Simple Cursive Instruction for Young Children

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
    • rhyming
    • 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.

Start gently.

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 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.

Stay positive

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?

 

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7 Responses to Simple Cursive Instruction for Young Children

  1. I have always started my kids with manuscript printed, mostly because that’s what my mom did with me and not for any strong philosophical reasons. Now my 6 yr old and my 4 yr old are both clamoring for cursive worksheets because they like the cursive their older (9) sister is doing.

    Maybe the fact that they WANT to do it is half the battle? After reading this I’m definitely going to encourage their wish to do cursive.

    The biggest handwriting challenge in our homeschool is that my oldest two are both left handed. My mom (who is also left handed) encourages them. She says that her handwriting was horrible, despite strenuous efforts to improve, until she was in the fifth grade. That seems to be standard for lefties. Any thoughts on left vs right handedness?

    • I don’t have much personal experience, since all my children are right handed and were so obviously from babyhood. But handedness is important, and I should have mentioned it in my article.

      It is so important that we not in any way bias our child toward one hand or another, but allow them to naturally develope the handedness God gave them. Some children don’t clearly show a preference for one dominant hand until age 6 or 7; parents should patiently allow the child to use both hands indiscriminently in the meantime.

      If a child is pushed into using a hand he was not intended by God to favor, that child could develope reading, speeach, personality, and other disabilities, from the resulting trauma to the developing brain. It is just not worth the risk.

      When teaching preschool, or when training my own children, I avoid this entirely by placing eating utensils, crayons, or other tools on the table in front of the child and allowing the child to pick up the tool himself. I also wait a few moments, understanding many children will pass the tool back. And forth between hands before deciding which hand to use.

      After a child has used tools in a hand exclusively for a few months, I consider the case closed. Just to be sure, I may try handing the tool to the “wrong hand.” I’m a sly dog that way.

      When I taught handwritting to lefties in preschool, I used the same proscedure (though we were teaching printing w/the school curriculum). I found it easier to teach while sitting across the table from him; my pencil hand was opposite his pencil hand. Lefties need to especially mind their slant, and their paper may be slanted at a greater angle than righties’. Lefties will also constantly drag their sleave over their pencil work, so the sooner they can graduate to pen the better. ; )

  2. Jennifer Dages says:

    I have taught cursive to my 3 older ones. We have used a very simple program called Cursive first which costs about $15.00 and helps those of us who like a bit of structure.

  3. Jenny says:

    For any who need to help their child strengthen hand and finger muscles, play doh is fantastic! An occupational therapist told our autism moms group that all hand/finger fine motor actually starts back at the shoulder. Anything you can get your child to do that has them reaching up also strengthens this area–putting cans away in a cupboard, climbing a bunk bed/playground ladder, crawling through tubes, shooting balls and bean bags, etc. Using stickers is also a great way to increase fine motor coordination. Just thought I’d throw it in. ;)

  4. That is great insight, Jenny. development moves from large muscles to smaller ones, so any fun activities that encourage such co-ordination can really help. Thanks!

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