work.
Phonemic Awareness Skills Series Level 4 Syllables Word Cards

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #5 - Rhyming Word Cards
Rhyming skills are another pillar of language that should begin long before a child can read words.  Training the ear to hear the rhyme supports the development of both reading and spelling skills.  This is a set of cards with control of error to use on the shelf.  This set requires a quick presentation before use. There is no need for a child to have any reading skills for this set.
Phonemic Awareness Skills Series Level #5 Rhyming

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #6  - Introduction to Sandpaper Letters
As we get into the realm of letters there are some incredibly important things to understand.  First, we learn to read lowercase, phonetic, short letter, sounds not uppercase letter names.  After having taught Montessori for so long I cannot understand how we in the United States came up with the idea in traditional education to teach letter names, and uppercase no less, first.  It just doesn't make any sense to me at all.  In fact, I find that children who are taught their letter names before I begin working with them can sometimes have a challenge unlearning them in order to learn to read.  During the introduction presentation to Sandpaper Letters we bring the box over to the top left hand corner of the table and ask a child to choose the letter they want to try first.  This presentation is not about having the child remember any sound.  It is about getting them familiar with the material and helping them know how we use the Sandpaper Letters for later use.  We then show how to hold the letter depending on whether or not you are aware of the dominant hand of the child yet.  At this stage we often do not know yet, so we will just hold the letter down with our hand in the margin on the left side and use our first two fingers (with the others tucked tightly under) to trace the letter. You may say the letter sound here but it is not absolute necessary.  You may ask the child if they would like to try tracing this letter.  Set this letter up in the right hand corner upside down and ask the child to make their next choice.  Continue in this way as long as the child is interested.

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #47- Initial Sound Booklets for Use With the Sandpaper Letters
From now on the letter sounds will be broken up into groups of letters.  This is where differences between schools and programs will show up the most.  I have included the letter groupings that we will use here.  They are:   s, m, a, t, b      c, i, r, p, l      d, f, n, o, g      h, j, u, w, k      x, y, z, v, e, q

We have taken a set of our Sandpaper Letters and put them into grouped boxes to support this next work.  Inside the boxes we have the Sandpaper Letter and the Initial Sound Booklets.  When we introduce this work we take the entire box with us to the table and place it on the top left corner.  We first pull out the first Sandpaper Letter sound to teach and trace just as we did in the Introduction to Sandpaper Letters Lesson.  If the letter sound was "ssss" I would trace and then say, "ssss".  Then I would say, "now you trace and say 'sssss'".  I have the child trace and say the sound at least three times in a sitting.  I then say, "I know some things that begin with 'ssss'.  Things like sandwich, song, and sit.  Can you think of anything that begins with 'ssss'?"  Once the child has said what they know I will say,  "I have a booklet of things that begin with 'ssss'" and pull out the booklet.  I touch the sound and say it, then touch the picture and say the name. Then I have the child do the same.  I go through each page and say the sound as I touch it then say the name of the picture as I touch it.  The child then follows me and does the same thing.  Once we go through the entire book I hold up the Sandpaper Letter and say, "What was that sound again?"  Then I immediately say the letter sound.  I move onto the second Sandpaper Letter and sound and follow the same procedure.  Once I have to letters to work with I will do the second step in the three period lesson.  I ask the child to touch the 'sss', now touch the 'aaa'.  We practice picking them up,  handing them to me, turning them over etc. until I feel they are doing well.  Once they are doing well we will turn over the Sandpaper Letters and practice the third step of the three period lesson.  I will knock on the back of the Sandpaper Letter and say in a dingy voice, "Knock, Knock.  Who's there?  What kind of letter sound is under there?"  The child turns it over and we see if they can tell me the sound without any support.  If the child wants to continue and is doing fine I will keep adding letter sounds with a second and third period assessment between each letter to determine if I should still continue.  If a child is really into it and doing so well I will do all the letter sounds in a box.  Even if they get it all right I will come back another day to make sure they are still doing well before moving to the next set.
Phonemic Awareness Level #7 Initial Sound Picture & Word Booklets for the Sandpaper Letters

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #8- Initial Sound Object Sorting
Children adore small objects.  This work simply calls to them from across the room to USE ME!!  There are 4 objects that begin with each letter sound in the group in the box.  Here I must make an IMPORTANT NOTE concerning objects to use for a letter sound.  They MUST be a pure short phonetic sound.  NO BLENDS!  I am making a statement on purpose.  While many children might be able to do just fine there is a good segment of the population that struggles to hear the sound if you have a blend in there.  To explain we can look at some of the objects in C's work below.  He is using the first letter mat with objects.  I would NEVER choose an object such as an apron for 'a' but instead have an astronaut, ant, alligator, and apple.  For 'b' I would not choose something with a blend such as a branch or a blanket.  Instead I carefully chose a butterfly, barn, bat, and ball.  The sound is kept pure to support all learners.  It fits the needs of all in this way.  We never know what we are working with at this stage so being prepared to mitigate challenges BEFORE they show up is our mantra.

To use this work I help the child lay out the mat (which could easily be made of paper or felt).  I go down the letter sounds and have the child say the sounds.  If a child is missing a sound just let them know what it is and keep going.  I then take my first object and say, "'aaaaa' astronaut.  I hear a at the beginning of this word.  Can you hear 'aaaa' at the beginning of astronaut?"  Then place in the 'aaaa' row.  Continue until all the objects are placed.  Invite the child to do this work.  Replace it on the shelf so they know where to find it and put it away and then give the child the chance to work.  Say, "Please come get me to look at your work when you are finished."  Step a distance away and watch how they are doing with it.  It usually takes a child multiple tries with this work to accomplish it correctly.  We DO NOT fix it for the child.  We make not of how they did and see if they get better the next time on their own.  They may need a new naming lesson if they are calling the 'pop' soda or something like that.  Give as little interference in their work as possible.  They really are great teachers for themselves.

Initial Sound Mat for Sorting with Objects

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #9 - Initial Sound Picture Sorting
This work is exactly the same as the object sort except with pictures.  Once they do the hard work with the object mat this work is generally easier and so fun for them.  The file includes names on the back of the work to help you give naming lessons and in checking work.  This work will need to be sorted into sets as outlined above.
Phonemic Awareness Series Level #9 Initial Sound Picture Sorting Cards
Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #10 - Initial Sound Coloring Sheets
Once a child has completed the Sound Sorting Cards they can solidify their knowledge with works like this coloring sheet.
Phonemic Awareness Series Level #10 Initial Sound Coloring Sheets

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #11 - Initial Sound Cutting & Pasting Sheets
This cutting and pasting work is fun for children at this level.  To make it easier I will pre-cut the strips into letter groupings and put them in a little file for that sound.  They can color, cut, and glue if they want or they could just cut and glue.

Phonemic Awareness Series Skills #11 Initial Sound Pasting Sheets
Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #12 - Eensy Teensy Letter Books
These Teensy Letter Books are pretty engaging for children.  They like how small they become. To make these sheets into books follow these instructions.  The children can trace the letters inside the outlines and read their new book with you.

Phonemic Awareness Series Skills #12 Eensy Teensy Letter Books 

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #13 - Ending Sound Picture Sorting
Ending sounds are more difficult for some children to hear.  We use this work similarly to the Beginning Sounds work but instead we use our hands to stretch out the word and "throw" the last sound down.  This really helps the children to hear the last sound.  You must have a lot of patience as they will keep flipping to the first sound.  Simply say, "We are listening for the last sound."  Then stretch out the word again.  If they still feel challenged offer support by saying, "I can hear 'bbb' at the end of tub.  Can you hear it?" and stretch out the word giving emphasis to the last sound as you "throw" it down.  Once you finish the presentation give the child a chance in the same way as the Initial Sound work. This work will need to be sorted into sets as outlined above.
Phonemic Awareness Series Level #13 Ending Sound Picture Sorting Cards

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #14 - Word Building with Letter Sound Groups and the Movable Alphabet
Once a child has the first group of letter sounds (s, m, a, t, b) mastered, or almost mastered, they can begin practicing building words with the Movable Alphabet.  These sets are made to use only the letters introduced and scaffold as new letter groups are mastered.  This work's main purpose is to give children PRACTICE with the Movable Alphabet so that when they move to Pink Reading work they are more independent.  When I first present this work I give a naming lesson and build the words with them by sounding out first sound, next sound, last sound.  I then put the letters away and let the child have a turn.  I will stay with the child as they hunt for the letters in the Movable Alphabet.  In a sea of 26 letters a newcomer can feel overwhelmed.  I do not want to take the letter sounds out of the box because by the end I would have 26 letters to hunt through which would be worse than keeping them organized in a Movable Alphabet box.  Once I can see they are getting the hang of it I will step away more often.  I always ask the children to "show me your work when you are done".  I do NOT say "before you put it away."  I've learned that again and again over the years.  I hang back away from the child but still in viewing distance and see how it is coming along. I make any notes about what I observe.
Phonemic Awareness Series Level #14 Letter Sound Group Word Building Picture Cards

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #15 - Middle Vowel Sort with Objects or Pictures
Middle vowel sounds are tricky things.  They are taught last.  You will notice they are actually taught after the word building cards.  That is because I am explicitly teaching the child how to build the words in the sets.  Only at the end of all the letter groupings will the children have all their vowels learned so it is not really helpful to teach this lesson earlier.  I place the vowels sounds down one at time and saying the sound on the center of the mat.  I say, "I am listening for the sound in the middle of the word.  That sound is a vowel."  Take the first cards and say, 'map' slowly.  What is the sound you hear in the middle of the word 'map'?  For this work it can be very helpful to use your hand as a roller coaster with the vowel emphasized at the top.  Be certain to always say the entire word.  Once the vowel is determined I set the cards on either side of the vowel card so I end up with two on each side.  Now put the work back in its basket and give the child a turn to use it.
Phonemic Awareness Series Level #15 Middle Vowel Sorting Pictures

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #16 - Beginning Alphabetizing with Pictures
Phonemic Awareness Series Level #16 Picture Alphabetizing

Montessori Phonemic Awareness Series Level #17 Alphabetizing Cards Work

Alphabetizing Mat

Phonemic Awareness Series Alphabetizing by First Letter

Phonemic Awareness Series Alphabetizing by First Two Letters