Penmanship: The Art of Teaching Handwriting
How to hold a pen!
Teaching Beginning Cursive
As a child I remember Mrs. Thompson, my first grade teacher, gently putting her hand over mine; guiding me in forming the letters. We wrote on green lined paper with dotted lines down the middle. After we had practiced for a whole week we were allowed to use the white paper to prove how beautiful our handwriting was becoming. We made sticks and balls and from a to z we learned to print.
When I taught in Costa Rica, I learned a method for teaching cursive. We learned not to go from a to z but to start with strokes. We learned letter e with l and letter i with t. Letter c was an ocean wave and as we learned each letter we began to put them together to spell words. It was here in Costa Rica that I fell in love with handwriting and teaching it to children.
Since then I have taught many, many children how to write and have gone from just paper and pencil to activities that involve texture, artistry and physical movement. It's fun to learn to write in cursive...
Fun Handwriting Activities
Writing Tools and Surfaces
Materials for Teaching how to write in Cursive ...
The basic materials needed to learn to write are simply a writing tool and a surface to write on. Of course you can start with a paper and pencil but I prefer chalk and a chalkboard. Standing up and writing with big motions is exciting for children and it helps them to feel the strokes of the letters with their entire bodies.
I introduce a new letter to the whole group as they stand near the board. I remind then of how to make the strokes that they may be having difficulty with. Then I show them how to connect the new letter with letters we have learned before.
I then ask several children at a time to come to the board and write the letters in large sweeping motions until they get the flow and feel of the letter.
The rest of the children are paired on the rug practicing the letters on each other's backs, an activity they love which keeps them on task as they wait for their turns at the board.
Most children get the idea quickly and are given permission to begin writing on practice paper. Several children need extra help. I choose one of these children for each group and place my hand over theirs until they can feel the motion. Sometimes having them close their eyes can help. These are the kids that I keep a careful eye on to make sure they are not developing bad habits.
I have many other materials available in handwriting centers around the room which can be used as soon as the children have finished their paper and pencil practice.
Cursive Alphabet Bulletin Board Set - Display the Cursive Alphabet
Few classrooms these days have the alphabet posted over the blackboard. So when I am substituting I find it difficult to help children when they forget how to form individual letters. I would like to propose that we return the cursive alphabet back to its proper position above the chalk board where all can see it.
How to form the letter e in cursive
Cursive Letter e
Demonstrating how to form the letter e.
First I demonstrate how to form the letter. When teaching cursive, for example, I often start with the letter e. We point to the letters of the alphabet and recite the Alphabet song. We then repeat it until we get to the letter e. We quickly mention the sounds that the letter e makes and then point out that the letter e starts at the bottom line, curves to to the middle line and then curves back to the bottom line.
Writing Cursive Letter E - Writing Cursive Letter L
Pointed letters vs. Flowing letters - Teaching Penmanship
Which letters should you begin with when teaching cursive?
I chose letters u, i and t because they are easy to form and so much fun to dot and cross.
Some people, however, like to begin with the letters e and l.
I also chose the first letters because of the number of words that could be formed with just those three letters.
When you choose the letters you would like to first teach your children, think about the words that could be formed with them.
Words with u, i and t include it (in English) tu (in Spanish) and ti (in French)
Words with e and l include el (in Spanish) or le (in French)
Once your children have mastered all five letters they can write the words tell, till, lull, let, lit, tile, tule, lute, etc.
U, I, and T
Girl Writing on the Wall
Cursive Letters in the Air Writing Cursive Letters on your Partner's Back
Next we practice writing the letter in the air while pointing to the letter that I wrote on the board.
Writing in the air helps the children internalize the motions involved in making the letters. Saying the sounds aloud reinforces the letter sound relationship and will help them as they learn to read and spell words.
- We write it very large with very large motions and each time we form the letter in the air we say the sound of the letter, in this case a short e sound.
- Next, I have all the children find a partner and write the letter on each others backs.
- Then they turn around and it's the child's turn.
Writing in Cursive
Practicing Cursive Letters on Paper
Moving on to Handwriting Learning Centers
Now I give each of the children a chance to write the letter
on the board.
I check each of the children individually to make sure that they have understood how to form the letters and that they start at the bottom line, touch the middle line and then curve back down to the bottom line.
Those who are able to form the letter correctly are allowed to take a paper and pencil to practice at their desks. Those who are having difficulty work longer with me at the board. Any child that finishes writing on their paper can choose one of the handwriting centers set up around the room.
I have 6 to 10 handwriting centers set up around the room. I allow 2 - 4 children at a center and they are allowed to clean up and then change centers at will.
The Palmer Method - Watch the Cursive Letters being Formed
There are several different styles of handwriting that have traditionally been taught. Many use the D'Nealian or Zaner Bloser methods but one of the most elegant methods is the Palmer Method. People who learned with the Palmer Method have beautiful handwriting. Come try the Palmer Method...
Cursive Letter Order - In which order do you teach letters in cursive?
Teaching Letters in Cursive
I don't teach the letters in order from A to Z; instead, I teach them according to the type of strokes that are used to form each letter.
I first teach u, i, and t.
These are the simplest letters and when the children practice them they can write the words it and the Spanish word for you: tu. Point out to the children that they do not pick up their pencils until the have finished the whole word and then go back to dot the i's and cross the t's and that you use a backward stroke to cross the t's.
Children love to write long lines of i's and t's and then go back to dot and cross their t's.
Letter e in Cursive
Teaching Letters c, a, and d
Then I teach the letters c, a, and d.
I tell the children that the letter c looks like an ocean wave and as we form the letter we chant ocean wave. Notice that the letter c starts at the bottom line, curves up to the middle line and then tips halfway over before tracing it's way back exactly along the first line and then continues the curve down touching the bottom line and reaches out for the next letter.
The letter a is just like the c except that it ends with the same stroke as the letter c.
The letter d is just like the a but continues up above the middle line.
Note that the letters d and t both stop half way between the middle line and the top line and are the only letters to do that.
Finally we go on to letters n and m. These are confusing to children because they each have one more hump than they do in print.
Now we go back and pick up the letters that combine shapes.
h and k Be sure they go all the way to the top line.
Then f is the first letter to go below the line. Be sure it has a straight back all the way from the top to the bottom. With q which has the same kind of tail as the f.
x,y and z all start with humps like an n'
r and s start like an i.
Up to this point all the letters reach their hands out at the bottom to hold hands with the next letter in the word but now we go on to the ones who hold their hands at the top.
b and w . o and v.
These last four take lots of practice as the children learn how to connect them to letters that follow.
Now you're ready for the Capitals!
Which textbooks to use for teaching cursive? - Which are the best workbooks for teaching cursive?
Books for Teaching Cursive
There are books that offer page by page instructions in how to teach cursive. It can be very helpful to use a textbook as a guide. It will help you to teach each letter in a uniform way.
For the children, however, this is the most boring way, and often leads to certain children never mastering the art of cursive writing. I suggest using these books only as a guide for the teacher.
Rather than following along page after page in a book, write words and sentences of interest to your child. Try to use only the letters that you have introduced so far. In the beginning you will only be able to write words. Once you have taught the letter a in cursive it is simple to teach the capital letter A which is just twice as high as the small letter a. Suddenly you are able to write whole sentences beginning with the word A.
You could write A cat can nap. or make it even more exciting. A cat is not an apple pie.
How to make the Letter f in Cursive - Teaching the Letter f
One of the most difficult letters to form is the letter f. The key is to make sure that it has a long straight back. There are so many curves in cursive that people tend to curve the back and then wonder why their cursive looks odd or babyish. Notice how the letter f is formed on the chart by Jan Brett.
Learning Letter F f in Cursive
Letter F in Cursive Worksheet
Penmanship Learning Center
I love Jan Brett's beautiful illustrations and the children love the animal themes.
Turn these beautiful pieces of art into a Penmanship Learning Center:
- Copy each letter of the alphabet onto cardstock
- Laminate them
The children can practice tracing the letters using dry erase markers or grease pens.
- Cursive Alphabet by Jan Brett
Jan Brett's Alphabet Line Bulletin Board Set Use letters together as an alphabet line or separately as flash cards
Cursive Practice Cards
Cursive Card Learning Center
Laminate these cursive cards and you will be able to practice your cursive by tracing the letters over and over. Once your child has learned to form these letters you can begin to combine them to form words. This will probably go pretty well until you get to the letters that reach their hands over on the top.
If your child is having trouble with letters o, b, w and v, consider making your own laminated cards with words such as look, book, love, wool, broom, vroom, woven, wrote.
Writing the Letter G - Learning to write Letter G
Zaner Bloser Cursive - Handwriting Practice Booklet
Copperplate Script or English Round Hand - Old Fashioned Handwriting
This is the style of handwriting taught during the 19th Century. Australia adopted a more modern style in 1960. People in the United States will notice that the Decoration of Independence was written in Copperplate Script.
This video demonstrates how to write the capital letters including variations in English Round Hand.
Handwriting Without Tears
Handwriting Without Tears
I have to say that I have mixed feelings about including Handwriting Without Tears Curriculum since it seems to be a dumbed down version of the beautiful cursive that I grew up with, but many of you have mentioned it, liked it and swear by it. Handwriting Without Tears is also being used in the school where I teach so I hope to be able to give you a well thought out review of the program. So far I do like the activities, materials and approach to teaching letters to kindergÃ¤rtners.
There are four magnetic pieces that can be used to make each of the capital letters in print and most of the small letters. The children like to manipulate the long and short lines as well as the small and big curves.
The Importance of Teaching Good Handwriting - Is handwriting still important?
The other day I went to the doctor's office and she handed me a list of things she wanted me to do to improve my health. I looked at the list and it was completely illegible. I even asked her secretary to translate it for me and the secretary had to go to the doctor to find out what it said.
Don't you think that your doctor should have good handwriting?
Is it still important to teach good handwriting?
No, handwriting is not that important anymore.
Hands-on Cursive - Cursive can be fun, artistic and hands-on!
How to Make Learning Cursive a Fun, Delightful Experience
As in all teaching, I take a hands-on approach. Children easily get bored just copying letters, words and sentences from a handwriting workbook. Instead we make up our own words and sentences using the letters we have learned so far. Each day we can add more words until we write full sentences in cursive. We try to make these words and sentences meaningful to the children. Sometimes the sentences are silly, sometimes they talk about something important to the child that day.
Another way to make learning fun and exciting is to practice using unexpected materials. Chocolate Pudding, for example, is just the right consistency for practicing handwriting. It's also fun to lick your cursive off when done. Hands-on projects for decorating birthday cards, posting vocabulary words or decorating a cake are other hands-on ways to practice your penmanship.
Chocolate Pudding Cursive Writing Center - Learning Cursive while writing in Pudding
Chocolate Pudding Writing Center
Practicing your cursive letters in chocolate pudding spread out on a cookie sheet may seem messy but that can be just the thing to get some kids motivated to practice their handwriting. Fingers slip through the pudding and reveal the cookie sheet below forming the letter he or she is writing. The texture of the puddling encourages writing in the fluid motion needed to write in cursive.
Make a mistake? Letters don't seem to be formed correctly? Just wipe it smooth again with a spatula and practice your cursive letters again.
Note:I usually allow the kids to make their own pudding so that they get a chance to practice measuring and fractions thus covering math as well as handwriting.
Writing in Chocolate Pudding
Sticky and sweet, chocolate pudding is thick enough for resistance and smooth enough to allow for the curving lines of cursive. Once you are finished writing a letter, don't forget to lick your fingers. What a fun way to practice your penmanship!
Have you ever practiced your cursive by writing in Chocolate Pudding?
Zen Cursive Center - Japanese Garden Cursive Center
Japanese Zen Garden Handwriting Center
Set up a Japanese Zen Garden Handwriting Center where children can write their letters in the sand.
Pour a thin layer of sand on a cookie sheet or tray. Shake the tray so that the sand lies evenly across the tray.
Japanese Gardens have sand that is raked into beautiful patterns. Hang a poster of a Japanese Garden over the Handwriting Center. Offer children the choice of writing with their fingers, a stick or a small rake.
Have you practiced your handwriting with Zen sand? - Zen Penmanship
- Sand is used to create a quiet meditative place.
- Sand is raked into precise geometric forms surrounding rocks and plants to resemble flowing water.
- Children can get a feel for a Zen Garden while practicing their handwriting while forming cursive letters in the sand with a rake.
Would you like to practice your handwriting in Zen sand?
Scribble Cursive Art Center - Penmanship Art
Scribble to Cursive
Scribble Learning Center
When transitioning from print to cursive children need to learn to write the whole word without picking up the pencil. At this center, children are given the opportunity to pick the marker of their choice and draw a picture without picking up the marker.
Provide lots of paper and a variety of markers in different shapes and sizes.
Create flowing patterns of cursive movements to create artwork. Children love to practice these motions over and over as they create unique works of art. The control needed to scribble like this is the same as for penmanship. Without even realizing it, your children will be improving their handwriting.
Is a Scribble Handwriting Center an effective way to help improve penmanship?
Playdough Cursive Letters
Bread Dough Writing Center
Many children love to use play dough. This center helps children form the letters and reinforces the idea that the letters are made with one continuous line, that the letters are connected within a word and that cursive is a beautiful art.
Roll long snakes out of play dough, bread dough, Clay and use those snakes to form the cursive letters and words.
Once the children have been introduced to most of the letters, this center can be used to practice spelling or vocabulary words.
Some children like to write words in cursive clay, take pictures of them and use them on the covers of their books as titles to the stories they write.
Cursive Clay Question
Roll the clay or play dough into long snakes and then use these snakes to form letters in cursive. The long snakes remind the children that the letters keep flowing in cursive without picking up their pencils. If you use self-hardening clay you might be able to have the children write their names and use these names to decorate your room.
Have you tried creating cursive letters with clay or play dough?
Learning Cursive with Wooden Trains - Cursive Train Tracks
Does your child love to play with trains? Here is a delightful way to learn cursive. Put train tracks together to form letters. Then your child can repeat the sound of the letter as he or she drives a train along the letter tracks.
Here is the letter a:
1. Put together Wooden Train Tracks in the form of the letters
2. Drive the Red Engine along the tracks saying the sound of the letters as you go.
Train Track Writing Center
Train Track Letters
Here is the letter "O". How many other letters can you make with wooden railroad tracks?
Have you created cursive letters with wooden train tracks?
Glitter Glue Words - Practicing Cursive with Glitter and Glue
Santa's Christmas Sparkly Writing Center
Writing Words with Glue and Glitter
I realize that you can now get glitter and glue already mixed but there is just something satisfying about the way the glue flows on so smoothly, the feel of the glitter sprinkling through your fingers and the roughness of the letters once the glue has dried that makes writing cursive in glue and glitter so satisfying.
Christmas always feels like a time of glitter and sparkle. We love to write greeting cards in glitter and glue words.
Glitter Glue Writing
Swirl the glue in delightful curves. Create perfect letters that flow across the page. Writing with glitter and glue is a fun, artistic way to practice cursive and the control needed to write in glue and glitter will help improve handwriting.
Do you enjoy writing in cursive with glue and glitter?
Close your eyes and feel the Cursive!
Sandpaper Cursive Learning Center
Using heavy Cardstock, trace the letters of the alphabet on sandpaper and cut them out with an old pair of scissors and glue them onto the card stock.
Once they are dry, children can close their eyes, run their fingers over the letters and guess which letter they are feeling. I have found that children love doing this activity. This center works best when children work in pairs.
Writing in the Snow - Large Motor Cursive Practice
Cursive in the Snow
When the snow is a few inches deep and it's easy to pack down you can make cursive letter Fox and Geese games. Stomp down the path of the letter you are working on and then start chasing the geese while following along the path. Each time a goose is caught, shout out "This goose was caught in the letter___."
What a fun way to practice cursive while running around in the new fallen snow!
Do you practice your cursive in the snow?
Have you practiced your cursive on cupcakes? - Cursive Cupcakes
Cursive Cupcake Center
- Traditionally words are written on cakes and cupcakes in fancy, swirly, cursive.
- You can encourage your children to practice their cursive with Melissa and Doug wooden cupcakes.
- The tops or frosting on the cupcakes can be written on with dry erase markers.
- What a fun place to practice their handwriting!
Wouldn't it be fun to practice penmanship on cupcakes?
Writing on Eggs - Practice Cursive on Eggs
Wikki Sticks Handwriting Center - Wikki Sticks Cursive
Wikki Sticks can be shaped to form letters and they easily stick to without glue.
The children enjoy constructing cursive letters using Wikki Sticks. This activity helps the children to focus on the shape of each letter in detail. Often this concrete, tactile activity helps children internalize the actual shape of letters.
Program index cards with the letter or word your children are learning. They stick the Wikki Sticks right on the cards as if tracing. Because the Wikki Sticks actually stick to the cards, it is easier for the children to work with instead of pipecleaners.
Do you think that creating cursive letters with Wiki Sticks would be a fun way to learn the shapes of cursive letters?
Underwater Writing Center - Practice Your Cursive in the Rain
No matter where you go or how wet it is, you can write on the AquaNotes Waterproof Notepad. The idea was invented by a young girl who saw the need and worked very hard to get her idea patented and then mass produced.
In a classroom setting this waterproof notebook could be used outside on a rainy day, when taking trips to the frog pond or to record observations at the sensory table.
As homeschoolers you could turn your bathtub or swimming pool into a learning center where your children could practice their cursive underwater.
Motivation for Practicing Cursive - Practice your Cursive Daily
Teaching Cursive to 3rd - 5th Grades
Recently I have been substituting in third through fifth grade classes in Vermont. Most of the children are not regularly being taught cursive but the kids are fascinated by it. Whenever I get a chance we take a few moments to learn more strokes and letters. We start with the e and l , the i, u and t and soon move on to the ocean wave c. The kids love it.
After teaching first grade for many years, I am amazed at how much quicker a fourth grader can pick up the strokes and letters. This week the class I am teaching needed to write two thank you cards and a get well card. All of the children were delighted to show off their budding skills by writing the cards in cursive.
Because teachers no longer teach cursive on a regular basis, there was no cursive alphabet over the chalk board. We found an alphabet online to put up on the smart board and I wrote and demonstrated how to write letters and words on the dry erase board.
What a wonderful job these children did and I am sure that the recipients of these cards will be delighted to see that the children were thoughtful enough to write in cursive.
Cursive on the Chalkboard - Writing in Cursive on the Blackboard
Chalkboard Cursive on any surface - The Artistic Cursive Spaces Learning Center
Did you know that you can use Chalkboard paint to turn any surface into a blackboard? Rough up the surface with sandpaper and then brush or spray with chalkboard paint. At first you might try rectangular pieces of wood which resemble a blackboard. But then, let your imagination go wild. How about covering a teapot with blackboard paint. You could write the kind of tea being served in cursive. Cover jars with blackboard paint for storing spices. Your cursive handwriting will look amazing on these jars.
Children love having a wall in the kitchen coated in blackboard paint. They spend hours writing all over the surfaces while their penmanship improves. Where would you paint in chalkboard paint?
Blackboard Paint - Chalkboard Paint
Did you know that there is a paint for turning any surface into a chalkboard? I have seen the walls of an entire kitchen painted in black chalkboard paint. Children could practice their handwriting all over the kitchen. Imagine practicing penmanship on the kitchen walls.
Is chalkboard paint a good idea for penmanship practice?
Sand Tray Writing - Salt Tray Writing
Writing in the Sand
My kids always loved writing in the damp sand at the beach. But if you can't go to the beach today...
Another fun way to practice your letters is to write them with your fingers in a tray of sand or salt.
- Choose any shallow tray and cover the bottom with a liberal sprinkling of sand or salt.
- Then use the pointer finger of your dominant hand to write the letters you are practicing.
Sand Trays or Salt Trays are a fun way to practice your spelling words as well.
Have you ever used a Sand Tray or a Salt Tray?
Penmanship Paper - Paper for Practicing and Showing off your Handwriting
Mrs. Thompson always had us practice each new letter over and over on green lined paper. Only when we were confident in writing each letter were we allowed to use white paper.
This method encourages a lot of practice with mastery as the reward. This same paper is available to you as you teach your children how to write in cursive or print.
Are we losing our ability to write? - Who has the best handwriting?
Is good penmanship becoming extinct? Are we losing our abilities generation by generation?
Think about the people in your family. Think of the diaries and letters written by those people.
Even after Aunt Mary's (Born in 1867) hands became shaky she still had beautiful handwriting.
Ira, my step-father, had the beautiful swirls and impeccable handwriting learned by the Palmer Method. (Born 1900).
Mom and Dad's cursive is legible but nothing to brag about. (Born in the 1930s)
My handwriting was adequate until I began to teach handwriting. (Born 1950s) It has improved tremendously but not the work of art of 100 years ago.
My children have all been taught to write both in print and in cursive but generally choose not to. (Born around 1990).
Which generation has the best handwriting?
Reading in Cursive - Messages in Cursive
Reading in Cursive
Not only do children need to learn to write in cursive, they need to learn to read it as well.
Writing at least part of the morning message in cursive will help children become familiar with the way words look when written in cursive.
As we begin learning cursive I slowly begin to write more and more of the words in cursive. I begin with the words "Good Morning".
These are words that the children have come to expect at the beginning of the morning message each day so they can quickly read those words.
During independent centers, I place laminated word cards in the cursive center for the children to trace with dry erase markers.
Tracing the letters helps kinesthetic learners to begin reading the words in cursive.
Do you write your morning message in cursive?
Learn to read in Cursive! - Print to Cursive Matching Game
Teach your children how to read in cursive.
- Make a set of color matching eggs.
- Write the color words in print on one set of cards and in print on the other.
- Laminate the cards and then play games such as Concentration or Go Fish in order to practice reading the words in cursive.
- Later your child might like to color the eggs, reinforcing the skill of reading in both print and in cursive.
Movable Cursive - Multisensory Cursive Cards and Blocks
Learning which letters hold hands at the top as opposed to those that hold hands at the bottom can be difficult for children. These sandpaper double letters are fun to trace with fingers adding the sense of touch to the lesson.
For a fun activity, close your eyes and pick up the tiles randomly. Carefully feel the shape and see if you can recognize the letters without looking.
This is a fun partner or center activity.
Cursive Handwriting Worksheets - Make your own Cursive Handswriting Worksheets
TwistyNoodle has a worksheet creator for helping children learn to write in cursive.Choose your child's favorite animal, write a sentence about it and let your children trace the cursive letters.
Halloween Handwriting - Practice Cursive with Finger Puppets
Slip a Bat Finger Puppet on your finger and practice your penmanship while the bat swoops through the air. This is a fun way to practice your cursive as Halloween approaches. Practicing the motions in the air helps children to develop a smooth motion when writing. As they write each letter they should say the motions out loud making each letter in big swooping motions. When they go back to their seats to practice with a pencil or pen then can imagine that the tip of the pencil is a swooping little brown bat.
Where do you like to write? - What is your favorite surface for practicing your cursive?
Traditionally penmanship was practiced at a desk or on the kitchen table, but that may not be your favorite place for writing. Think of the possibilities. Would you like to write on the wall, the floor or in the bathtub. Do you like to write on cupcakes? Come vote on your favorite place to practice handwriting...
Where do you perfer to write?
Slants, Swirls and Curls? - Dumbed Down Cursive?
Now that cursive is deemed to be less important, a new method has emerged for those who wish to teach their children cursive. It is a dumbed down version with straight letters, no slants, swirls or curls. It may seem easier to teach or to transition from print to cursive but what your children will be missing will be the opportunity to learn the embellishments that make cursive so beautiful. I would argue strongly against purchasing Handwriting Without Tears. It is a transition cursive that makes learning to slant and swirl more difficult than necessary. Stick to the beautiful cursive of generations past. Include the curls in the capital letters and be sure to slant your letters.
Should children be taught to slant their cursive letters?
The quick brown fox
jumped over the lazy dog.
Vote for your favorite Writing Utensils! - What will you write with?
Pen in Hand
What kind of utensil do you most like to write with?
Vote for as many as you like. Do you prefer pencils or pens?
How about writing in Chocolate Pudding with your finger?
Be sure to add other options if you can think of another fun way to practice your cursive...
Young Boy Writing
How did you learn cursive?
Tell us about your experiences learning cursive or teaching others. Did you use a certain method? Which of the learning center activities would you like to try?
The Barbar Stories are written in cursive
Children love to read them. These stories are wonderful to help children practice reading in cursive. As your children head back to school, be sure that they can both read and write in cursive. It may be a dieing art for some but it will put your children at a great advantage when they are the ones who can read and write when the power goes out!