Thursday, September 24, 2009

Samuel Blumenfeld, and Cursive First

I'm reading a book by Samuel Blumenfeld called Homeschooling: A Parents' Guide to Teaching Children. In some ways it is a starter book, but I'm finding it interesting all the same because of Blumenfeld's strong advice in areas of his own interest. (I had his book How to Tutor on my shelves for a long time -- he advocates phonics, arithmetic drill and cursive first). The book is like your grandfather or great-uncle telling you how to homeschool. You don't run across that perspective every day -- I admire an older gentleman who still strongly recommends the teaching methods of his childhood days but at the same time will enthuasiastically advocate teaching children at home, and tell a homeschooling father that he should give his teenage son more academic freedom to pursue areas of interest.

But what I MEANT to say was that I was looking at this classical academy's curriculum -- I had come across it during the summer. They use the Core Knowledge sequence along with Latin, etc, which was why I was looking there again. Anyway, it links to Sam Blumenfeld's article on teaching cursive first. The online article is pretty much a reprint of the chapter on handwriting in the homeschooling book. If you haven't read Blumenfeld's writing before, this would give you an idea.

There is more on "Cursive First" at the Spell to Write and Read site.

Blumenfeld and Sanseri write that cursive was taught from primer-level, until the 1930's, when the "ball and stick" method was introduced. You can see that for yourself if you go to look at the 19th century primers like McGuffey's. You never see print handwriting taught at all.

There are some nice cursive pages at Donna Young's site, and Peterson Handwriting has a teaching tutorial/lesson plans for cursive readiness.


  1. Hi Willa! I'm really enjoying your posts lately. You teach me so much. I have run across the concept of cursive first in a lot of places over the past six months. I am toying with the idea. Obviously, I have already done a lot of printing with my oldest, but my youngers are all pre-writing, so there is more time ahead of me than behind.

    What I want to know is: is there anything specific I need to know to do this? Or is it simply doing cursive first, and not really teaching printing at all?

    The reason I ask is because I really don't want to purchase a curriculum. I own a special font (it has the manuscript paper lines with it) that does both printing and cursive, and I would like to continue using it. So can I do just that: use the cursive function, teach cursive, and go on with life?

  2. Samuel Blummenfield. I remember him coming to dinner and hearing him talk at a meeting here in Australia when I was in my teens. Obviously he had an impact as I tend to move my children to cursive far earlier than most. Dh is convinced I shouldn't even bother with printing.

  3. Hi Brandy,

    I'm determined not to buy anything, too. If you look at the last link in the post there is a brief tutorial from Peterson Handwriting with lesson plans which sketch out the order of teaching the strokes. Also, I think those cursive videos in my other post have an order, as well. One more thing I did yesterday was search for "Handwriting" in Google books. I found some public domain manuals to help teachers teach writing. There was a lot of information but probably TOO much, like how to press on your ink pen and how to make your own ink.

    All the books said that teaching the child the smooth flowing motion of the strokes was important. I guess that is probably what doesn't get learned with print -- it's so much start and stop.

    I'm planning to just follow the order of the lessons in the Peterson tutorial and/or the cursive videos. But this is the first time I've tried cursive first (all my other kids never really learned cursive, I have to admit, because their mom and dad used print by preference)

    If I find something more I will post it!

  4. Cursive first does not work with children who struggle with dyslexia. They have a hard enough time learning to read and to have them write letters that are different in form does not reinforce their reading skills and really complicates things for them.

    Also while I still think learning cursive is important, in this day and age of computers and internet it is not nearly as important as it was in days past. If you have to prioritize what you have to teach, cursive would not be high on my list.

    That said I have had each of my kids do at least a couple years (off and on) of cursive so they can read it well.

  5. I think that teaching cursive first sounds confusing - we are asking children to learn to decode two completely different alphabets all at once. The brain always processes new information better in smaller chunks.

    We use Italic, precisely because teaching cursive is then not teaching a new alphabet; it's simply teaching how to "join up" the letters the child has already learned.

  6. Yes, my child is reading already, so he isn't having to learn 2 things at once. That makes it easier for me to consider teaching cursive from the start. All of my boys learned to read at least a couple of years before they really started writing at all (we have fine motor lags in our family). With my youngest, I was hoping to avoid some of the writing difficulties they faced during their elementary years.

    Blumenfeld did say that teaching cursive script from the start was the norm until the 30's or 40's. Apparently it was not confusing back then, according to what he said, but perhaps the circumstances were different. No doubt there was more drilling and repetition. And maybe more cultural affirmation for a beautiful script, when there were fewer alternatives. Thank heavens for keyboards. I always hated to look at my own handwriting, so I would never reread my notes at college unless I had no choice.

  7. Hello. I found your post through Brandy's Afterthoughts. I am teaching my 7 yod cursive first. I am VERY picky about my cursive so I ended up using Abeka cursive to get her started. It also gave me a guide for getting her started in an area I was a bit nervous about. I LOVE Peterson as well but didn't like the formation of their cursive letters. Again, I am very picky. I started teaching cursive first because she was trying to write like her older siblings who only use cursive now. She was starting to form bad habits. I have also observed her being a bit slower in reader. Her mind will eventually compensate for that and the light bulb will go on. I am just being as patient as I can with her. I am not sure what I will do with my younger children. They are boys. My older ds has struggled with cursive, although he tries so hard. I am glad I found your blog. I can't wait to look through it.


  8. Well, for what it's worth, we visited FDR's childhood home this week, and saw a good bit of his early writing. It was all cursive, from age 5, except for one example which looked like the D'Nealian that I taught my daughter before cursive. We were quite entertained by a report about birds which bitterly noted that most people couldn't tell a robin from an oriole. He was schooled at home by a French-speaking governess.

    But I have no strong opinions about handwriting, and you probably wouldn't want to emulate my method, as handwriting was one of the least popular and successful subjects in our homeschool.

  9. I have many years experience teaching cursive first. I learned to write cursive-first myself back in 1953 in my first-grade classroom in southern Indiana. I teach a program I call The Cursive Road to Reading and Spelling with Alpha-Phonics. I use Sam Blumenfeld's Alpha-Phonics. My students write every word and sentences in Alpha-Phonics in cursive as I write them on the chalkboard. Even students with severe ADHD and dyslexia can learn to read, spell, and write with this method. My students learn to read cursive before they start reading stories in books. My goal is for my students to be able to write and spell as well as they can speak and read. Printing-first is a pure waste of time when "total linguistic function" is the goal.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!