The Question of Cursive Handwriting

How important is it to teach cursive handwriting? This question comes up annually when I am doing portfolio reviews for families. While it is not stated as an area of academic study required by the state of Ohio to home school, I think it is important for students to be able to write it and read it. I think our goal as educators of our children is to provide them with an excellent education and this includes being able to read all forms of written manuscripts, both manuscript and cursive. I also think every person should be able to communicate in some form of handwritten form, whether that be manuscript or cursive.

However, I am not of the mindset that a young elementary student should learn cursive first as some textbook companies have been emphasizing because everything a student is reading in the primary grades is written in manuscript. I concentrated on reading and writing manuscript with my children before I introduced cursive in third grade. Can you start cursive earlier than third grade if a student has mastered manuscript? Absolutely! Girls especially enjoy writing in cursive.  When is cursive taught in schools? Generally, it is introduced in the spring of second grade or at the beginning of third grade. Some schools are not even going to be teaching it any longer. (What?!)

Why teach cursive?

Cursive is taught in early primary grades by a certain publishing company of textbooks because they say that when you are writing cursive you do not need to lift your pencil off the paper like you do when writing in the manuscript form. Valid point, but I chose to stay with manuscript and have my children master that before moving into cursive. I think introducing manuscript and cursive is a big task when also trying to learn how to read.

When writing in cursive you are almost always using a forward motion. This is not the case in manuscript. What do I mean by that? Think for a minute how the manuscript letter /b/ is formed.  First, you draw a straight line down.  Then, you trace that line 1/3 of the way from the bottom up. Next, you proceed to make a curved line as in a circle, moving forward, but then in order to complete the circle you must lastly go back toward the line. That is not the case with the cursive /b/.  First, you start at the bottom of the line and draw a diagonal line to the top. Next, you do go backwards a little as you start down with your straight line to the bottom of the line. Next, you make a curved line like you would if you were starting up a hill on a roller coaster, about half way up the part of the letter you have  formed thus far. Finally, you make a small half circle that dips down and the back up. I am sure that this isn’t the best description, but you’d have to be in my living room for me to demonstrate. I look pretty funny as I am sitting at my computer drawing b’s in the air.

A person needs to be able to sign their name to documents. As of present, this includes everything from a driver’s license, to a marriage certificate, to a car or house loan. I think it would be regressing if your child just signed a document with an X, don’t you?

Handwriting doesn’t depend upon technology. I just don’t trust electricity to be there 100% 24 hours a day. A pencil is portable and can be applied to a piece of paper without the use of electricity. Not every house is equipped with all of the latest technology and it’s more affordable to have a stack of scratch paper or a whiteboard to jot down a message than a laptop or computer.

Not being able to write limits a person. Handwriting is a form of communication. I know this is obvious, but I thought I’d state it anyway. I just returned from vacation and while I was away I sent postcards to all of my students I tutor. If I didn’t know how to write I wouldn’t have been able to do that.

Points to Consider:

  • Have your student(s) practice letter formation in the air with exaggerated motions before writing to paper. I have found this to be a great way to help my son who was left-handed. I would stand in back of him and he would form the letter. If he needed help it was easy for me being right-handed to put my hand over his and help him if he needed it.  Students become frustrated if they are trying to learn how to write and have to keep erasing their mistakes.
  • Make a “goo bag” to practice letter formation. You can make a batch of instant pudding and put a small amount in a quart sized plastic ziplock bag. Place the sealed baggie on the table on its side. Letters can be formed by pressing down on the outside of the bag to create a white “line”. Stand behind your scribe so you can see how the letters are being formed. Reward your student ‘s hard work afterward with the yummy pudding.
  • Teach the formation of each letter and have your student master this before they add their own artistic style. If they do not learn the letters and begin to change them from the beginning they most likely won’t be able to read traditional cursive. One of my students had “learned cursive” during the summer before being in my class and turned in a paper the first day of class. It was beautiful, but I could barely read it due to how much the letters were altered. I also asked them to read a passage that was traditional cursive and they couldn’t do it.
  • If using the Italic style for cursive, be sure they can read standard cursive handwriting. I love the Italic and it is easier to transition from manuscript to cursive, but moms have said their scribes couldn’t read the more traditional style of cursive.

Cursive Curriculum

There are several styles of cursive to choose from and the one that I have taught has been Zaner-Bloser. A homeschool products catalog that I have enjoyed over the years is rainbow resource They have terrific write-ups about each of the products that they sell and their prices are the best I have found overall. I have also found many products through Christian Book Distributors. They also have write-ups about products that i have found beneficial.

A Reason for Handwriting  This series has scriptures that are copied after the letters have been learned. The publishers have a transitions book that will be helpful in teaching cursive.

Horizons Penmanship Grades 1-5  Cursive is introduced midway through 2nd grade. Correct placement of hands, letter formation, and posture are all covered. Each book has a them that is used throughout the book.

Looking for an online program? Handwriting Worksheets would be a great place to start. This program allows you to create your own worksheets, everything from single words to paragraphs.

The Donna Young website actually shows “how to” animations of letter formation, including how to connect the letters, which can be difficult for some children. There are a great number of resources on this website if you need help. click  here

Handwriting Without Tears Many families with boys love this program and say this is easier than anything else they have taught.  It is simple and straightforward.

Practical application

Provide opportunities for your student to write. Why not send a note to grandparents? There is nothing like getting a note from a grandchild and most likely they will write back. 🙂

Write a note to Dad and put in the car before he goes off to work. That will make his day!

Send a card to someone and have your child sign their name in cursive.

Write out copywork or spelling words in cursive. The more one practices the better one becomes.


One thought on “The Question of Cursive Handwriting

  1. Thanks for your opinion on this~ I completely agree with you! We need more than our thumbs to text to communicate! While my husband prints, I prefer cursive, and the girls often make mental notes of different times when we are writing and they agree that it seems faster and easier to write cursive. I want my girls to have that option so that when they are taking notes in class or writing personal thank you’s or to do lists, technology may not always be an option.


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