Teaching Handwriting

Mark and I knew that we wanted to homeschool our children before we were even married.  So when our oldest finally got close to being school age we were very ready to start “officially schooling” her.

When Amber was 3 we pulled out “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” and she progressed beautifully, except for the short writing assignment at the end of each lesson.  She struggled and tried but could not do it.  Being the naive beginning homeschooler that I was,  I insisted.  After all sometimes “education is hard work”.   She continued to struggle and the result was often tears at her failure.   I hope that you are all just shaking your heads at my inexperienced self.

Finally, I wondered if writing a letter each day was really necessary for a 3 year old (ya think?), so we dropped it.  She learned to read lightening fast, she was no longer reduced to tears at not being able to write, and neither of us was frustrated with the process, but I hadn’t really learned my lesson yet.

When Amber turned 5 I pulled out our handwriting book.  She was officially in Kindergarten and Kindergarteners learn handwriting.  We were once again in the land of frustration and once again I backed off.

It was only a few weeks later that she brought me a “note”.  She had written, “mom”.  Over the next few weeks she continued to bring me handwritten notes.  The light bulb went off, NOW she is ready to learn handwriting and she was.

So in our house there is no handwriting instruction until the child begins to write letters or notes on their own and then formal handwriting begins immediately.  Our logic is this, if they are trying to write on their own then they are ready to begin handwriting and we want to start teaching them the correct way to form their letters before they develop bad habits.  (Why is it that children always want to go clockwise when writing the letter a?)  This method has worked with all of our subsequent children, no more handwriting tears.

We have used the Getty Dubay Handwriting books.  This is an italic style of handwriting, so rather than teaching the children ball and stick letter formation and then completely changing that formation when they are ready for cursive, Getty-Dubay teaches italic handwriting and then simply teaches how to join the letters when the children are ready for cursive.  There is no drastic change between handwriting and cursive, the children simply add joins.

The final book of Getty-Dubay introduces calligraphy, extra flourishes and fancy joins.  Both Amber (12) and Kaitlin (11) have chosen to complete this book which is optional in our home.  Matthew (10) is still debating if he wants me to purchase it for him.  He likes the calligraphy pen, but is it worth a whole extra year of handwriting practice to get to use it?

While we are happy with our choice of handwriting books this decision, like every other homeschool decision, is personal.  I’ve heard some people say that they don’t care for Getty-Dubay because the cursive does not look traditional.  Everyone has their own preferences.

Of course you don’t really need to use any handwriting program, you can simply teach your children proper letter formation and then use copy work for them to practice.  We do plenty of copy work and I’ve often wondered if our additional handwriting was necessary.  Although nice handwriting is important to this very visual mom who loves order, and Getty-Dubay has produced lovely results.  This falls into the category of “Why change a good thing?”

How do you teach handwriting and what books or resources do you love?  Have I missed the handwriting boat on some wonderful new (or old) program?  I’d love to hear from those who don’t use a handwriting program and simply rely on copywork or dictation.  How have you implemented that and how has it worked for your family?

You can read more posts about how we homeschool or why we homeschool.  I also have an expanding series about how we are making our physical home into a great place to learn and of course my list of homeschool product reviews is also growing.  Also, since many of you all REALLY want to know more about multi-grading (read point 4 in this link), I am going to attempt to tackle that next.

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21 Responses to Teaching Handwriting
  1. MomStarr
    July 22, 2009 | 6:59 am

    We have been using Handwriting Without Tears for about 5 years now. All my children love this program. It offers different activites to introduce letter formation. Chalk board, play doh, magnetic board, wooden pieces, etc. There is a CD with music too. Fun songs about handwriting. Next they began Veritas Phonics Museum which has handwriting exercises forming letters in a pre-cursive style with the lessons. Then they moved onto books that offered daily practice. I am picky about handwriting!! I have two left handed boys here at home and I have my work cut out for me. 🙂


  2. Anita Chamblee
    July 22, 2009 | 9:46 am

    I also use the Getty-Dubay. I really like it and have transformed my old loopy style to match. We haven’t used the workbooks in a while as I had Start Write on the computer which allowed me to make models of copy work (scripture, quotes or poetry) for the children to copy. Now that my computer crashed I will have to order this again. I found it very helpful to have a model for the children to copy.


  3. aimee
    July 22, 2009 | 10:12 am

    We had the opposite experience with my daughter. She was writing letters and “notes” at age 3, but just was not ready to read. She is 6 1/2 and has just now learned to read. If I’ve learned anything at all homeschooling its that you’ve got to adjust to the individual child…they cannot adjust to you!


    Raising Olives Reply:

    Excellent point Aimee. Let me reiterate it, what works for our family and our children, may not work for you and your children. This is one of the reasons that I spent all that time posting about why we homeschool and even some of our basic how principles before I dug in and posted specifics of how we teach each subject.

    If you read my post about our general “how” guidelines, you will realize that we tend to be very simplistic, laid back and loose homeschoolers. I have a hard time functioning with all those bells and whistles everywhere. We do expect excellent academics, but we hope to achieve that more simply. 😉 For example, by reading MomStarr’s description of “Handwriting without Tears” I know that program would fit well with our homeschooling style, it’s too complex and flashy for me. However, I am storing that in the back of my mind in case we have a child who doesn’t learn well with our Getty-Dubay books. Handwriting without Tears will probably be a good fit for those of you who have found our two curriculum choices (“100 Easy Lessons” and “Getty-Dubay”) boring or tedious. It’s why I love comments, I certainly do not have the corner on good ideas. 🙂

    We started with Sing, Spell, Read and Write with our first because it was given to us. I didn’t care for it. Mainly for the reasons stated above, it’s too flashy and complex. We’ve found that our little ones do fine with our simple “100 Easy Lessons” and I don’t like making life any more complicated than necessary. That said, it may be a good fit for your family. Here are two reasons (beyond preference) that I didn’t like SSRW. 1.) They have the children learn all of the letter sounds before they start to actually read. (Well, I suppose that this is once again preference 🙂 .) 2.) They do not have a good system for teaching the children how to blend the sounds. (Both of my brothers who my mother taught with this program got stuck at this part and so did Amber. It was at this point that I simply switched to 100 Easy Lessons and she flew through the rest.)

    If you haven’t already, you may be interested in reading my post on teaching reading where I talk a little more about this topic.


  4. Kelli
    July 22, 2009 | 12:35 pm

    Just want you to know I’m enjoying these posts. It’s nice to be able to read about some things that have worked for you- I know this will save some time on researching what to do. We’re starting reading in a couple of months just for fun, to see how it goes. I’m thinking about doing sing, spell, read and write, the preschool one….any thoughts?


  5. Rachel R.
    July 22, 2009 | 1:20 pm

    You mean I’m not the only one who decided to skip over the handwriting portion of our phonics program because it was complicating the reading process? We use TATRAS phonics, but it, too, expects handwriting as part of the letter-learning process, and I find that it is just too overwhelming for a child to learn two completely separate new concepts simultaneously. I’m all for integrated learning in general but in this case we keep them separate. 🙂

    (BTW, we also use Italic, but we don’t use the G-D books. I have a copy of Write Now, which the book intended for adults to teach themselves, so I have the instructions for proper letter formation, etc. and I just use that.)


  6. Mrs Random
    July 22, 2009 | 1:28 pm

    I made the exact same mistakes with my daughter when we first started out too! My daughter is older now (6th grade) and her handwriting is still, um…. BUT, she can type faster than I can and has gone from hating to write, to loving to write….provided she can write her essays and assignments in a word processing program!


  7. Sheila
    July 22, 2009 | 3:13 pm

    I second “Handwriting Without Tears”, though we only use the books. Then, lots of copywork (Scripture). I’m a “better late than early” kind of educator, so I have felt like my children were definitely ready when they started with “formal” handwriting.


  8. Kelly
    July 22, 2009 | 4:21 pm

    We love Handwriting without tears.


  9. momtofivekids
    July 22, 2009 | 7:28 pm

    I’m currently using the 100 easy lessons book with my 4 yo (started at age3) and I don’t have her do the handwriting. I did have one of my sons do the handwriting because he was 5 and I didn’t have him use lined paper. I had a sheet of blank paper and I let him make the letters as large as he wanted. We made giant “daddy” letters then “mommy” letters and “baby” letters. I used Getty-Dubay with my oldest son and he has the best handwriting out of all my boys. I wish I had stuck with it. I switched to handwriting without tears and it’s ok. Maybe I’ll go back to Getty-Dubay with my youngest two. we’ll see 🙂


  10. Tammy
    July 25, 2009 | 9:43 pm

    I am hosting a blog carnival titled “Encouraging Your Children’s Relationship with Jesus” and I would be honoured if you would write a post about your thoughts and ideas and what your family does. Those who participate before Monday morning are eligible for a giveaway, but if you don’t have time before then, I’d love it if you would still consider addressing this topic and add it to my list. Thank you!


  11. Jamie
    July 27, 2009 | 4:21 pm

    Wow! I thought I was the only one who did handwriting without tears! Guess not :). We love it. So easy and laid back…


  12. Tammy
    July 27, 2009 | 4:57 pm

    Our school uses Handwriting without Tears as well!


  13. Katie
    August 4, 2009 | 8:49 pm

    Do you or any of your readers have thoughts on teaching cursive first? I have been toying with the idea and reading up on it. This is the program I have been looking at: http://www.swrtraining.com/id17.html

    My husband HATES cursive and even thinks we should not require it in our homeschool. I’ve always appreciated cursive (and do remember the days when I thought I would never get good at it) and want to teach my kids to enjoy it. I want it be something very natural to them and not the “trial” that it was to my husband during his homeschool years.

    Any thoughts?


  14. Jessica
    August 6, 2009 | 12:41 am

    I also have been toying with the idea of teaching cursive first. Not sure if I will or not but I was listening to Gregg Harris’ homeschool seminar and got the idea. I will look into it more. And soon… My 2 1/2 year old makes me many pages of printed A’s, N’s, W’s, M’s, and Z’s to proudly display! I need to figure out what I’m doing and fast. She’s obviously ready to start learning to write and Mama’s got to get on the bandwagon here. Lol!


    Raising Olives Reply:

    We have friends who have taught cursive first with good success. If we weren’t doing italics, that is what we would try.

    If your husband doesn’t like cursive I suggest that you at least look into italic. It gives the children the ease and speed of connecting letters with the clean simple look of printing. Also the children do not have to drastically change their letter formation from print to cursive. Supposedly the reason that most adults don’t use cursive is because it has traditionally been taught after printing patterns and habits have already been established.

    However, if you like cursive and your husband doesn’t mind it, teaching it first is a terrific idea!


  15. Tami
    April 12, 2010 | 7:26 pm

    I have also used Getty-Dubay since I started homeschooling. Well, almost. When my older daughter was in 1st grade, we just did copywork, but she became more and more imaginative with her handwriting, thus, the Getty-Dubay books. I like them, but this same daughter wants to do “fancy cursive” now. I’m thinking of getting her something like “A Reason for Handwriting” next year. What do you think? Have any of your kids ever complained that italics is just “too plain”? That last book sounds pretty neat, I’ve never looked at it, and she might like that one better. She will be a 5th grader in the fall (almost 11). I tell her now that she can write however she likes when she’s grown, but for now, she writes the way I choose.


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    @Tami, I haven’t had anyone complain that Getty-Dubay was too plain. However, our third daughter (the one who would be most likely to) is counting down how long it will be until she gets into that last book that teaches some more ornate additions.

    I’m not familiar with “A Reason for Handwriting”, so am afraid I’m not much help on that score. I would wonder if the transition would be hard, but of course if she WANTS to write in a more fanciful style, the work will probably be worth it to her.


    Tami Reply:

    @Kimberly @ Raising Olives, Thanks for your help! A Reason for Handwriting is very traditional “loopy” cursive. The books are colorful and nice and the writing you practice is a Bible verse. At the end of each week, you write the entire verse in your best handwriting on a bordered paper. She would like that, but I think I might also be able to skip her one year and let her do that last Getty-Dubay book. I personally dislike that old loopy cursive style – I’ve never met anyone who actually writes that way who wasn’t an elementary school teacher (my mother, for instance!)But Emily thinks it is sooo pretty!


  16. […] Getty Dubay Handwriting for 5, 6, 8 and 9 year old.  (Unnecessary since the children do copy work or dictation each day, but I like the lovely italic style it produces.  Hmmm, now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder if this is something that we should allow the children to drop.) […]

  17. Christine
    July 22, 2012 | 8:15 pm

    My oldest was asking to start reading by age 3, and I started her on 100 Easy Lessons, minus the handwriting portion. We only made it through a few lessons before she was lost (not a surprise to me!). A couple months later, she took a piece of paper & pen, and began trying to write cat, mom, etc. And then she asked to start “learning lessons” again, so I started her on Funnix (100 Easy Lessons on computer), taking breaks at her request (or mine!). She’s almost 4 and is about halfway through Funnix (and has done great!), and her handwriting is really good for a 3 yr old! She prefers all caps when writing, and I don’t push the lowercase letters since she’s only 3. 😉 But is there a point when you would like to see your children write in the lowercase like they’re “supposed” to? Teacher friends/family say they see a lot of kids writing in all caps up through 6-7 yrs old… Thank you!


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