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When I was learning to write, the teacher insisted all the strokes begin at the top-left. My son did a little over a year at public school and came home starting his strokes from the bottom. I don't know if he just wasn't paying attention to that part, if teachers don't care anymore, if teachers just let them learn any way at first and correct it later, or if they expect kids to just naturally adopt a more efficient writing style as they get better at it.

I do know that starting strokes at the top makes it easier to write with a fountain pen, but are there other benefits? We are homeschooling now, so I'm wondering if I should bother correcting it, or just let it develop naturally, focusing more on form when we get to cursive. I know for myself that my print writing changed after I learned cursive.

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Shouldn't QUERTY vs DVORAK be a more pressing concern in 2014? :) –  user3143 Aug 13 at 15:33
Starting at the top and pulling down is better in general - pulling a pen or pencil across paper is significantly easier than pushing, and is less likely to tear the paper if the utensil is sharp or the paper is thin. I would suggest correcting it - the fundamentals are important, how to hold the utensil, how (in general) to use it come first. How to draw individual characters comes after. –  Doc Aug 15 at 16:57
@user3143 see this question about Qwerty/Dvorak in which the consensus seems to be that keyboard skills are important but Dvorak is (sadly) not a realistic goal. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 16 at 11:43
I've written my letters from bottom to top since I was 2, and it's never been a problem for me. –  Joe Sep 3 at 8:54

3 Answers 3

I can tell you that I have experienced the same thing with my 6 1/2 year old son. I assumed a lot of it was because he's a lefty, but now I'm starting to wonder if maybe not so much? I, too, recall having a much more stringent handwriting regimen when I was in elementary school--at least up until about second grade.

I asked several of my friends (of varying ages) who had taught elementary education whether or not I should be concerned about this, and the response was somewhat mixed. Older teachers (aged 50+ I would say) overwhelmingly said it was problematic and I should correct it in my son as soon as possible. This was especially true of teachers who were over 50 and retired. Younger teachers and those who were still teaching in the elementary grades, generally told me it wasn't such a problem. The bigger question was: Is his handwriting legible? Once my son started kindergarten, I found that the focus wasn't on letter formation at all because they're too busy teaching other stuff. He just started 1st grade and some of that is fading away. He still makes his lowercase e's starting from the bottom and a few other letters, but I can tell that his overall handwriting is improving and fewer and fewer letters are being written from the bottom up. A friend of mine whose son is also 6 1/2 had a different kindergarten teacher and she was absolutely crazy about proper letter formation. She would mark off points if a letter was formed incorrectly. She seems to be one of a few holdouts of the "old ways" in modern education.

I don't know that inefficiencies in handwriting ever really get corrected now, but I don't think that's any different than teachers not correcting the way some lefties curled their arms around their papers to write when I was a kid, or the fact that no teacher ever tried to correct the way I held my pencil even though it was wrong.

Are you concerned about it from an efficiency standpoint? I think if efficiency is your primary concern, you can't get more efficient than typing. In terms of handwriting, as long as he is writing legibly for his age, and his handwriting is progressing it's probably not something to worry too much about. If you're 100% certain you're going to teach your son cursive, I would focus on teaching form when you teach cursive because, in cursive, it sort of matters. I say sort of because my cursive handwriting in no way resembles the cursive that I was taught in elementary school, and that will probably eventually be true for your son as it is for most of us.

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The biggest benefit I see is in causing him to think about his letter formation. Good handwriting tends to arise from people who think about the writing of the letters; bad handwriting arises from people just scrawling without making much effort to think about the letters.

That said, my parents tried teaching me calligraphy with the intent of curing my poor penmanship as a child, and that failed miserably, because my mind just moved too quickly for my hand to keep up if I thought about what I was writing. Thus, I would suggest that you consider the child's tendencies and whether it's likely to pay off or not to teach him in a way that slows him down some rather than writing however comes naturally. I know from your past questions that you have specific challenges with teaching your son that you have to keep in mind; it's possible this is one worth focusing on, but it's equally possible it's not (and particularly given the increase in computer/etc. use in learning, which is not irrelevant to this, though perhaps not quite relevant to the extent of the other answer on that subject).

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This is pretty rapidly moving from being controversial to outright unpopular. Of course, popularity in no way affects truth.

Parents all have an opportunity to raise their children for the future or to raise them in the past. Parents have an opportunity to demonstrate what should be learned and instill adaptation and innovation as virtues.

Where you come in on all these issues affects this particular issue, which is why I am vehemently passionate about my position, because it is a part of broader value placed on relevance and progress. I don't believe a compelling argument can be made for devaluation of these, so I'm unsure why there would be so much disagreement on this issue, but I'm happy to field further questions here or elsewhere and explain my views as best as I can.

Thank you!


"When I was learning to write, the teacher insisted all the strokes begin at the top-left."

While I was in school, the decision was made to stop teaching handwriting, starting with cursive, and then moving on to any instruction at all as I went through grades. It's fairly likely I'm between you and your child in age, so I'm guessing I experienced the paradigm shift you are concerned with directly. If the writing isn't causing performance problems in class, hand-writing methodology is and should be irrelevant, as it will certainly not be utilized anywhere outside of class in life.

"focusing more on form when we get to cursive."

I've compiled a brief list of reasons to learn to write cursive:

  1. ...

Actually let's do the converse.

And a brief list of reasons not to:

  1. It's a colossal waste of time.
  2. It's 2014.
  3. Fewer people can read it every year.

It is a very normative view that there is a correct way to form letters, and enforcing normative views in education is incredibly dangerous. Cursive is an extension of this.

So, for a direct answer:

"...are there other benefits?"

No, absolutely not.

Extension question: "...are there costs?"

Yes, absolutely.

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cursive is much faster to write IMHO (since letters are joined). I am glad I learned cursive. I think it is a little rich to say that hand writing will not be used. I take lots of notes while programming, and doing them on paper notepad is very convenient. Writing on paper doesn't go away any time soon. That said, writing legible, fountain pen, beautiful cursive that other people can read is irrelevant. –  Ida Aug 13 at 16:34
Given practice, print can exceed cursive (of course). Likewise, typing vastly exceeds both, as does voice recognition. If you're taking notes while programming on paper, it is infinitely improbably you are operating at 100% efficiency as a programmer, due to dead loss associated with oscillation between media and inefficiency in handwriting compared to typing or voice memo. While you have every right to practice inefficiencies and sub-optimal practices, I would argue that instilling them in a child is a violation of that child's right to quality and unbiased education. –  Calvin Aug 13 at 16:42
hahahaha. You're funny. –  Ida Aug 13 at 16:54
"I would argue that instilling them in a child is a violation of that child's right to quality and unbiased education" BWAHAHAHA. More constructively, exposing children to a variety of subjects probably can't hurt the development of curiosity and intellect, the same as taking a different route to work in the morning. –  Patrick87 Aug 14 at 17:20
Assuming zero technological advancement, zero social change, and zero improvement in ability from being raised around modern technologies the following will hold. Any non-zero violations, such as having attending the first three years of a degree program and having no professors require no laptop usage in class, invalidate that argument. You can always choose to use obsolete technology. You can always choose to pretend its not obsolete. You can always to force your depends to invest time in sub-optimal practices. Are there benefits? No, absolutely not. Are there costs? Yes, absolutely. –  Calvin Aug 15 at 18:20

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