Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cursive First Review

I have been reading a lot about teaching cursive first, before manuscript. In theory, it makes a lot of sense. It is the fastest way to write, and when anyone needs to take notes from a lecturer, writing fast is advantageous. It also makes sense that we learn best what we learn first. Additionally, I have old letters written by my grandparents that date back over 80 years--love letters to each other from before they were married--that I want my children to be able to read. And I think it would be hard to read cursive if you haven't learned how to write it.

I started Cursive First with Grasshopper, now 5 1/2 yo, a couple of months ago. Grasshopper has been writing manuscript for 2 years, so for her, this is not her first writing instruction. I chose Cursive First, because it is integrated with our spelling program, Spell to Write and Read, and because I had hoped to use it for Cricket in a couple of years.

The various pieces arrived in a ziploc bag. I received a thin manual, practice pages, and flashcards printed 4 to a page, which needed to be cut apart. I am not at all impressed with Cursive First.

  • It comes in loose pages. I suppose that this keeps the price down, but I then had to buy page protectors and a binder, so I was not able to organize the materials until I could go on a shopping trip. I would have liked to have a consumable workbook and just have it all bound. Of course, I can use my original as consumable workpages, but then there is still the issue of storing them.
  • The assignments are half pages, but not exactly half. So when you cut the pages on the line, you do not have equal size sheets of paper. The worksheets look like they were made up on a computer and printer from 10 years ago and never updated. This is not a big deal, but it contributes to the overall impression of the program.
  • There is very little actual instruction. The booklet that comes with it contains information about proper posture and pencil grip, as well as suggestions for lesson plans and scheduling. But there is little guidance about how to teach the child to write, except for some pre-writing activity suggestions (like salt boxes).
  • For each letter taught, there are no arrows to show which way to write the letter. There are only a couple of letters to trace and then a lot of blank space for the child to practice on his own.
  • There are a lot of assignments devoted to practicing writing the phonograms but very few opportunities to write complete words, and there are no complete sentences at all. The manual suggests having the beginning writer practice 2-3 lines per day. But Cursive First gives mostly just individual letters with 1-2 actual words on each assignment page--tedious and boring! Maybe it is fine for a child that can't read, yet. But there is no way that I can get Grasshopper to write 2-3 lines of meaningless letters. But she will happily write complete sentences, especially if they are interesting and meaningful to her.

After Grasshopper finished learning the alphabet, I purchased the StartWrite software and started giving her copywork. (The Modern Cursive font is the same one that is used for Cursive First. I like it because every letter starts on the bottom line, preventing confusion about where to start each letter.) Fortunately, writing comes pretty easily to dd. But I think that Cursive First would be lacking for the average child and entirely insufficient for the child that struggles with writing. If you don't anticipate writing difficulties, I would recommend just using StartWrite and making your own worksheets. Otherwise, I would look into something with more help for both the teacher and the child.

Concerning teaching cursive before manuscript, I was skeptical at first, and to some degree, I suppose I still am. The transition has been difficult for her, and for that reason, I am inclined to support the teaching of cursive first with younger children. Nevertheless, I still have concerns about teaching cursive first to a young child. (Grasshopper was 3yo when she started to write manuscript.) Cursive First is not designed for children younger than 5yo, and I am not sure what programs, if any are designed to teach cursive first to a younger child.


  1. Research shows that the fastest and most legible writers avoid cursive -- but are not pure print-writers either: see the "Writing Rebels" page at

  2. Yes, that is very much the way that I write! But I wonder if I would be able to do that without having first learned cursive?

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