Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Teaching Cursive

How does a parent teach her child to transition from print to cursive when using the copywork approach? For my part, it was trial and error. Here's what I finally settled upon for our family. Maybe it prevent some people from having to reinvent the wheel.

I introduce one new cursive letter per week. I like to write it quite large on a dry erase board. (I draw the three guidelines first with a ruler.) My child draws it in the air until she forms the correct strokes. One day is spent on the capital letter, another day, later in the week, on the lower case, and the third day of the same week, we review previous letters and work on combining them. I have learned that it is important that I allow a time each week to teach how how to combine the cursive letters. Each of these lessons takes about 15 minutes. It takes us 26 weeks to do this or two 12 week school terms to get through the entire alphabet.

It is important to remember that sloppy cursive is generally due to improper slant. The letters should be uniform with a slant that looks like this //// not mixed like this /\/. Letters that touch the middle line need to always touch the middle line, not dropping below or poking above.

I do not like cursive programs because they usually assign too much work and are boring. This is due to the fact that the models chosen are meaningless word combinations, or words out of context. Those programs that do provide practice with living books generally use literature that my child is not currently reading so there is no emotional attachment to the passage.

I have used Ms. Readman's free cursive sheets quite successfully with my children but recommend just the capital and lower case letters that she provides. I found that the giant three-lined paper my child used in 1st grade was too large for 3rd grade and regular notebook paper was too small. I like Ms. Readman's practice 36 or 48 sizes. If you print it as landscape, you can fit more words on one line. I use this paper for second grade print copywork as well as third grade copywork. My children switch to regular notebook paper when they can write cursive fairly well. This usually happens sometime during the  fourth grade.

Three days per week we have cursive practice as our copywork lesson and on the fourth day, we have a normal copywork lesson in print style. However, as the year progresses, and she learns more cursive letters, I gradually begin to add cursive words and phrases to the print copywork session. Some of the letters in the words she will not have yet studied, but that's okay. It's just a few and I just encourage her to copy what she sees. By the third term, all copywork is written in cursive style. I provide a copywork model for her to look at and just whip this up right before the lesson. (I don't use Italic simply because I am familiar with the classic Zaner Blozer method and don't want to relearn a whole new handwriting just to teach it to my child.) Some time around the middle of the last school term, my children generally no longer need a model, and just refer to a cursive chart that I keep posted up in the schoolroom.

We learn cursive in pencil. The following year, in fourth grade, my children switch over to pen. I give them their own whiteout pen and they feel pretty pleased about this. (They only use whiteout for copywork and fancy papers. Narration errors are neatly crossed out.)

Here are several samples of my children's work showing the gradual progression from print to cursive.
Click on pictures to enlarge
First Lesson. Her goal is to form six perfect letters. She doesn't have to erase, just cross out the ones she doesn't like. She only does half of this page per lesson. Lower case a is done for lesson two.

Later in the year. She is not satisfied with her letters, so keeps trying.

She just writes ONE word in cursive since she is unsure of herself and the rest is in print.

Now she is able to write one short sentence. She did this lesson in two sessions. Notice the model is write in front above where she will write.

She also took two sessions to complete this quote. She has learned about 20 letters now and is feeling more comfortable with cursive.

All letters have been learned over a 24 week period or so. She no longer prints but still has a cursive model in front of her for a few weeks.

This is where my 8 year old daughter is now. This page is yet to be corrected. She attempted this without a cursive model, but she has a cursive chart near her if she forgets anything. Now she has the last 10 weeks of school to grow completely comfortable with cursive. She is excited about this new skill learned through hard work and fine literature.

one step at a time...


  1. Anonymous15.5.07

    WHat about a little older student who still doesn't do well? This is probably due to my trying to not squash them as they were very senstive to any correction. Would you perhaps start over or do the line imitation? We did that for a while, but it didn't do the trick.

    Tarheel Mama

  2. LindaFay,
    This is exactly what I needed! DD is ready for cursive. I kept thinking that I don't really need to BUY anything. I think I'll start using these sheets right away. :-)
    Thank you!
    Your blog is lovely and your posts are ALWAYS so helpful!

  3. The following web-site mentions something described as "the only handwriting workbook based on Charlotte Mason's philosophy" — you may want to check it out:

    Additionally, keep in mind this fact: the fastest and most legible handwriters ignore about half of what makes cursive “cursive.”


    The fastest handwriters (and especially the fastest LEGIBLE handwriters) …

    /a/ join only some letters, not all of them — using only the easiest joins, skipping the rest —


    /b/ use some cursive and some printed letter-shapes. In other words, where printed and cursive letters seriously “disagree” in shape (capitals and many lower-case letters), the highest-speed highest-legibility handwriters tend to use the printed form and not bother with the cursive version.

    The same research (see citation below) also shows that cursive writers don’t write any faster than print-writers of equal legibility: the betwixt-and-between print/cursive hybridizers beat out both the "printers" and the "cursivists," in legibility and even in speed.

    Graham, S., Berninger, V., & Weintraub, N. (1998). The relationship between handwriting style and speed and quality. Journal of Educational Research, volume 91, issue number 5, (May/June 1998), pages 290-297.

    By the way, I've checked with the Educational Testing Service (producers of the SAT) about a much ballyhooed difference in SAT essay scores between cursive and non-cursive essays (apparently of significance to the test-mad). According to the Educational Testing Service, that difference amounts to a statistically insignificant fraction of a point.

    Kate Gladstone
    owner, Handwriting Repair
    director, World Handwriting Contest

  4. Carrie15.5.07

    Thanks for another great idea. I've been contemplating whether or not to even attempt cursive with my already slow writing 9 yr old. This is a non stressful way to do it. And as always you have nice free resources for us! My favorite.

  5. Wonderful information! Thank you so much!

  6. Anonymous15.5.07

    Thank you so much for this, it is exactly what I am looking for. My DS is going to be starting cursive late he is almost 9, but I wanted to do it 'right' as in right for him. I know that he will eventually develope his own style but I want to give him a strong foundation.


  7. THANK YOU for a wonderful lesson on cursive writing!

  8. Tarheel Mama,
    Yes, I would start over with individual letter formation; however, I'd be careful not to make him feel insulted so I'd skip every letter that he forms well and try to speed up the process. Just don't settle for second best. I think many moms look at a child's handwriting and think that their son *especially boys, just cannot write neatly. This has been shown repeatedly not to be the case. They can learn this skill, but it takes an unmovable mom and short sessions seasoned with enjoyable passages that appeal to the student.

    I appreciate your knowledge about handwriting. The Charlotte Mason method emphasizes beauty over speed. Speed can be accomplished via typing on a computer. The heart of the CM method is to introduce a child to beauty all around them and this includes handwriting. I've seen the samples on your site. They are functional but I do not consider them as beautiful as traditional handwriting.

    Shari, you made a good point about style. Around fifth grade my children begin learning calligraphy. This is when I allow them to begin to develop their own style. But first, they must acquire the discipline of observing a model and copying it precisely.

    Carrie, I try to homeschool with as many free resources as possible without sacrificing quality. This is why you won't find in my delicious links items that you must buy unless I believe they are crucial.

    Please remember,folks, this is just how we do it. I don't feel it is the only way. Readers have asked me to share our method and this post came from that request.


  9. Excellent post. Thanks! I'm enjoying your music this morning as breakfast cooks!

  10. Thank you for that detailed cursive lesson! I am tucking it away for the future. I love how your daughter crosses out the ones she doesn't like. My 5 year old does this - I'd ask her too, she just does.

    Do any of your children get very upset when they make mistakes in their work? My daughter does. We are working on it. She also becomes quite upset when she "thinks" she can't do something. I don't believe I am overly critical so am not sure why this happens. She doesn't get out of whatever I asked her to do - so it's not that either. I am struggling with the idea of striving for perfection with one who seems to want to be perfect (even at 5 - almost 6) but has a hard time with anything less. Any ideas?
    Hope you are having a great week.
    P.S. I think your daughter's handwriting is beautiful. She is doing a lovely job.

  11. Hi Stacy,
    How are you lately?
    It seems to me that there are those children who are natural born perfectionists and then there are those who are just the opposite. I have both in our family. My perfectionist would cry if her writing or drawings were not just the way she wanted them. This is a natural reaction from a child who has not been trained in the habit of self control. I have had to patiently explain to her that this is not a proper response to difficulty and show her how she should respond, while of course explaining the whole concept of practice makes perfect. I had to work with her for about six months before I saw some serious fruit. She sometimes forgets and starts to crumble, but I remind her to control her self since she is the boss of her emotions and she usually does very well now. Hope that helps a little.

  12. Dear Linda,
    Thanks for the advice! I appreciate it.
    Self-control is something we seem to be talking about constantly. I think I might need a new approach with her since she is not getting it. Well, she does get it when nothing bad is happening and we are acting out a situation or talkng it over. But in the moment it is such a struggle.
    You've motivated me to think this over some more and try harder.
    Thanks again.

  13. Stacy,
    There have been times when my daughter has simply refused to control herself. It's no longer a matter of can't but won't, even though she tries to convince me that she can't. Those are the times when I use stronger measures and discipline her for directly disobeying. I generally see immediate progress. I have found that some of my children are more stubborn than the others and habit training takes longer. They also go through more consequences. But it has ALWAYS paid off if I didn't give up and remained firm, gentle and consistent. (By the way, I'm not always firm, not always gentle and not always consistent, but I'm getting there.)

  14. It's wonderful to have found your site and to read your wisdom gained. I wish you would tell us More, More, More about you!!!
    Instead I will thoroughly enjoy reading throughout your blog and site to see what I can glean. You really make me feel I can truly homeschool and do it well- thank you!
    Diana in New Zealand :)