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My oldest is in kindergarten this year, and in our public schools here in the US stick-and-ball (ie. traditional manuscript) is the primary form of handwriting that is initially taught. More and more, cursive handwriting is being dropped from the curricula altogether.

I have no issue with traditional manuscript handwriting, but it is cumbersome and somewhat time-consuming. I'd like to work with Andrew on cursive handwriting over the summer. Once he gets it, I think he will be able to write more quickly and more fluidly--right now he gets a little frustrated with traditional manuscript because he can't express his ideas on paper as quickly as they come to his head.

Andrew, however, is definitely a lefty. Occasionally he will write with his right hand because his left hand gets tired, and his handwriting with his right hand is almost as good as his handwriting with his left hand. But his preference is obviously his left hand.

Is there anything I should know about how to teach cursive to a lefty so we aren't both frustrated and screaming at each other or is it basically the same as teaching a righty?

Edit: I would like to clarify: There is no issue with the school or his teacher. Most of his handwriting practice is here at home. His teacher does not currently "grade" his papers for neatness when it comes to handwriting mechanics. She is more concerned with whether or not his handwriting is legible. I don't care how he forms his letters as long as an "e" looks like an "e", an "x" looks like an "x" and so on. Even as a righty, I don't hold my pencil correctly or form my letters in a textbook fashion. I don't expect him to, either. The only time I make him re-form a letter is if it is extremely messy or if he has written the wrong letter (a b instead of a d, for example), and he is now getting to the point where he self-edits his own handwriting pretty well. The decision to teach him cursive is 100% my own and I really don't care if the school likes it or not. Manuscript handwriting is simply more time-consuming from a logical standpoint--you pick your pencil up after every letter and sometimes more than that. Almost all cursive letters are one continuous motion and even if you only connect two letters together at a time, you're cutting down on the amount of time it takes to write a word. I think, for him, this would help him feel more productive and enable him to complete his schoolwork in a more timely manner. Additionally, if I don't teach him cursive he most definitely will not learn it at school because it is no longer being taught. This is not a school issue. This is 100% me seeking advice on how best to teach my son cursive so that he can be successful at it. It has nothing to do with learning modalities or preferences, his own innate skills, or whether I should encourage his ambidextrous nature (which I do). I am specifically looking for resources (websites, handwriting curricula, etc.) that deal with the pitfalls people teaching lefties to write left-handed encounter.

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Have a look ar briem.net to see if there's anything useful briem.net –  DanBeale Jan 19 at 15:49
    
Your main question was: "Is there anything I should know about..." To address your edit: there's nothing wrong with your decision to teach your son cursive. But your statement that cursive is less time-consuming only holds true for right-handed people. Left-handed writing has a different cost-benefit analysis. –  Wodanaz Spitfire Jan 20 at 16:08
    
I realize my original question was vague, hence the edit. I do not understand why so many answers are assuming this is an issue with his school or his teacher when, in fact, it is neither, nor did I allude to it being so. He is not graded on handwriting--in fact, most schools no longer include handwriting in the kindergarten curriculum as a "grade". It is merely taught as a means to an end (written communication). I simply disagree with the assertion that the cost-benefit analysis for a lefty performing cursive is going to be greater than the same lefty performing manuscript. –  Meg Coates Jan 20 at 20:13
    
I think most answers are simply speaking from experience, although I can understand why that could come across as assuming that the school or his teacher are a problem. The simple truth is that most of us left-handers would have loved to have gone to such a school and have had such a teacher. Your son is lucky. –  Wodanaz Spitfire Jan 21 at 13:23
    
_ I simply disagree with the assertion that the cost-benefit analysis for a lefty performing cursive is going to be greater than the same lefty performing manuscript._ I'm sorry, but that comes across as...well...insulting. You're basically discounting our experience as left-handers, and assuming you know better. Is it a peer-reviewed scientific conclusion? No. It's a shared experience of left-handers. It's a more than reasonable conclusion after analysing the differences that: lifting your pen off the paper is more efficient than pushing your pen across the paper. –  Wodanaz Spitfire Jan 21 at 13:37

6 Answers 6

The issues with left-handed writing can be organised in 3 categories:

  1. Posture
  2. Physics (pulling versus pushing)
  3. Miscellaneous

Posture

handedness.org/action/leftwrite.html explains the posture quite well. As a left-hander, I was never taught this and as a result I kept changing my posture for most of my life (with the obvious negative effect on the quality of my writing).

The variety of left-handed writing is demonstrated quite well on musanim.com/mam/lefthand.htm and nibs.com/Left-hand%20writers.htm

Creating a stable writing style for a left-handed person starts by mirroring the posture, page orientation and pencil grip of the right-handers.

Physics

Ideally, we would mirror the physics of right-handed writing too, but this would result in left-handed people writing right-to-left: mirror writing. As a consequence of writing left-to-right, left-handed people will (A) push much more than they will pull; and (B) use more radial abduction than ulnar adduction. This means we have to be more careful about our writing instruments than right-handed people.

As a kid, I was given the option of getting a left-handed fountain pen, but since I already felt awkward in a society dominated by right-handers and not knowing the difference between those fountain pens, I decided to feel normal and chose the right-handed fountain pen. That was a mistake. The increased pulling action changed the amount of ink the fountain pen released, making the problem of smudging even worse.

I also consistently received poorer grades because of the smudges (which I didn't know how to prevent) and the non-traditional shapes of my letters. I basically was punished for being left-handed and not knowing how to write beautiful. Unfortunately, I'm not the only one as anythinglefthanded.co.uk/children/teaching/writing.html suggests.

It was when I became fed up with it all and switched to ballpoint pens (despite that the school didn't allow it) that my writing improved: almost no smudging.

Miscellaneous

The whole point about cursive handwriting is that the pen never leaves the paper. This makes sense for right-handed people. However, since left-handed people mirror the posture but cannot mirror the physics, we actually have a very different cost-benefit analysis. For a left-handed person, taking the pen off the paper is much more beneficial than keeping the pen on the paper and push it.

So why should we write in cursive? Maybe we want to demonstrate to the world we can write beautifully, or maybe we just want to prove to ourself that we can write beautifully. As a left-handed person there comes a point in your life when you start to feel proud about the fact that you're left-handed.

The problem is that we don't really have a left-handed style of writing which means every left-hander invents his/her own. As iampeth.com/lefties_01.php explains in its section about letter formation, left-handers form their letter differently. We draw the crossbars on our letters in right-to-left direction because the pulling action is easier than the pushing action. I personally draw the number '5' in a similar way as I draw the letter 's': in one stroke, just more angular. I draw the letter 'x' in cursive also in one stroke, because it's easier to leave the pen on the paper and pull the pen to a new position, then to take the pen of the paper. And so on...

To summarise, don't correct a left-handed person on the way he forms his letters (unless it's something like drawing the crossbar from right-to-left) and only correct on the end-result (but ignore the slant of the letters).

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Number one: do not "hook" the hand the way right handed people do. A left handed person can easily hold their hand below the ink and will not smear it. If need be, turn the paper a little. You can see an amazing collection of hand positions at a fountain pen site I have no affiliation with. Teaching an underwriting style is generally better in terms of ink smearing, so teach it while the child is still using pencils.

Number two, while you can certainly offer to teach mechanics, if the child uses different mechanics to get the job done, don't worry about it. (For example, whether the "ball" part of a letter is drawn clockwise or anticlockwise.) Many teachers seem to have forgotten that the correction was to be something like "If you do it in this direction, things will flow more smoothly when you are writing several letters in a row" and instead say "that is not an e, do it over in the correct direction". This is disheartening and if at all possible, get the teacher to stop. If you can't, tell your child later in private that the teacher is wrong, and that the window of time in which anyone watches the mechanics of you making marks on paper is very small. After that window all that matters is what is on the paper. My handwriting is beautiful, and I take quick notes in a combination of printing and cursive as fast as I can speak, almost as fast as I can think, and it's perfectly readable later.

Number three, encourage the child to mouse with the right hand. It's wonderful to be able to mouse with one hand and write with the other - I feel sorry for those who have to put down the pen to pick up the mouse or vice versa. It will also let them walk up to any workstation and use it. In the same vein, if the preference for one hand over another is very mild, then learning to knit, sew, throw balls, catch balls, hit balls, and so on as right-handed people do will make getting equipment and lessons much easier in the years to come.

And finally, not related to cursive, many of those who can use the left or right hand for almost anything lack the knowledge of left or right that others have. And tricks like "which of these make a letter L" are pointless if you can read upside down and write mirror writing. They both look like an L, thanks. If we're facing each other, I might be fuddled over your left and my left, too. Should this be your child, emphasize the benefits of this brain wiring. I can read things on other people's desks (eg the notes an interviewer is taking) and I can read a children's book to someone facing me, with the words right side up for them and upside down for me. I can read signs on see through surfaces from the back, and so on. What's more, when painting, sawing, hammering etc if one hand gets tired I can just use the other for a while. These are all cool capabilities. But if you suddenly yell an instruction at me that requires me to know left and right, I will probably freeze, and if I move there is only a 50-50 chance I will move the in direction you said. I managed not to think this was a shortcoming until well into adulthood (my family de-emphasized sports for other reasons) and I hate to think of a small child feeling bad for not having an ability everyone seems to feel is innate.

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On the left-versus-right direction issue: I had that too. It took me years to figure out that the problem was relative direction versus absolute direction. North, East, South and West are absolute direction. Left and right are directions that are always relative to some reference point: a person. Today there's a 90% chance I will move in the correct direction, but that's mostly experience, because while moving, I would still be mentally verifying whether I made the correct decision. It's tiresome. I would love to have your multi-direction reading though. –  Wodanaz Spitfire Jan 20 at 16:35
    
indeed, in a boat I never for a moment hesitate when people say port and starboard. Brains are weird, aren't they? –  Chrys Jan 20 at 20:28
    
Brains are flexible, or so science says. I'm always amazed that us left-handers can be just as different from each other as we are from right-handers. I've talked to other left-handers who've never had this problem with absolute and relative direction. And we end up looking at each other as if the other is the weird one, hahaha. So I would agree that brains are weird. –  Wodanaz Spitfire Jan 21 at 13:46

I find three major differences between my left-handed writing and that of a right-hander.

  • In pushing the pen or pencil across the page rather than pulling it, a sharp instrument can dig into the paper, especially cheap newsprint paper, or with a fountain pen because so much more ink flows onto and into the paper. Get good paper.

  • In pushing the pen or pencil across the page rather than pulling it, the hand holding the pencil would hide the line of text I'm writing were I to hold pencil and paper as a right-hander does. This is why most lefties tilt the paper or bend the wrist in a way that appears awkward to righties. It moves the left hand out of the way so we can see what we're doing.

  • In pushing the pen or pencil across the page rather than pulling it, the left arm drags across the fresh text, smearing ink or pencil in a way right-handers don't experience, and right-handed teachers may not understand. If your child gets dinged for sloppy handwriting, you might have to explain to the teacher why this is the case. They may try to teach the child to write "correctly" like a right-hander should. If they do, you will have to teach explain why this is inappropriate.

I don't do cursive. I takes longer and looks horrible. The combination of pushing the tool and bending the wrist make a flowing motion too much trouble for no reward. I was lucky enough to take a drafting class in seventh grade, and I learned to write in a neat block alphabet that I've used for forty years, twenty-eight of them as a middle school teacher.

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I'm a lefty and the only writing style I was taught is cursive. However I still found writing frustratingly slow and quickly developed an aversion for it. This lead to problems down the line concerning note-taking. The subsequent lack of practice also gave me a horrendous handwriting.

The only thing I have found even closely matching the speed I want is typing. But I doubt that your school will let him turn in homework that is not handwritten. You can of course always ask the teachers whether work can be typed out.

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One of the advantages (in my view) of the new common core is that typing will be a requirement sooner than it has been for kids in the US and more of a focus will be placed there. Additionally, testing will now be done on computers as well. At least this will help those like the child in the OP and such as yourself in these instances. It is also worth talking to the teacher and asking if Some work can be turned in with typing and see what he/she says. –  balanced mama Jan 20 at 16:50
    
This is true, but he's not going to be able to do work in class on a computer--at least, not right now. As for homework, for most assignments, I don't think they care. Either way, an ability to write with a pen/pencil either in manuscript or cursive is still a necessity even in modern society. Perhaps in 20 years everything will be done electronically, but that is not the reality right now. –  Meg Coates Jan 20 at 20:04

The issues he is likely to face are mostly physical. In a standard setup lefties end up pushing the pen which can get tiring, make it harder to write and can lead to awkward hand position/holds which can cause cramping etc. This will become exaggerated with cursive since the pen is in contact with the page for longer.

The best way I know to deal with these is to turn the paper clockwise to the two o'clock position (something short of 45°) so that he will be pulling the pen rather than pushing it.

As well as being easier on the hands it will also stop him dragging the side of his hand over what he has just written, preventing smudging.

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Well Chrys, I can very well relate to you, even later into life but for the question at hand..

Meg Coates... why not try a gentle approach, make the learning fun... and in the meantime go see the school counsellor and discuss your concerns and what you've discovered whilst working with your son. No counsellor ? Then ask the principal..and don't apologise ! be polite and positive. Ask for a meeting in their office with your son's teacher , yourself and them... virtually 'hash it out', for surely other parents would have this problem and schools have to adapt, otherwise parents would take their children to another school where the learning is less about rules and more about interaction. I hope sincerely that you find a solution because ultimately it is your son who will benefit the most.

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