To teach cursive, or not to teach cursive. That is the question. It’s one of the biggest debates in education today.
I tend to be on the pro-cursive side of the discussion. I’ve blogged before about teaching handwriting. Even in a world where we type everything, handwriting is important. Teaching cursive goes a step beyond the basics but is also wonderful to do. It improves hand-eye coordination and has been shown to have certain brain and memory benefits.
The problem is that most kids get a workbook thrown at them, and get frustrated and then want to quit trying. Just like with so many things, there are different ways to teach cursive. So many ways to explore and make learning cursive more fun.
Where to Start
First of all, get your child involved in choosing the type of cursive you are going to work on with them. Your child will put in more effort if they like the look of what they are trying to learn to do.
Handwriting without Tears is a rounder, simpler cursive that works well for many kids, but it is also “not as pretty,” to quote many kids I work with. It has fewer loops and such, which makes it easier to learn. This can be good or bad, depending on what your child really wants.
Getty-Dubay is an interesting style that sort of combines print and cursive. So for some kids, it makes more sense. Most of us write in a combo form, so it is reasonable to just learn that if your child likes that style best.
Most of us, grew up learning either D’Nelian or Zanner Blosser style cursive. This is the form that is on a slant, has the extra loops, and looks pretty. When a child imagines writing in cursive this is often the kind they have in mind because they have seen an adult write that way.
Whichever one your child is interested in, start there. You can always switch later if you and your child want to.
Once you have your beginner writing book, look at it carefully and make sure you, the teacher, know how to write these letters. You may need to take a little time to practice writing in the style you are now about to teach. If you can’t write it, you can’t really teach it. So, take some time to practice if you need to. Even just looking ahead to the next letter or two as you go, is fine.
Using a Multi-Sensory Approach
Next, think about how you can make these lessons multi-sensory. Learning to write will go much better if you take the stress of the pencil and workbook away. I like to alternate between making letters in different ways and using a workbook. Mixing and matching our learning styles on different days works well for many kids, as variety keeps the lessons more interesting.
When you make letters larger than typical writing, you engage different muscles, and different parts of the brain, which helps your child learn and remember the letters better. Making it in a multi-sensory way engages those brain connections and makes writing more fun.
Get The Whole Arm Moving
Writing larger than normal is one way to be multi-sensory. You can write larger with chalk, on a whiteboard, or even with markers on a window or refrigerator. Write large enough so that you have to move your whole hand instead of moving just your fingers and wrist.
Write and have your child erase your letter with their finger or something small, so their body feels how to make the motion of writing it. Have them write on top of your letter in another color.
Play with Paint
I love to use finger paint to work on letters with older kids. Writing with a finger instead of a pencil or marker is easier for most kids. And finger paints feel less stressful than paper and pen. You can use these on a cookie sheet, or my favorite, the shower surround.
Shaving cream works well too. Just spread some on the shower wall and write the letter or short words your child is working on. Let them copy you, or even trace your letters if they are struggling to learn the direction their line should move. Lower case f is a complex letter, but the flow of finger-painting can make practicing it much easier.
Change Your Perspective
Writing upright, on windows or the shower surround engages different muscles in the arms and lets the student write on eye level in a way that they can’t do with paper.
Look for ways to let your student write in this position. Putting sticky notes on the wall, or using chalk on a fence can also get the motion in a different way.
Skip the Pencil
Another way my kids have enjoyed writing this year was by using a paint stick. The paint sticks were sold as a way for younger kids to create art with less mess but the paint goes on paper SO smoothly! Part of the trick of learning to write in cursive is getting each letter to flow. Markers on a whiteboard, oil pastels or paint sticks on paper and even some nice pens make that motion more possible than the typical pencils children learn to write with. Make letters on paper as artwork.
Let your child use these to work on writing their signature, or even just the first letter of their name if that is where you are starting. The word your child will write most in cursive is their own name, so that is a great place to spend some extra time. Have your child practice their signature by signing cards, giving out pretend autographs on index cards, or whatever reason you can think of.
Practice makes Progress
Once your child is starting to know enough letters to write something in cursive, encourage them to use it. Call out simple words or sentences for them to copy down in cursive. The words should be ones that they can spell easily, without thinking, and the letters needed, ones they know how to write. Asking your 10-year-old to write “The cat sat.” or “Dogs go poop.” might seem silly, but it lets them start writing in cursive the way they learned to write in print. It lets them focus on letter-by-letter using their handwriting skills without having to think about spelling or grammar.
Your child needs to both learn to read and write all over again with this new cursive alphabet. Many kids don’t get enough chances to play with cursive to gain competence with it and end up giving up on it. There is a transition from learning each letter, to writing easy words, to writing on their actual level, which requires patience and practice. Once your child can write easy things in cursive when asked, you can start writing their spelling words or grammar lessons in cursive for them to copy. Find ways to help them make this transition from cursive being something they work on separately, to being part of other subject work, and your child will blossom with their cursive skills.
It’s Never Too Late To Start
Keep in mind, some students, for many reasons, struggle with learning cursive. There is no age cut off for learning though. While some students may learn cursive at 6 or 7, many more will do better with it at 11 or 12. Middle school is a great time to work on cursive, as students are looking for ways to be more adult. So, if you introduced cursive before, and it didn’t go well, try again. The brain and body connections continue to strengthen throughout childhood and early adulthood. So there is no reason to completely give up, even if your child doesn’t take off with this new skill.
P.S. Here are examples and links to more information about the cursive handwriting styles I mentioned.
And these are the paints and other things I recommend.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.
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