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Handwriting Without Tears

by Jan Z. Olsen

Reviewed by Martha Robinson

Purchase details: Handwriting without Tears by Jan Z. Olsen. Paperback workbooks and teacher's guides. Published by Handwriting Without Tears. Please support by buying this program from our Amazon affiliate link.

Jan Z. Olsen, an occupational therapist, developed Handwriting without Tears and in recent years has had great success in having the product adopted by statewide public school boards and many smaller school districts. Using a multisensory approach and many cute teaching techniques, the author has written a step-by-step plan that takes just a few minutes per day to implement.

Handwriting without Tears has many unique features that differentiate it from other handwriting programs. The five levels of the program, from Kindergarten to fourth grade, are detailed below:

Readiness Materials for Kindergarten and Printing Materials (First and second grades) -- Ms. Olsen suggests that children should learn capital letters first, because they already know many of them and enjoy making them. For this, she recommends manipulatives. A set of wooden shapes, consisting of big and little lines and curves, allows the child to form the letters in the same way he will later write them. The concepts of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal are also introduced to help the child see the components of each letter. The child also writes the letters and numbers on a small slate board using chalk and a "wet-dry" technique of tracing letters with a sponge or wet finger.

The kindergarten workbook, Letters and Numbers For Me ($5.35), shows each letter being built with the wooden shapes and drawn on the slate and then has the child write the letter in a gray box, simulating the confined space he had when he wrote it on the slate. A line drawing of a key word starting with the letter is shown at the bottom of the page, and the child is encouraged to color it. Names like "frog jump capitals" and "magic C" letters make learning more interesting.

After lower case letters are introduced and in later workbooks, only two lines are used -- a base line and a mid-line. Ms. Olsen's theory is that children often suffer from "line confusion" so in her method, the bottom line provides a place to write while the other line controls the size of the letter. The lines are ruled at 7/8 inch in the kindergarten workbook.

The teacher's guide ($5.35) for Letters and Numbers For Me provides detailed instruction for teaching each letter and number and reproduces every page of the workbook. Teaching tips are numerous. Especially valuable is a page of suggestions of how to help the child use the correct grip on the pencil.

My Printing Book ($5.50), the first grade workbook, begins with a brief review of capital letters and then moves into work on lower case letters. The HWT manuscript method uses a block style or ball and stick type approach. Citing research results, Ms. Olsen suggests that slanted manuscript alphabets used by D'Nealian and McDougal, Littel cause the child to have to relearn printing when they enter kindergarten and are counterproductive for later learning of cursive.

This workbook uses many cute illustrations and terminology as part of the teaching method. The "magic C" letters have a rabbit mascot that can be made from a paper napkin or purchased in the form of a puppet. Children are told to go "up like a helicopter" after making the "magic c" to form letters such as "a" and "d." Diagonals are pictured beside a slide, and children are told to slide down and climb up for the letter "v," for example. A baseball scenario is described to form the lowercase "e." Little bumper car pictures remind the student to "bump," or touch, the lines. Numbers are reviewed at the end of My Printing Book, and more line drawings depict the appropriate number.

Printing Power ($5.35), the second grade workbook, reviews formation of all capital and lower case manuscript letters. It adds copying of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Capitalization and punctuation are introduced, and in the number section, some basic math problems are included.

Both first grade books have 5/8 inch rule lines. One teacher's guide ($5.35) covers both My Printing Book and Printing Power. Again, every page of the workbook is reproduced and explained in the teacher's manual.

Cursive Materials for third and fourth grades -- Handwriting without Tears teaches a simplistic, vertical handwriting style using the same two-lined paper that was introduced in the earlier workbooks. The author suggests that vertical cursive is easier to write and to read, and that slanted writing is a matter of the student's individual style. As the child gains experience in handwriting, he will develop his own unique font. Ms. Olsen recommends that children should not try cursive before third grade, as by then, they will have better hand-eye coordination and a longer attention span.

Cursive Handwriting ($5.35), the third grade workbook, begins with "pre-cursive" exercises. The lower case cursive letters are then taught using the familiar "magic c" bunny, helicopter, bumper cars, and fireman's pole. Students copy complete words, "translate" from printing to cursive, and do "silly spelling tests" on the review and mastery pages. Special attention is given to the "tow truck" letters, lower case letters such as "w" and "v" that require a connection at the top of the letter. The author encourages teachers to allow students to continue to use printed capitals prior to learning cursive ones during the latter section of the book. The workbook concludes with some page-long copying pages. Rule lines begin at 5/8 inch and move down to 3/8 inch at the end of the book.

Cursive Success ($6.35), the workbook for fourth grade, is very similar to Cursive Handwriting. Lower case letters are reviewed, but more words are provided to copy so that the student can practice connecting letters and improve skills. Capital letters and their rules are covered, and five pages of stories to copy allow the student to gain experience. Rule lines begin at 5/8 inch and move down to 2/8 inch at the end of the book.

Cursive Handwriting and Cursive Success share a teacher's manual ($5.35). Pages of the student books are reproduced, and teaching instructions and tips are given in detail.

Recommendation: Handwriting without Tears offers a gentle approach with many gimmicks to help make learning handwriting more interesting. The consumable workbooks are inexpensive and easy to follow. Keeping in mind that this program has a target market of school systems that are required to have specific curricula every year, I do not think it would be necessary to do all the levels of Handwriting without Tears in a homeschooling environment. Rather, a parent should wait for writing readiness, choose an appropriate level workbook, and then do additional workbooks only if the child needs the reinforcement. resources related to this review:

Review of Spell to Write and Read
Review of Cursive First
Review of Italics, Beautiful Handwriting for Children
Review of Educational Fontware
Review of SmithHand Handwriting
Interview with Bruce Smith, Ph.D. on developing elegant handwriting
Interview with Michael Sull, master penman
Interview with Dave Thompson, president of Educational Fontware

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