21 things every parent needs to know about cursive handwriting

Child writing
Learning to print letters was hard enough, and now your child is being encouraged to join them up. Lucy Dimbylow explains everything you need to know about cursive writing, and how you can support your child at home.

1. Cursive handwriting is, put simply, joined-up writing. ‘There are two different types: fully (or continuous) cursive, where every letter in a word is joined, so you don’t lift the pen off the paper until the end of the word, and part cursive where most letters are joined, but not all (for example, letters following a “b”),’ says Angela Webb, chair of the National Handwriting Association.

2. Some schools teach fully cursive handwriting right from the start. ‘The main benefit is that children tend to reach fluency faster, whereas if they learn to print first and then learn to join up, it’s like learning two different languages,’ says handwriting tutor Michelle Van Rooyen.

3. Other schools teach children to print letters first (i.e. write them separately, without joins) and then move onto cursive. ‘There’s some research to show that teaching children to print helps them understand the concept of individual letters better,’ says Angela.

4. When learning cursive handwriting, children are not taught letters in alphabetical order, but in groups according to their formation: for example, 'a', 'c', 'e' and 'o' are taught together because they’re all based on an anticlockwise circle. ‘We typically focus on just one or two joins a week to ensure that children are forming their letters correctly,’ says year one teacher Louise Wells.

5. ‘If your child is taught to print first, each letter might be written with a lead-in (or entry) and lead-out (exit) stroke or flick, which paves the way for learning to join them later,’ says Angela.

6. The new 2014 curriculum says that children should learn to form all their lower case and capital letters plus digits 0 to 9 by the end of Year 1. They then need to start joining their letters in Year 2. In Year 3, they need to concentrate on increasing the legibility, consistency and quality of their joined handwriting. Throughout Key Stage 2, children need to keep up the quality of their handwriting, and concentrate on increasing their speed.

7. Cursive handwriting has a number of advantages. ‘It’s often assumed that it’s faster than printing, but actually, the research is inconclusive,’ says Angela. ‘However, it generally has a nicer style, and does seem to help children speed up their writing. Children who write quickly generally get more words on the paper and produce better quality content. Cursive writing also helps with spelling as you develop a muscle memory of the movements of each word.’

8. Good posture is important for cursive writing. ‘I encourage children to sit with their feet flat on the floor, their back straight (no heads on the table) and relaxed shoulders,’ says Louise.

9. ‘If you’re helping your child learn cursive handwriting, rather than starting with paper and pen, use a blackboard and chalk,’ suggests Michelle. ‘The rough, resistive surface sends stronger sensory feedback to the brain, and helps the movements become automatic.’

10. What’s the best writing implement for cursive? ‘Although children usually write in pencil at school, I like them to practise cursive handwriting with felt tips and gel pens, which have a nice, fluid delivery of ink,’ says Angela.

11. ‘If your child is using a pencil, the softer B pencils are generally easier to write with as they move more fluently across the page,’ Michelle explains. ‘Triangular barrels are best because we hold pencils with a tripod grip, and large-barrelled pencils reduce strain on the fingers.’

12. Lined paper can help your child achieve uniformity in his handwriting, but plain paper is also good for practising cursive. ‘Lines can be quite constraining, so let him practise on unlined paper so he masters the free flow of movement needed for cursive,’ says Angela.

13. Don’t stick to practising on paper. ‘I get children to practise specific joins in other mediums, such as tracing them in the air, in sand with a stick or on another person’s back with their finger,’ Louise suggests. You could also try chalks on the patio or shaving foam on a tray.

14. Keep an eye on your child’s pen grip. ‘It’s important that the pad of the thumb connects with the pencil; if the side or tip of the thumb touches, it closes up the hand and restricts the flow of movement,’ says Angela. ‘Try chopping a pencil down to 3cm long; it’s impossible to hold it incorrectly!’

15. Your child may find cursive writing easier if his paper is at an angle. ‘You can turn the page up to 45 degrees in either direction,’ Angela advises.

16. Boys tend to be slower than girls at mastering cursive writing. ‘Left-handers may also have more trouble as they push the pencil across the paper, rather than pulling it,’ says Michelle. A writing slope can be beneficial for left-handed children as it helps them see their writing.

17. One common problem that children face when learning cursive occurs when they’ve learned individual letters with entry and exit flicks. ‘Often, they don’t realise that these flicks should join seamlessly, and you get a little blip between the letters where they connect,’ Angela explains.

18. Practising patterns of joined up letters (such as a string of connected 'c's) helps children master cursive. ‘The more your child practises patterning, the sooner he’ll establish the neuro-motor pathways that make them automatic,’ Angela says. (Look through all TheSchoolRun’s patterning worksheets in our Handwriting Learning Journey.)

19. ‘Handwriting worksheets showing letter formation, with dots at the starting point and arrows showing the direction of movement, can be very helpful,’ says Michelle. You can also encourage your child to do other non-writing activities to improve his fine motor control, such as colouring and dot-to-dot puzzles.

20. To help your child at home, ask how cursive is being taught at school: for example, do they refer to entry and exit strokes, flicks or tails? ‘It’s important to use consistent language so you can give your child useful verbal cues,’ says Michelle. If possible ask the teacher for a sample alphabet. Handwriting styles vary hugely from school to school, but it’s important to be consistent and ask children to write ‘f’s, ‘r’s, ‘k’s and other letters that tend to vary in style the same way at home and in the classroom.

21. Finally, keep handwriting practice separate from homework. ‘Nagging your child about his writing will only stifle his content,’ Michelle explains. ‘Make writing fun and positive, give praise where it’s due, and don’t hover over him – he needs time to fully experience each task.’

Free cursive handwriting worksheets

Browse through our complete selection of handwriting worksheets, including free patterning, printing and cursive handwriting activity sheets, or help develop your child's handwriting skills step-by-step with our Handwriting Learnng Journey.