Nienhuis (pictured above) can easily set you back around $80, plus the cost of the storage box (pretty much a must-have) which can often be almost twice the cost of the alphabet itself. The storage box is important because it provides a structure, a place for each letter (and each letter in its place), a routine to spelling and knowing where to find them, so the emphasis is on the spelling out of words and the tactile experience of the letters and not searching through a chaotic heap of letters spilled out onto the floor. This is an investment, and although it is a good investment, it may be one that you are not able to make. If this is the case, despair not, as I have found you plenty of alternatives that won't overwhelm your budget! The important things to consider as you read through these alternatives and you are weighing your options are your priorities in the following aspects: the tactile sensation of the letters (will your child be able to feel the letter shape), that the letter sets are lower case, and whether or not the color coding is important to you, as traditionally vowels are blue and consonants are red.
Option one is to go bargain hunting. Ebay and craigslist are places that you may be able to track down a new or gently used moveable alphabet set for a fraction of the retail cost. I have seen Montessori schools, retiring teachers, or parents that are clearing out their used items to replace them with new, selling their used sets to the highest offer. I haven't ever been lucky enough to spot a set at a thrift shop, but I've heard about people who have and blushed with jealousy. :) If you do purchase from Ebay, I would suggest that you read their feedback to ensure you are purchasing a set that is quality and will last for you.
Lakeshore Learning at $39.95. Plus, use their coupon code 1211 and receive $5 off your purchase (of $25 or more). You receive a total of 240 lowercase magnetic letters—all in a compartmentalized storage box with handy labels for easy organization. These letters are lower case and color coded, but the vowels are red and the consonants are blue. The bonus of these is that your child can use them on the floor, but also on a cookie sheet, side of a filing cabinet, the fridge, or a magnetic dry erase board surface as well. I own this set myself, and the letters are durable and easy to use. The storage box is designed similar to the wooden storage boxes for the traditional moveable alphabet sets. Because there are multiples of each letter, your child won't hit a wall when they are spelling out "ball" or "Mississippi", and it allows for children to work together and share the materials for cooperative learning. Yes, magnetic letter sets are commonly available anywhere toys or groceries are sold for only a few dollars, but I urge you to consider that these are usually upper case sets, generally many colors (not consonant/vowel color coded), and not as durable as a set intended for classroom use. The magnets tend not to be very strong, and they can fall off the letters all together, which makes the letter potentially unusable and poses a choking risk.
30 Large Chipboard Letters from Oriental Trading. This set is currently on sale for $3.99 per set (regular price is $10.99) so they are a bargain, but you would want to purchase multiple sets to provide your child with the spelling options for words with repeated letters. Also, they are white, so you (and your child) could color code them yourself with crayons, markers, or paint. The downside of this option is that they do not come with a compartmentalized storage container for the letters, and though chipboard is pretty durable if handled carefully, if they were exposed to moisture or abused, you may find yourself needing to order additional sets in the future.
this one from Montessori Print Shop. At only $5.99, the price is hard to beat, as is the instant gratification in receiving your purchase in an instant download PDF file. This set includes instructions for use, 3 color combination choices, 3 letter and 4 letter small picture cards, and a word list. The tradeoffs are that your child will not be able to feel the letter shape, and you will need to find your own method for storing the letters. The set of letters can be printed off and laminated for durability, and the bonus of the picture cards and instructions for use makes it easy to implement them with confidence and expertise. I have downloaded materials from Montessori Print Shop in the past and have always been satisfied. The bonus of this kit is that if you need to replace lost or damaged letter, you just need to reprint them off your computer!
great tutorial from Indie House, and it looks like they could even be hand sewn if you don't have access to a sewing machine. This tutorial can be modified for your needs. They created their set in rainbow, upper case letters and attached magnets to the back, but to simplify and cut your costs even more, just choose red and blue felt (or 2 colors of your choosing), use lower case letters, and don't attach magnets. You may want to make multiples of the letters to facilitate spelling longer words. Other fabrics could be substituted for the felt. I love the handcrafted and 3 dimensional aspect to this project, and it brings to mind an alternate as well: you could just even just cut out the felt letters (or purchase sets, like this one) and use with a felt board or mat on the floor. If you do choose to attach a magnet to the backs of your letters as in this tutorial, be sure your child is supervised during use to prevent choking. Again, you will also need to decide on an organized method for storing the letters. Here is a also good template for tracing the letters onto felt, or printing them out and coloring them yourself.
free Montessori font from Macrhino. They say it has always been a free font and will stay that way, so download away! Color code and print to your heart's desire. I would suggest printing multiple letter sets on cardstock and laminating them for durability.
You can also visit Montessori Materials, where they provide you with a FREE premade printable PDF moveable alphabet, which you can simply cut and laminate as many copies as you would like!
Hopefully I've given you some new ideas, and if you have suggestions of your own or stories about what has worked for you, I'd love to hear them!