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Curricula and Learning Links - Language Arts

When to Start Cursive

Homeschooling parents are rethinking how to teach cursive handwriting. Some feel that cursive isn't even necessary and are teaching italics instead. Those who are teaching cursive are divided into those who feel cursive should be taught first and those who feel it should wait till later. Below is a conversation with some participants on's message boards.

Karla B: My boys both learned cursive first. I then let them start writing in print when they asked to do it, in about 4th grade.

Allie: I think it's just up to you and your child - John, my oldest, was motivated by the fact that he could get his own library card when he was able to sign his name. We started our younger son with cursive before printing, mainly because he's a lefty, with Handwriting Without Tears. He does GREAT with it. And it seems to have helped his printing. One thing that made it better for him, is that he can't reverse his letters in cursive - and he WAS doing that with printing.

Martha R.: See the review page for interviews with Bruce Smith of SmithHand and Michael Sull of Spencerian fame. Both of these experts specifically address when to start cursive. Their bottom line is later is better. Wait till the fine motor skills are there.

I did a bunch of research on handwriting when I was doing the interviews with the handwriting experts and also just for my own interest to decide about cursive at an early age. I found a FASCINATING book called The Elfreth Book of Letters. A father back in the early 1800s in Philadelphia had his children write letters to him in a blank book, and he would write them back. Now they were all living in the same home at the time. He just wanted to expand their minds and improve their writing and handwriting skills. The very youngest child, about 4 at the beginning of the book, was already writing in cursive and doing fairly well. They did a Spencerian type script that was just lovely. So, obviously cursive CAN work at a young age and that is how it used to be done. I think it is a matter of personal choice. By the way, this book describes life in Philadelphia, economics, politics, and all kinds of interesting stuff. It is living history at its best. I sure do wish I could find a book like this in my attic!! The descendants of the family had it printed in the 1990s, I believe.

Reese: I wanted to school my two youngest with cursive first, but seems like there isn't much available to them in other subjects that is printed in cursive. Reading, math, directions are all in print, not cursive. How is this dealt with when teaching cursive first?

Martha R.: You have to reach back into old text books. There are readers out there that teach Spencerian along with reading. Look for 1800s texts. Or, just teach the style you want and don't worry about what is in the "canned" program. In other words, use your style of choice on plain paper with the phonics program rather than using the workbook with their style choice.