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, 2014 at 15:33
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    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, 2014 at 16:57
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    @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. Aug 16, 2014 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, 2014 at 8:54
  • I'm surprised your child received instruction on handwriting at all. Our school system doesn't teach it anymore, and I know neighboring districts don't either. They expect kids to know the basics when they start kindergarten and at that point they simply send home packets of worksheets for practicing handwriting at home. It's entirely up to the parents to teach the kids to write. My 11yo still forms his letters "incorrectly" (for ex: from the bottom up, a p is formed by making an o and adding a tail in 2 separate motions, similar for a d and a b). We keep on him, but the school doesn't care.
    – Jax
    Aug 17, 2016 at 13:11

6 Answers 6


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.


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).


When I was teaching first grade a specialist explained to me that the reason we print from top to bottom is not only does it help to form the letters correctly, but more importantly requires the use of different muscles in the wrist and arms. This differs in cursive because the movement is fluid. When writing from the bottom up you use the larger muscles and there is more strain. This becomes more of a problem later when students choose to take shorter notes and write less in general because it's tiring.

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    Hi and welcome! If you have a source (besides a conversation), including it would make this a wonderfully helpful answer. Thanks, and again, welcome. Dec 30, 2015 at 1:03

It is better to form the letters top down because ultimately the writing will be faster and more legible, because it's easier and more accurate to pull a pen across the page than to push it. Teachers used to insist on this but I think they don't care any more, or they care but not enough to do anything about it.

There is a real difficulty in teaching this to small children. For small children, it can be difficult to put enough pressure on a pencil or pen to result in a visible line when pulling from top to bottom: their little hands just aren't strong enough. Some end up pushing instead because pushing puts more force into the paper, which can make the line more visible for the same reason it makes it slower and more likely to poke holes in the paper.

All three of my children initially had this problem. I didn't correct this in the eldest, my daughter, because she was at the time behind on reading and writing and we felt those were more important than proper stroke direction. She was (and is) also double jointed and used (and uses) a different grip because the normal pencil grip was painful for her. In retrospect, I might have done things differently, as now, a couple years later, her letter formation is still sloppy and barely legible. She did eventually learn the normal stroke directions in cursive but rarely uses cursive, and her stroke directions remain wrong when she prints.

My elder son is two years younger, and I insisted on correct stroke direction from the beginning, which for him was age 5. He could handle it better because his hands are bigger for his age - they have always been as big as his sister's even though he is 20 months younger, and thus were larger when he started than hers were when she started - and he is not double jointed. His letters are highly legible and his printing is reasonably fast.

My younger son is another two years younger, currently age 4, and I've been trying to insist on correct stroke direction for him as well. His hands are not as big for his age, and he started at an earlier age; although he is not double jointed, he has difficulty making a visible line with a pen or pencil without pushing, so stroke direction has been a battle. I've switched him to washable markers, with which a visible line is much easier to make. He is now willing to start at the top when he remembers or is reminded; it takes a lot of reminding, but I think it will eventually be possible to retrain him to use the correct stroke direction, unlike his sister where it seems to ingrained.

Bottom line: fix it if you catch it early enough, and don't be afraid to give the kid washable markets to make the normal stroke direction easier to use with small hands.


My daughter's class are learning how to write letters (in prep for cursive) and which direction to move the pen and she is only in reception (4).

They use jolly phonics work books where there is a point to denote where to start and arrows to show them the direction to form the letter

Example of showing how to write letters in jolly phonics

Having said that - she doesn't always do it in the way that is shown. She is left handed though, so for her it may be easier to write a letter a different way.

I would say in general though, as long as the handwriting is legible, and they don't have trouble writing cursive, there isn't really much of an issue here.

If you still wanted to though, you could still approach it in a 'oh you do your letter a like that? I do it like this. Why don't you try doing it both ways and see which way you prefer' sort of way perhaps?


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, 2014 at 16:34
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    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, 2014 at 16:42
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    hahahaha. You're funny.
    – Ida
    Aug 13, 2014 at 16:54
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    "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, 2014 at 17:20
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    -1 for being completely, totally, absurd by suggesting a child should not learn to write at all. You didn't answer the question-you redirected it. Okay, you think writing will go away. Maybe it will, but what is the child supposed to do in the next decade or more while it's still an expected skill to have? You suggest a parent handicap a child now, in order to get him ahead of the game at some unknown, possibly distant future-a future he'll never get to if he can't navigate the present.
    – Jax
    Aug 26, 2014 at 0:58

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