November 15, 2011

Choosing a Handwriting Program

When comparing handwriting programs, carefully consider the following:



Developmental Appropriateness:

Motor skill development needs to be considered at each level of handwriting instruction. At the lowest level, instruction is more effective when students learn strokes with large motions and are not restricted to activities requiring fine motor mastery. Writing letters in the air or in boxes of sand are good examples of effective large motor skill development methods incorporated into early primary handwriting instruction. At higher levels, handwriting instruction should focus less on motor skills are more on using handwriting as a tool.

Fine motor skills develop slowly and need a great deal of practice before they are mastered (Stout, 1998). However, using large motor motions, such as sweeping the whole arm to form a letter in the air, will increase the student’s awareness of the motor pattern for letter formation (Spear-Swerling, 2006). Once students progress beyond motor development and handwriting becomes automatic students begin to recognize it as a tool for organization and the development of ideas (Feder & Majnemer, 2007).

Basic Stokes and Other Variables:

As with any instruction, the fewer variables a child needs to learn, the easier it will be to master. The most common handwriting programs use 4 basic strokes, horizontal lines, vertical lines, slants and curves. Other variables that exist include where to start letters (always at the top, using clock positions, referencing lines, etc), as well as the length of lines. The more consistent handwriting instruction is, the easier it will be for children to remember proper letter formations. Beyond that, instruction of the basic strokes and other variables should include auditory cues, visual models, and hands-on activities that all reinforce one another.

Research shows that children who are taught with an inconsistent variety of handwriting methods have greater difficulties achieving proficient handwriting skills (Handwriting Without Tears, 2009). However, multiple exposure to consistent terminology and methods presented to the learner verbally, with guided observation, and withkinesthetic activities will enhance learning (Furner, 1985). Consistency with reading print, such as that seen on signs, in books and in newspapers will also further facilitate learning (ERIC, 1997).

Hand Movement:

Continuous strokes are more effective for consistent letter formation and speed; this does not imply that cursive is superior to manuscript, but rather that teaching print letters such as ‘m’ with a continuous down, up, over and down, up over and down againprocess is more effective than teaching students to pick up their pencil for each stroke.

Though there is little evidence that cursive is superior to manuscript (print), it is well known that continuous strokes require less effort for creating consistent letter formations (Spear-Swerling, 2006).


A quality handwriting program will give consideration to both left-handed and right-handed students. This includes not only variations in methods for left-handed writers, but considerations in workbook/worksheet design as well.

“If a left-handed child is only permitted to write with the left hand but not taught how to write, the child may develop a needlessly uncomfortable, inefficient, slow, messy way of writing that will be a lifelong hardship. Therefore, it is especially important for parents and teachers to understand how to teach left-handed children to write correctly” (Holder, 2003).

Letter Order:

Not only should relationships in stroke patterns be considered here, but also the frequency of the letter’s use in words. Additionally, one should also consider that handwriting instruction is never independent of other content instruction. Thus, if a student’s reading program teaches short vowel ‘o’ words before short vowel ‘i’ words, then writing ‘o’ should come before writing ‘i.’

Students whose handwriting instructions allows for visual-motor integration with other school assignments show significant increases in handwriting performance (Feder & Majnemer, 2007).


A good handwriting program will allow for continuous monitoring of appropriate handwriting skills. This includes frequent observations by the teacher as well as self-assessment tools, such as verbalizing the letter formation and comparing word against a model.

When students conduct self-assessments requiring active decision making, they reinforce their perception of proper letter formations and motor skills (Furner, 1985). However, teachers should frequently check handwriting for proper technique, as it requires less time than undoing the development of bad habits (Stout, 1998).

When selecting a handwriting program, remember that every publisher will try to convince you that their method and style is the best. One particular way this is done is with research supported data. One especially popular reference is Six Questions Educators Should Ask Before Choosing a Handwriting Program (ERIC, 1997). Though the content of this ERIC Digest document can be found at the following curricula websites, do consider that the original source is not not any one curriculum author, but rather the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading English and Communication, prepared with partial funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education.


A Reason For Handwriting:

Original Source:
ERIC Development Team. (1997). Six questions educators should ask before choosing a handwriting program. ERIC Digest. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading English and Communication. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED409589). Retrieved from:


ERIC Development Team. (1997). Six questions educators should ask before choosing a handwriting program. ERIC Digest. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading English and Communication. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED409589). Retrieved from:

Feder, K.P. & Majnemer, A. (2007). Handwriting development,competency, and intervention. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 49, 312-317. Retrieved from:

Furner, B.A. (1985, March). Handwriting instruction for a high-tech society: Will handwriting be necessary? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English Spring Conference. Houston. TX. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 257 119). Retrieved from:

Handwriting Without Tears. (2009). Research review. Handwriting Without Tears. Retrieved from:

Holder, M.K. (2003). Teaching left-handers how to write. Handedness Research Institute papers. Retrieved from:

Spear-Swerling, L. (2006, August). The importance of teaching handwriting. LD OnLine. Retrieved from:

Stout, K.L. (1998, November) How to teach handwriting. Design a Study. Retrieved from:

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