Cursive Writing

 

Cursive writing in the Waldorf homeschool has come up three times this week, so I figured I needed to write a little post about this subject. Friends, I can find nothing anywhere about what Rudolf Steiner thought about cursive writing.  My guess is that it could be that Steiner didn’t really think about it much!  I mean,  if you think about that time and place, German writing in cursive seemed to be pretty well established and in use. If you use a search engine, you can find images of German cursive writing.  (Perhaps my German readers can tell me how much cursive writing has changed in their country over the years).

 

Fast forward to the twenty-first century here in the United States.  Cursive writing is being phased out in many public schools and if cursive is taught at all, many schools do not have specific instruction in cursive after the third grade.

 

Many Waldorf Schools seem to have adopted use of the Vimala Handwriting.  I understand, because the soul qualities of Vimala is about learning the hidden soul qualities of each letter, of transforming your self-esteem, healing old wounds, and expressing your creativity.

 

I know many Waldorf  homeschooling parents who have chosen to bring Vimala to their children and cite that their own handwriting is much better than it was.  I understand this, so I feel badly telling you all this: I don’t especially love Vimala as the choice for cursive writing, as many are using Vimala for that purpose.  I think I am the only one in the entire Waldorf world, LOL.  So, feel free to disagree!!   I think much as many Waldorf students practice writing the Russian alphabet in conjunction with the Russian fairy tales, the Greek alphabet in fifth grade, Latin in sixth grade, calligraphy and such, the Vimala alphabet could be used in this way for fluidity and flexibility of the brain.  However, here is why I personally don’t love Vimala as a cursive writing tool:

 

I like the fluidity of using a traditional cursive script for fine motor development:  really working on cursive writing helps strengthen hand-eye coordination, and other things such as how much pressure one must apply to the paper (ever seen a child who puts a hole in his paper every time he goes to write?), directionality, spacing between words since all the letters are linked and the spaces are between the words and not the letters, and fluid cursive decreases reversals of letters.  It also increases fluidity and speed, once a child masters cursive. 

 

One thing I never thought of is that some proponents of cursive writing point out that a very simplified, print-style signature is easier to forge than a cursive one.  I never thought of that, but it does make sense.  Also, some things still are written in traditional cursive writing, and it would seem a shame to me that a child or young adult would not be able to read an invitation to a wedding or other formal function or historical documents because they never learned a fluid form of cursive writing!

 

However, my caveat to all  of this is that in teaching cursive writing the instruction and practice should carry on for YEARS.  It shouldn’t be that the child is “taught” cursive in second or third (I generally prefer third for the most complete development of fine motor control and then not expect cursive writing in a main lesson book until the end of third or fourth grade),  and then that is “it”, but that this practice should continue on through (and this is just my opinion!) into sixth and seventh grade with several practice sessions a week.  These lessons can have the qualities of those meditative middle lessons in a Waldorf school, with a  really beautiful beeswax candle lit and that smell permeating the school room, and to really sit and focus on each letter for fifteen minutes or so after the cursive letters have been introduced in a block. 

 

I essentially teach cursive from my own writing, which looks probably closer to Palmer handwriting.  I was raised by grandparents and that is also what I grew up mainly reading in terms of letters and notes. I know people who really like to have alphabet cards hanging in their school room – the website Educational Fonts has many.  Find the font that looks closest to yours if you want something “standardized” or if not, make your own alphabet cards! 

 

This post is already too long, so I will just leave you with the idea of using form drawing and forms to work toward cursive.  That topic will need to wait for another post.  Many Waldorf teachers teach the cursive letters as being ones of the sky, the earth or dipping into the water.  It is a great pictorial image!

 

I would love to hear how you teach cursive in your homeschool!

Many blessings,

Carrie

 

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23 thoughts on “Cursive Writing

  1. I let my son use all capital letters for his first writing efforts, and just this year (8 years old) have been having to correct that with handwriting practice, both printing and cursive. We do 1-2 pages in a workbook for each every day. He is very much like me, though he is right handed instead of left, and learned to read long before he was writing (and I am just learning so much about Waldorf this year I wish I’d known earlier in my parenting). Currently he really dislikes printing, and much prefers cursive. He even expressed interest in calligraphy recently, though I wanted him to get his letter shapes a bit more committed to memory before we try that. Anyway, I remembered that as a child, I learned cursive in first grade public school before learning printing–I am not sure how conventional it was at the time, but that’s what gave me the idea to try it with him when he was balking at printing practice. So we found he prefers that “flow” in the letters and words from one to the other as well, though it is still a struggle to get him to write more than 2 or 3 words at a time. Anything to make some progress toward legible self-expression, with no electricity required! He asks me why he can’t just type it. I want him to be able to write it first!

    • Janet,
      Yes! In Waldorf education we do movement to writing to reading…cursive usually is either in second grade or third…and typing is way last, like seventh grade…

      Awesome that you are giving him this experience! You can also have him practice copying something you write on a chalkboard in cursive on unlined paper, it really takes a lot of will forces to keep those lines straight on our own!

      Blessings,
      Carrie

  2. Hi Carrie,
    I will be introducing cursive next year, in third grade, and basically stick to cursive for the same reasons you have mentioned. So far, I felt a bit like an outsider, as mostly everybody else likes the Vimala handwriting, like you said. Other reasons why I stick to old fashioned cursive is that I do not have to learn another writing style and adapt my own handwriting to it (call me lazy), but the other real biggy for me is that I just do not like the look of the Vimala alphabet, but than again this is something personal.

    Thanks for this post, I am happy to see that I am not alone with this opinion!
    Maggie

  3. Carrie, I really enjoyed your views and thoughts on this. Thank you. It’s something that’s still a way off in our future, but I appreciate reading these articles ahead of time and knowing the options available in years to come. I also appreciate having, behind the decisions we make on which style to go with when the time comes, other’s educated opinions and experiences. Thank you xxxx

  4. Your post reminded me of my great grandfather, an architect, who meditatively practiced his cursive penmanship every evening into old age!
    I am drawn to the philosophical underpinnings of the Vimala alphabet. I appreciate the concept of training neural pathways toward positive inclinations through the use of hand movements. My concern with the Vimala script is the lack of connectivity of the letters within a word ( where as with the other cursive methods akin to Palmer, all of the letters are connected at the base without the pen being lifted from the page.) I suppose an adaptation could be made by simply connecting the letters but I am not sure what the philosophical implications of that change might be within the context of Vimala.
    I personally like the Cursive First method by Elizabeth Fitzgerald, which entails teaching cursive prior to manuscript handwriting and advocates continued penmanship practice. I believe that the fluidity of handwriting aids in the fluidity of reading and written expression and am bothered by the trend of eliminating cursive in public education.

    • Dear Unnatural Birth,
      Exactly my concern – the lack of fluidity…and how interesting about your grandfather! THe grandparents I lived with had gorgeous handwriting, but my other grandfather…I can’t even reproduce his, it was like calligraphy on paper. Just gorgeous. So I guess that is what I think of with cursive writing!
      Thanks for your comment,
      Carrie

  5. Dear Carrie,
    Thank you for your post. This is something I’ve been thinking for a while. My 5,5 year old daughter is going to school next September, and I have doubts about which school to choose. One of the reasons is that the letter teaching is different. In one school is cursive, the other is not. Neither are Waldorf schools. We haven’t got many in Portugal.
    My concern is regarded to the development of the fine motor skills and about this influences the brain development. I’m also concerned that my daughter wouldn’t develop the ability to read my own handwriting, and other kinds of handwritten documents.
    For what I read from your post and comments it would be preferable to introduce print letter on the first two years, and then to go on to cursive letter. I also think it would be preferable to use a “middle term” print font, a kind of script which is halfway cursive halfway print letter in the first two years, like “Bradley Hand”.

    Thank you.
    Ana Lemos,
    (Portugal)

    • Hi Ana!
      Love to you in Portugal! I do have a small contingent of readers in Portugal, really very exciting to me!!
      Love,
      Carrie

  6. Hey Carrie,
    Something must be in the air about Cursive. I have put off teaching Vincent cursive for 2 years now. Like Janet above, he learned to read much before he learned to write (those dark, dark days pre-Waldorf, lol). He still struggles with writing and drawing and anything that takes time to form and copy. But we are tackling this next month. I am introducing the lowercase letters to Jude (grade 1) which he will print and Vincent will do in cursive. I am planning to do a lot of this with slates and chalk before we move to paper. I’ll let you know.

    I also appreciated your thoughts on Vimala. I am drawn to the idea of the method, but honestly, I just don’t want to take on one more thing. So Vincent will be given my script to follow.

    Hope you are well.
    Sheila

  7. I was homeschooled with Calvert from first through 4th grade; then we went to a tiny Catholic school 5th and 6th grade, then a “normal sized” Catholic middle school and high school, then a public high school (military; lots of moves!). Anyway, I was never formally taught to print. It is something I picked up because of how much I read. I was taught to write in cursive starting in first grade, with the small letter e, in crayon. I still remember all those pretty purple loops all over the creamy paper! Interestingly, Calvert did not teach capital cursive letters until 5th grade; print block capital letters were used instead.

    Because of going to a Catholic school, I was required to write in cursive in all handwork that was turned in, until high school. Cursive is how I write everything except my grocery list! I am not sure if Catholic schools still require this, as a rule, or not. However, when I took the SAT (2004) there was a small paragraph that you were required to copy out in cursive and then sign your name to, attesting to the fact that you had not cheated etc. I didn’t think twice about this, but many of my friends had not written a single cursive word since 4th grade, and had serious trouble with this requirement!

    We are a few years away from homeschooling, but we will certainly be teaching Rachel cursive. Perhaps first, as Calvert does, with pretty purple loops and a crayon to give extra control. :-)

  8. I have always been a huge believer in penmanship and cursive writing!!! I loved writing exercises in school. I taught my older guy cursive at the end of 3rd grade after he became interested in my grocery list. He had an amazing leap forward in his reading skills and by the end of that Summer he was reading at least 2 novels a week. It was clear to me that taking all of that in and putting it all back out helped smooth and loosen something inside him. I had never even heard of Vimala before reading this post but it sort of reminds me of my own handwriting when I am writing without intentionally keeping cursive form :-) Very interesting stuff for sure!!!

  9. Children in Steiner’s time learned only cursive and nothing else. That’s why form drawing leads to cursive writing and not to manuscript writing. When I went to first grade in Germany, we did a few weeks of form drawing (this was and is common practice in all schools), then we started cursive and never stopped. There used to be the old German alphabet at Steiner’s times, which is not used anymore, but which is still being taught in Waldorf schools in Germany in about grade 3. There was also the old German manuscript, very different from what we use today. Now there are three kinds of cursive in Germany, “Lateinische Ausgangsschrift,” “Vereinfachte Ausgangsschrift,” and “Schulausgangsschrift.” The latter ones are supposedly simpler than the “Lateinische Ausgangsschrift,” but I find both awkward. I teach and write “Lateinische Ausgangsschrift” and I start in first grade. When I went to school, all primers were written in “Lateinsche Ausgangsschrift.” I do introduce my children to the manuscript letters, but then I immediately switch to cursive and don’t let them write in manuscript letters anymore :). So far it has worked quite well. Each child also has to practice penmanship each day, including my high schooler. When I was in school, penmanship (cursive) was a subject on my report card and I got a grade for it.

    To be honest, I think all American cursive scripts are too complicated. I also don’t like Italic or Vilma. I think they don’t flow. The only one that is not so bad is SmithHand, but even here, the upper case letters don’t flow with the rest.

    To see “Lateinische Ausgangsschrift,” take a look here. You have to scroll to the end to see the whole alphabet.

    • Thanks eva! I was hoping you would chime in! It was my guess that there was only cursive, so all that you said makes a lot of sense.
      Blessings,
      Carrie

    • Hallo Eva,
      That is exactly what I learned! Thanks so much for the link!!! I have forgotten how to write the letter ‘G’ in Lateinische Ausgangsschrift and to be honest I do not remember how it was called. Now I do and it is perfect for me to help teach my little guy next year.
      The only difference is the small letter ‘p’, I remember it being closed on the bottom and not open as it is pictured in all the samples.
      Thank you again und Frohen Fasching!
      Maggie

    • I just noticed that I wrote “Vilma” instead of “Vimala.” I know it’s really time for me to fill my reading glasses prescription :)!

  10. Hello Maggie,

    I think that the Latin Sütterlin Script had the “p” closed, but after that it was more open. When did you attend first grade? I did in 1974. There are lots of grade handwriting booklets available from Germany. If you are interested, I could give you a few links.

    As a born “Bonnerin” I do have fond memories of “Karneval” as you call it there! Here I can only tell my children about it :). Thanks for the Faschingsgrüße!

    Eva

    • Hallo Eva!
      I attended first grade a few years after you in 1977. I definitely know that my ‘p’ was closed on the bottom, as I still write it this way, but it was not Latin Suetterlin Script I have learned, as all the other letters are in the Lateinische Ausgangsschrift.
      I’ll e-mail you privately as I would very much appreciate some of the links you are talking about!

      We will be celebrating Carneval here this year privately with some friends, as I really want my children to experience some of the nuttiness that goes on before lent. ;-)

      Maggie

    • Oh, I wanted to mention that I LOVE your blog! Got lots of resources from there for our homeschool!

      Maggie

    • Eva,
      Can you e-mail me via my name link please, as I seem not to be able to upload your contact info via your name tag in the above posts.
      Thank you so much!

      Maggie

  11. Hello Carrie,

    I’m glad I could help. I have never been able to understand why you put so much emphasis on form drawing here in the U.S. and then stick with manuscript writing for so many years. Form drawing already looks much more like cursive than manuscript! Our local Waldorf School had one teacher who introduced cursive in second grade (she was a former student of Eugene Schwarz). Everybody thought that was very outrageous, but she thought that it’s better to do it early than late.

    Eva

  12. Hi,

    My son is eight and he has been taught to write using the Vimala alphabet. I love the potential of it, but I think it was too confusing for the young ones to begin with, for he also tries to write in the other style taught ( straight printing?)in schools for some reason, maybe because he reads others handwriting…so it seems that handwriting gets more complicated when using vimala in the beginning. It has been very useful in the way that form drawing is for hand coordination and flow and I agree with you about its usefulness as a tool. We found a copy of a reproduction of a first primer, like the old schhool books of Laura Ingnalls wilder…and the cursive in it is very elaborate but fun for him to use as a guide. The primer in general was fun for him as well for then he can relate to the books by Laura even more. I now use a combination of the style I was taught when I was in grade school and allow inspiration from Vimala and the Primer. I am amazed at all the great responses this post has gotten!

    jean

  13. Hello Maggie,

    I can’t get your name link to work! If you leave your e-mail in the comment box on my blog, I can write to you without publishing your comment. If that doesn’t work, you can also go to my profile on my blog and find a contact possibility there. I hope it will work!

    Warmly,
    Eva

  14. Thankyou for this wonderful post! It s
    It answers many questions about the names of fonts, various approaches and a clue as to how to describe the letters pictorially.
    I would like to read a description of how you set up and engage in a letter lesson?
    Thanks again
    Roselinde
    Ps if you can reply would you mind through email as this is an older post of yours?

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