Should You Teach Print or Cursive Handwriting First?

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A few weeks ago I shared a post on my Facebook page that was crazy popular. When I shared it I had no idea it would be that popular, but looking back I should not have been so surprised that people shared it. The entire point of the post was about how cursive handwriting should actually be taught first instead of print. The article had a lot of valid points and it definitely got a lot of people talking about this topic.

I decided to take some time and research this to see what other researchers and professionals thought about teaching cursive first and share that with you today. So if you are wondering whether to teach print or cursive handwriting first, here is what you need to know.

Should you start with cursive handwriting or print/manuscript handwriting first?

Benefits of Cursive Handwriting

There have been many articles circulating about the benefits of cursive handwriting. Since the adoption of Common Core Standards by many states in the United States, most schools have taken cursive handwriting out of their teaching because it is not included in the new standards.

However cursive is still a very important skill from a cognitive standpoint for the following reasons:

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Sensory-motor coordination
  • Thinking memory
  • Dynamically engages both hemispheres of the brain
  • Visual recognition requirements create a broader repertoire of letter representation (Source: Blumenfeld)

Why Teach Cursive First?

There are many areas of the world that teach cursive handwriting first. In fact, many of my overseas readers commented on Facebook that European countries still teach cursive first instead of print. Dr. Maria Montessori also believed in teaching cursive handwriting first and many Montessori schools do so to this day.

Here are some reasons why you might consider teaching cursive handwriting first:

  • Ease of teaching cursive – There are 3 main strokes – under curve, over curve and up and down. Print has at least 6 including various shapes and perfect circles i.e. pre-writing lines.
  • Prevents reversals and confusion of letters – “b” and “d” are the most common reversals in print.
  • Less potential for errors – cursive is a continuous, fluid movement, which leaves room for fewer errors)
  • Enforces skills and patterns for reading and writing – in cursive, all lower case letters start at the bottom, as opposed to print which starts at various points depending on the letter.
  • Prevents too much space between letters and words – The flow of cursive handwriting is from left to right which encourages spatial discipline. In print, children often have letters too close together or words spaced too far apart.
  • Helps left-handed children – This one really surprised me, but makes sense. With print, the left-handed child will write printing from left to right but will cover what he has written with his arms. This is called the hook position. In cursive writing, the left-handed child learns to write from the bottom up and turns the paper clockwise which increases comfort and legibility.
    • (Source: Blumenfeld & Logic of English – see below for links)

Basics of Print or Manuscript Handwriting

Print (manuscript) handwriting is what most schools and preschools in the US start with for letter formation and recognition. There are some basic prewriting lines that are important for preschoolers to know BEFORE they attempt to print letters.

  • Vertical – (Age 2 imitates, age 3 copies/masters)
  • Horizontal  – (Age 2 imitates, age 3 copies/masters)
  • Circle – (Age 2, age 3 copies/masters)
  • Cross shape (+) – (Age 3 imitates, age 4 copies)
  • Right/Left Diagonal Line – (Age 4)
  • Square – (Age 4)
  • X shape – (Age 4)
  • Triangle (Age 5)

Ideally, a child should not be learning to print a letter of the alphabet until these pre-writing lines are mastered. However, most children entering Kindergarten (age 5) are already expected to know how to write their names and also form most letters of the alphabet. Developmentally, this is not always appropriate.

Print or manuscript handwriting involves hand-eye coordination as well, however, each letter starts at a new point and a student needs to be able to pick up the pencil and place it at the appropriate starting point of each letter in order to produce legible work that is also spelled correctly.

Letter reversals are also common in print or manuscript handwriting, particularly with “d” and “b”, “p” and q”, “t” and “f” etc. This is often due to underdeveloped visual motor skills and visual discrimination.

Capital letters are usually easier for a child to learn first since they do not involve as many circle shapes as lower case and also the starting points are typically at the top of the line. Many handwriting programs, such as Handwriting Without Tears® (HWT) use the capital letter first approach when teaching handwriting.

Occupational Therapists and often dubbed as the “handwriting therapists” because so many of the students we see in a school setting have handwriting concerns. An OTs job is to look at any underlying reasons as to why the child may be struggling with handwriting such as weak core and shoulder strength, un-integrated reflexes from birth, weak fine motor skills, weak visual motor skills, bilateral coordination, and crossing midline skills. These things are also just as important for children learning to use cursive handwriting.

Learning the pre-writing lines is a huge key to handwriting success, which is why I wrote my Basic Shapes for Beginners – A Hands-On Approach to Prewriting Strokes for Kids book.

The Case for Cursive Handwriting?

Most U.S. schools do not introduce cursive handwriting until 2nd or 3rd grade (sometimes even 4th grade). I know one of the schools I worked at didn't even formally teach it, they just gave a home/summer packet on it between 3rd and 4th grade.

As you can see from the information above, introducing cursive handwriting earlier than these grades can be hugely beneficial. Especially if you have a child who is struggling with print handwriting including letter reversals, letter formations, a left-handed writer, or a child who struggles with delays or has a special need of some kind. I would encourage you to try cursive handwriting with them and see if they can pick it up faster and easier than print.

Research for Cursive Handwriting vs. Print

There is not a lot of evidence-based research articles on the benefits of cursive handwriting or cursive vs. print handwriting. I did some searches and came up with some interesting titles, but nothing truly answered the question of whether cursive or print was actually easier or better to start with. Here are the titles I found, however, in case you want to research some more. All of these come from the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT) and come with free PDFs at the links below.

What am I doing as a parent and therapist?

My daughter is 6 and has learned to write her name in print and also knows how to write most of her alphabet in print. We have started introducing some cursive pre-writing lines with her, but she has struggled some with those. I plan on introducing it slowly as we continue our homeschooling and as she shows an interest, which she has lately.

I'd love to hear what you think, do you plan on teaching print or cursive handwriting first?

For more handwriting help, check out my How to Improve Handwriting Skills resource page here.


Baker, Irene, MEd. “Cursive Handwriting: How Important Is It?” Montessori Services, 2013. Website.

Blumenfeld, Sam. “How Should We Teach Our Children to Write? Cursive First, Print Later.” The New American, June 2012. Website.

Klemm, Willem R, Ph.D. “Biological and Psychological Benefits of Learning Cursive.” Psychology Today, August 2013, Website.

Logic of English “Why Teach Cursive First” Website.

You May Also Like:

Cursive prewriting line and stroke printables for preschoolers and kids.

Heather Greutman, COTA

Heather Greutman is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant with experience in school-based OT services for preschool through high school. She uses her background to share child development tips, tools, and strategies for parents, educators, and therapists. She is the author of many ebooks including The Basics of Fine Motor Skills, and Basics of Pre-Writing Skills, and co-author of Sensory Processing Explained: A Handbook for Parents and Educators.

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  1. Dina Holdren says:

    You nailed it with this article!! I am also an OTR with almost 20 years of experience. Cursive is more functional and improves speed as well. I have a 5-year-old who will also be learning cursive, not just print. Thanks for writing this!

  2. Hi Dina, Thank you SO much! It means a lot coming from a fellow OT! 🙂

  3. Love this! My daughter recently turned 4 and most other girls in her Sunday school can write their names already. My daughter’s name is 9 letters long and she still struggles to write hers. All the issues you described with print writing, my daughter already seems to struggle with! I hate seeing her frustrated, and I want to instill a love of learning in her. I appreciate the list of shapes/age mastery. That helps me a lot! I don’t want to push my daughter simply so I can see results, I want her to be encouraged by her learning. We will probably take a break from writing letters and work more on drawing shapes. Thanks for the informative article!

  4. Jo Atkinson says:

    Thanks Heather, this is really interesting. Angela Webb, chair of the National Handwriting Association (NHA) wrote an article “Continous cursive:cure or curse?” in the Autumn edition of Handwriting today. She suggests that ” teaching simpler individual letters as a first step, then showing how they can be joined to form a flowing script is much more natural and can be tailored to the maturation of the individual child” (the approach recommended in the UK National Curriculum). After reviewing she considers there is no compelling evidence to date to support teaching fully cursive first, rather that “benefits to reading through learning handwriting come through the learning of individual letterforms and not joined script”. As an OT I like the NHA approach of teaching the individual letters in a dynamic way with flowing exit strokes in movement families (which is how my children have learned at school) but would always support whatever handwriting scheme is being used in a school. It is great to be thinking about the benefits of different methods and how best to support young writers.

  5. Hi Emily, yes that sounds like an excellent idea. My daughter is turning 4 in August and I have not pushed writing much at all, just doing the pre-writing lines I mentioned above (even that we don’t push a lot, but she does know how to do them). I think the main thing is the wait until they show an interest, once that happens they will catch right up. Good luck!

  6. Hi Jo, that sounds really interesting! I will have to look up that article, and sounds like I need to look through their site more too. It did not come up with I was doing my research for this post. Thanks for letting me know about it!

  7. I have just started using Logic of English’s Foundations in English with my young kids, and they offer their workbooks in cursive or print to choose from. I chose the cursive workbooks, and I’m eager to see the results. There are great tactile cards included as well to help learn the strokes!

  8. I’m from Mizoram, India, in our school curriculum we learn Cursive handwriting right from the start, from Nursery grade.

    Honestly we are taught so early that our handwriting are mostly readable and beautiful by 2 or 3 grade. I would to show you some photos of our 3 graders handwriting which I don’t have it right now, sorry.
    But my point is that in our state every schools use it as a tradition to use Cursive as our parmanent style of handwriting. When given some homework they fistly check for the work and secondly for our handwriting, if our handwriting fails the eye of our teachers, they make us write maybe about 10 to 20 times the same work just to improve our handwriting.
    I guess its about tradition for us.

  9. My kids attend a French bilingual school in Seattle, where they are taught cursive right off the bat, starting in kindergarten. In addition to all the cognitive, etc. benefits mentioned, I can say that the kids love it! They think it’s fun, like art, which of course they do all the time at that age. They are very proud of themselves. An added benefit is that as a parent, it’s lovely to see your little child’s crayon drawings with her name in carefully crafted cursive.

  10. I’ve got 2 boys, both of which struggled with fine motor skills. It is not to do with concentration as both rank in the top 10 percent of their class. They were taught cursive from scratch and in both cases, as the speed of what they were expected to complete in a lesson picked up their hand writing went to pieces. I am in the process of taking the second back to basics for a second time to get a good foundation for handwriting. Every year teachers see them as bright, push them hard and wonder why end of year tests get to the point of being illegible. Again this summer we will be back to basics so that they can slow down and try and unlearn habits from the class. I think both Havel to be taught. Skipping clear single letter formation is madness. I think this is especially true for boys in the UK wlho start school as young as 4. The can comprehend instructions and concentrate but are often a long way from having enough coordination to master this. Bad habit just seem to get ingrained.

  11. Val Clark says:

    I homeschool my 6 children. My main focus between ages 4-8 is reading. Since everything they see is in print, it feels like a foreign language to make them write in cursive. Once they’re comfortable with reading then I usually teach cursive. But if I have a 5 year old trying to convey the word cat, it seems burdensome to have them write with different shapes then what they are reading. I know what the research says but from a practical standpoint I found it quite challenging.

  12. Colleen McDonald says:

    Great article and resources!

    That said, I am not a fan of cursive. My state, IL, is also requiring cursive again, at 3rd grade. It is an unfunded mandate. Our teachers generally do not have training in how to teach it, nor do they have money for materials (much less, support in finding good materials). So it is taking time away from other things and, at the least, that time is not as productive as it could be.

    It is true that research about which style is “easiest to learn” is not conclusive. My guess is that, for the average person, both cursive and printing are probably about equally easy. I work with special ed. students, and for my money, printing is a better initial fit; many of them are struggling readers, and printing, at the least, gives them letters that look the same as the letters in their reading activities. If they don’t make headway in improving their printing, going to assistive tech generally makes more sense to me than taking up time introducing a different style.

    Cursive Handwriting and Other Education Myths; Teaching cursive handwriting doesn’t have nearly the value we think it does by Phillip Ball is an article I have found helpful, and it references a variety of research studies. One finding is that most people eventually create their own handwriting style, with a mix of cursive and manuscript elements (with some evidence that people taught cursive only somehow pick up some elements of the manuscript style), and that that hybrid style tends to be fastest.

    Here is the link to the article:

  13. Margareth Catley says:

    When it comes to cursive handwriting, I always think back to the discussion that arose after the news that in Finland the educational program has made a preference for teaching typing rather than writing by hand:
    In fact, it is hard for me to take any of the sides. Typing is a necessary skill in the modern world but I can swear that my children print faster than me now, but they have big problems with writing. Therefore, of course, individually I want to work on their cursive handwriting.
    This is not just a skill for communication, but (as stated in the article above) handwriting plays a valuable part in developing neural networks and assists with processing and recall of information.
    I think that this topic will remain relevant in the future. Even if we do not write so much by hand now, and many notes can be created by electronic methods, the skill of simply writing with a pen on paper will be needed for a long time!

  14. Michelle Foster says:

    Hi Heather I am working with a 9 yr boy with autism. He is quite bright but has great difficulty with formation of letters. He is left handed and will write many letters (hmnrvw) from right to left. I can’t see to get him out of it. Any clues?

  15. Did any of your research indicate that learning cursive first has any impact on learning to read print since print is most often in manuscript form?

  16. Lisa Meechan says:

    I’m enjoying your handwriting articles. I’d like to know what you think about teaching continuous manuscript (print) and the developmental stage for the “retracing” element in letters such as lowercase letters b, m, g, etc.

    Many programs say to lift your pencil and form the circle on the lowercase b but the programs that I have from OTs say to use a continuous stroke. Do you know of any research on continuous stroke? Is retracing a harder skill than drawing triangles? Where would retracing come in on the pre-writing developmental checklist? In my experience I have found that children need lots of help retracing. What do you think? Thank you!

  17. I want to add another resource. A book titled Handwriting in America: A Cultural History by Tamara Plakins Thorton. Published by Yale University Press, May 25, 1998. From it I learned that students were not taught manuscript until the industrial age when print and signs were in manuscript and teachers thought that it would be easier to teach reading manuscript if they taught children to write the letters. It was not meant to become the main form of writing. Cursive was still considered the most efficient form of handwriting. Prior to that cursive was the only form of penmanship taught, typically when the child was 7 years old.
    I am repeatedly explaining to teachers that penmanship is not a developmental progression and you do not need to master manuscript before teaching cursive. Some children write more legibly with cursive than manuscript for the reasons outlined in the article your wrote. Luckily the 2 states that I have worked in as an OT added cursive writing to their own content standards. However, even though they teach cursive, the higher grades do not reinforce it so students go back to the more familiar manuscript.

  18. I don’t know about the developmental progression, but the reason the continuous stroke is considered to be easier than the “ball and stick” method is because it is often difficult for a child to pick up their pencil and place it back in the exact location for the next mark. So letter b sometimes ends up as a line through a circle or a line with a circle next to it. Also both b and d would start with a straight line down and then the child has to remember which side to put the circle, which leads to more reversals.

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