I was recently asked to explain how I teach my children to write. And when I thought back … way back … I realized you can’t teach a child to write until you have begun handwriting class.
Handwriting, the bane of humanity.
Really, we don’t need to dread teaching or practicing handwriting so much. Like so many other subjects, we simply need to keep it simple and remain patient.
Start with cursive.
I thought you said keep it simple? But cursive really is the simple way to learn. Children have learned “proper handwriting” for centuries … until the rise of “look-see” reading programs in the 20th century and then the proliferation of technology. Then not only across this country, but around the world, adults quit teaching their children how to write beautifully, fluidly, and legibly. This integral part of our culture need not be lost.
Cursive is easier for young children’s small motor skills. Rather than picking up the pencil numerous times and making harsh corners and points, the young hand is allowed to remain on the paper longer and make fluid, more organic movements.
Cursive allows the child to read anything. The child can instantly read what his parents write, and any printed letter in any font.
And cursive-taught children seldom need training in printing. They teach themselves when they find the need or desire to print.
Start cursive with phonics instruction.
It seems like small-motor-skills often (but not always) coincide with reading-readiness. Some children may not experience all these milestones until age 7 or 9, but most are ready around age 5 and a few as early as 3 or 4. A child ready for phonics and handwriting instruction will be …
- pretending to read favorite picture books
- memorizing entire sections of some books (in an attempt to “read” them)
- realizing that words and letters are symbols
- pointing to words or letters and ask what it says
- demonstrating a sudden vocabulary spurt
- telling stories with a clearer structure (beginning, middle, and ending)
- describing things more vividly
- holding his crayon properly, with only 2 or 3 fingers, rather than a fist,
- pretending to write letters and stories
Never should handwriting instruction be rushed beyond the child’s capabilities. Truly, this is one area in which I wish I could go back and re-do my first-born child’s early years again. He was clearly not ready to write words and sentences, and I set him down in that chair because the curriculum said so. What a waste of his precious play time! The less time little ones spend with a pencil in their hands, the better.
Make sure you choose one font/program/cursive system and stick with it for the rest of the child’s born days. I would strongly urge you to choose a handwriting style close to that of yourself and your husband. All you really need is an example (a chart or page of the alphabet) and blank manuscript paper to copy onto.
First, teach your little one to make swirls, loops, and sticks (un-crossed cursive t’s). These should all be connected to each other, like preschoolers do when they pretend to write. The child will make the swirls of varying sizes; that is great. After a time, help the child to make them “on the lines” and in a more controlled fashion.
Next, write loops and sticks on lines of manuscript paper. Teach the child to trace your writing. This is very, very difficult for small motor skills and may take days to weeks to master. If the child cannot master tracing, he may not be mature enough for handwriting yet and should put it aside for a few months. He could color, work on puzzles, play with math manipulatives, pick up grains of rice … whatever he enjoys that challenges his small motor skills.
By the time the child has mastered tracing, he should have learned the small vowel sounds in phonics. So he can learn to trace, then write these, one letter at a time. Small e is easy to start with, because it is simply a loop. Small i is another easy letter, because it is just a stick. With each letter, be careful that the child is slanting properly. This should be achieved with proper paper position. The letters won’t be perfect, but in time they will improve.
Little o and little a will be the first challenges. After all five vowels are learned, follow up with consonants.
When the child learns to read blends (ta, te, ti, to, tu,), he can begin to write these, too. The benefit of cursive is the blends are written altogether, like we say them. Soon after the child writes his first words, he can learn his own name. That is a huge milestone.
Cursive handwriting instruction for young children is not onerous or grueling. Keep these pointers in mind for sure success:
- Be sure the child is developmentally ready for each new task.
- Keep a model in front of the child for easy reference.
- From the beginning, show him how to hold his pencil correctly. Help him hold all writing implements correctly from that time on.
- Praise progress, and don’t expect perfection.
- Practice regularly
- Don’t overload a young child; pencil work is their least important task
Have you taught your children cursive? What worked? What did not?