Thursday, November 22, 2012

Breaking It Down- Penmanship

Begin by teaching your child to hold the pencil correctly. Bad hand position is a bad habit that is difficult to break. It is harder to form the letters right if your pencil is held wrong.

There are many good workbooks out there, some available at Wal-mart (I like the Italics (Amazon) workbooks, myself, though Abeka has work for an entire year in each book). Little ones generally like workbooks. It may be worth it to buy a few just for fun and this is a good subject to buy them in.

I made up a paper with the dotted waistline and wrote the alphabet very lightly on it the way I wanted my children to write each letter. Then I took them to a printer and copied a hundred or so of them. Each day, the child I have prepared these for traces the whole alphabet (plus numbers and their name). I like this best, actually. I have also put the page in a plastic sheet and let the child use a dry erase marker when I run out of papers. It is cheaper and more convenient, as long as my toddler doesn’t get hold of the marker! There are ways to create these on computers, too. And I found a website that will let you create your own penmanship worksheets in any type of writing you want with what ever you want written on them.

For older children, I write up an assignment page for Language Arts every day. At the top I put any letters they did not form right in their composition writing the day before (no more than five letters per day). They are to finish the row with the letters repeated perfectly. This gives them motivation to do their letters right so they will have less work (All letters perfect? No reason to study penmanship!) 

There is some debate on when to start cursive writing. Some say you should begin at kindergarten, some say it is not necessary at all. I teach my children printing first because the books they are learning to read are written in printing and some work as an adult (applications) must be written in printing. Cursive is important because it is faster, easier and neater once it is well learned. 

Also, someone who can't read cursive, can't read our Founding Documents.

I introduce cursive at around seven, depending on the child. When he can do the printing fairly consistent, then he is ready for cursive. Most of my children, so far, have tried to figure cursive out for themselves at six or so. 

I tell them to just write the letters the normal way but not to pick up their pencil between letters. By seven or eight, I begin to insist all work is done in cursive, but it is not a big deal because they are already doing it.

If your child has a real problem with reversing letters, you may want to start cursive sooner. It is impossible to reverse cursive letters. Well, I should say almost impossible. I have one child that managed it.

Since I write with Italics myself, that is what I teach my children. There are very few letters that are different between Italic printing and Italic cursive, though I do now write in both regular and italic cursive so my kids can read both.
The italic printing letters are formed with one stroke, without lifting your pencil. This makes it difficult to confuse letters (such as a and d, h and n) Write up a sample alphabet yourself and figure out how to form the printing letters without lifting your pencil. This is your sample for Italics. It is much less confusing.

I have found two keys for neat writing; make all your slants the same angle (quilting instead of quilting) and make your letters of consistent size (enlighten instead of enlighten)

I believe, in this computer age, you should teach your child proper keyboarding (touch typing) skills. It can make a real difference in his life later on. If you have a computer or typewriter, you can let them do their compositions on it; just insist that they keep their fingers in home position and use the correct finger at all times. The home keys are ASDF for the left hand and JKL; for the right. Each finger controls the keys directly above and below its home key plus the number above it. So the left ring finger controls 2, w, s, and x. 

The pointer fingers also control the keys between them (The left pointer controls 4, 5, r, t, f, g, v, and b. The right pointer controls 6, 7, y, u, h, j, n, and m.

The pinkies control the keys no other finger can reach (tab, shift, = ] etc)

The thumbs control the space bar.

When you need a capital, the opposite pinky holds down the shift key. (For a capital D, the right pinky gets the shift while the left middle finger gets the D.)

There are some good programs out there, even some old fashioned instruction books like I used in high school. (Mavis Beacon is my favorite computer program. Check eclectic catalogs or There are also many free programs on the internet.

I do let them begin keyboarding for school work as early as they want to, but since it is easier and more fun than pen and paper, they are in danger of not developing good penmanship if you aren’t careful to make them practice daily.


  • Teach them to form each letter in printing, capitals and lower case.
  • Teach them to connect the letters in a word.
  • Emphasize uniform heights and slants in words and spaces between words.
  • Teach keyboarding skills.

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