How Should We Teach Our Children to Write?
Cursive First, Print Later!
By Samuel L. Blumenfeld
For the last six years or so, I have been lecturing parents at homeschool conferences
on how to teach the three R’s: reading ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. I explain in great detail how
to teach children to read phonetically through intensive, systematic phonics. But when it
comes to writing, I have to explain to a very skeptical audience why cursive writing
should be taught first and print later.
I usually start my lecture by asking the parents if they think that their children ought to
be taught to write. I explain that many educators now believe that handwriting is really an
obsolete art that has been replaced by the typewriter and word processor, and that it is no
longer necessary to teach children to write. They imply that if a child wants to learn to
write, he or she can do so without the help of any school instruction.
However, I’ve yet to meet any parents who have been sold on such daring, but ques-
tionable, futurist thinking. They all believe that their children should be taught to write.
And, of course, I agree with them. After all, no one knows what needs their children will
have for good handwriting twenty years hence. Also, you can’t carry a two-thousand-
dollar laptop or a typewriter, everywhere you go. The question then becomes: How shall
we teach children to write? And my answer is quite dear: Do not teach your child to print
by ball-and-stick, or italic, or D’Nealian. Teach your child to write a standard cursive
script. And the reason why I can say this with confidence is because that’s the way I was
taught to write in the first grade in a New York City public school back in 1931 when
teachers knew what they were doing.
In those days children were not taught to print. We were all taught cursive right off the
bat, and the result is that people of my generation generally have better handwriting than
those of recent generations. Apparently, cursive first went out of style in the 1940s when
the schools adopted ball-and-stick manuscript to go with the new Dick and Jane look-say
reading programs. Ball-and-stick was part of the new progressive reforms of primary
But ball-and-stick has produced a handwriting disaster. Why? Because by the time
children are introduced to cursive in the third grade, their writing habits are so fixed that
they resent having to learn an entirely new way of writing, the teachers do not have the
time to supervise the development of a good cursive script, and the students are usually
unwilling to take the time and do the practice needed to develop a good cursive handwrit-
The result is that many youngsters continue to print for the rest of their lives, some
develop a hybrid handwriting style consisting of a mixture of print and cursive, and some
do develop a good cursive because they’d always wanted to write cursive and had been
secretly practicing it for years without their teachers’ or parents’ knowledge.
Apparently, all of those schools that introduce cursive in the second or third grade
must believe that it has some value, or else why would they teach it at all? The problem is
that by requiring the students to learn ball-and-stick first, they create obstacles to the de-
velopment of a good cursive script.