So, I learnt cursive when I was about 9. Second year juniors we used to call it. Now, year 4. The head used to come in to do it with us on the big white board that needed wiping down with wet paper-towels during playtime. When I started work at my first job, fresh from university, I was stunned to discover that the year ones I was teaching already knew how to join. They had begun in Reception, aged four, and by Year 1, some of them joined all the time and most of them at least mixed. I immediately thought what a fantastic idea it was to just get the handwriting over and done with all at once, instead of re-learning a new way a few years later.
I taught my own children to join as soon as they could form all the letters correctly and the older two took to it perfectly. The youngest has struggled with writing and I had to go a lot slower with her, which may or may not be related to the fact that she is left handed. Clearly not all left-handed children struggle to learn to write, but she has. She wanted to write from right to left, simple as. She has a three letter name and it took weeks of practise before she could form the letter e, and then more weeks before she would put all three letters together.
I love this picture, and not only because she looks adorably feral in her pink knickers (she really isn’t fond of clothes) but because you can see her lovely right to left writing. Mae’s best friend is called Cara, that’s the big red writing, with the C and r both reversed and the a’s not. I painted her name in brown paint, Mae, and she has copied it underneath, backwards, and then she has written ‘pig’, also backwards (pigs are her favourite animals).
This picture was taken in July 2015, six months or so ago, the month Mae turned five. She was doing daily letter-forming practise, which she loved, and was an enthusiastic writer – you just couldn’t actually read it!
Once she had learned to form most the alphabet correctly we immediately began working on joining her letters. I was hoping this would help her with her letter reversals but I guessed, correctly, she would need a lot of what we teachers call ‘scaffolding’.
We carried on with what she liked and felt comfortable with, which was writing over my letters with a highlighter or felt-tip pen. She would do it every day and it took less than ten minutes. And that’s all she did.
And then, eventually, I began to do whole lines of letters, as you can see Mae doing above. Then, I would write the first letter and a part of the next so she could finish it off herself.
A friend told me recently that a gardening friend told them that the secret to a beautifully maintained garden was, ‘little and often’. I think I say something similar in every blog post. We do handwriting every single day, in our house, until we can do it properly, which so far has been around the age of seven. But we only do a little. No more than ten minutes.
After Mae could actually form the joined letters by herself then she graduated on to the stage her siblings had gone straight to, which is, writing a sentence a day. Just one sentence. We do, ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ because it uses all the letters of the alphabet. And everything has to be formed correctly or the word is re-written, but it is only one, short, sentence.
She started by copying underneath my words but quickly memorised how to spell and form each word. She has been doing this for over a year now, just writing the sentence. Oh, and doing her spellings too, each child gets the same number of spellings as their age, so Mae gets five a week and can practise them how she likes, but in joined up. Here she is practising on her aqua-draw mat. It dries quickly but I can make out, ‘go’, ‘to’ and ‘the’.
At five, Mae is now a confident writer. I don’t teach writing, just handwriting, the writing is what she chooses. Here are some of the letters she has written.
A letter to her pen-pal, Connie, in Australia. You will notice that she isn’t voluntarily joining but there are very few letter reversals.
This is a birthday card to her friend, Helena. It says, ‘To Helena, I am very happy to be coming to your party. Happy Birthday love Mae. Have a lovely birthday see you later.’
A letter to Auntie Jean. This makes me smile because the only word she has joined in the whole letter is her name. In fact, I decided that she needed to be encouraged to join in her writing as she is perfectly capable of it so I said to her a couple of weeks ago that now it was the new year I thought she could start joining her letters like a big girl. I suggested that instead of writing, ‘The quick brown fox’ she wrote her own handwriting sentence and she was delighted with the idea, easily composing a couple of sentences about Peter Rabbit.
And then yesterday, for the first time, she handed me a note written in joined letters. ‘I still love you even when you get cross with me love Mae.’ (In case you’re wondering about context, I wasn’t angry at the time, she is simply copying what I say to her: “I still love you, even though I’m angry…” It’s the way we emphasise our unconditional love even in the midst of behaviour management!)
We still haven’t taught her any writing techniques other than full stops, I’ll slip them in over time (hmm, another blog post I’m thinking…). Today, she wrote a song for her TV show (presented while sitting in a crate for some reason).
It says: ‘Flowers and roses, huh, huh, huh. Flowers and roses, huh, huh, huh…. Lots of treats, it will be rainy.’
And lots of lovely joined up writing in there. I feel a little like singing myself!