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If she's in school, I'd just leave your home items where she can explore them. I know that the first stage in introducing any material is that the child has had a chance to see it and get used to it (so at home, she could just play with it as long as she was gentle, at school she could explore it on the shelf, but not select it as a work until she had a lesson). By the time a lesson comes around, all the fingering and exploring of the work as an object should be taken care of so the child isn't distracted when it's time to consider the work as an activity.
Where I went wrong is I thought that since dd has magnetic letters and has played with felt in the past, letters made out of felt would be familiar enough that she'd be ready to learn an activity with them without exploring them as objects.
(On the subject of treating materials gently, in "The Montessori Method" one of the things MM writes about with joy is the pleasure of seeing a small child build the pink tower oh-so-carefully, admire his work for several minutes....and then knock it over ! My impression was that she felt that having the choice to knock over the tower was an important aspect to doing the work.)
OK, so I went completely wrong by putting the materials on her highest shelf which she can't reach. My reasoning was to keep her from thinking of them in the same vein as toys that she carries around the house and does whatever with. The shelf is next to her table and chairs so I imagined the materials should only be brought out when she and I sit down together and work with them.
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