You want legible and beautiful handwriting. You want a neat and elegant cursive. Do you know how? Good penmanship is the result of hand strength, proper hold, and fine motor skills. You need to train the brain and the hand to work together.
1. Choose a style.
2. Use good paper.
4. Develop hand-eye coordination, visual perception and motor coordination.
Choose a handwriting style. There are several different styles. A detailed list is available at Family Phonics. As you scroll through the list, move your mouse over the link “show alphabet sample” and a complete alphabet in that style will show.
There is a great deal of controversy over methods. Italic styles have a slant, or slope, to the lettering. The italic manuscript letters are closer in formation to the cursive letters. The italic cursive letters are modified versions of what we consider more traditional or modern cursive. Traditional manuscript letters are upright without any slant, and each letter is made with a circle and a line. The traditional cursive letters are slanted, and the letters contain a wide variety of loops and flourishes to embellish. The traditional cursive may not be your chosen style, but samples will be needed to teach letter identification. Many original documents and sources are written in this flourished style. You may want to consider a more modern, or adapted, cursive style that does add loops but not as exuberantly as the traditional cursive style.
For some children, italic writing and traditional print in a reading text will cause confusion and dissociation, which leads to either poor handwriting as they attempt to reproduce what they see frequently while crossed with the style that they are being taught or difficulty in learning to read because of failed letter recognition. Consider your choice of reading material, workbooks, and handwriting style choice. Can you easily use your materials in order to encourage good handwriting? Most phonics workbooks have provided lines, but where you see lines with examples or illustrations of writing you may want to reconsider either your style choice or workbook choice.
Choose a paper and stick with it. Do not switch from notebook paper to lined paper. Choose grade-appropriate paper that has adequate line spacing for the grade, or age. Adapting the constant width and depth of a letter will lead to poor letter formation. You can print your own paper from the DonnaYoung.org. At the very least, move from the 5/8″ rule to 1/2″ rule before transitioning to wide-ruled notebook paper. Use the 5/8-ruled paper for K and 1st grade. Teach cursive. Move from the 5/8-ruled to the 1/2-ruled with center-dashed line. If you have poor handwriting now, are you using the correctly ruled paper?
I am a firm believer that handwriting is something that needs to be taught. Instruction must be provided. It is necessary instruction for development, including cognitive development. For example, children who learn to play the piano are better at math. Of course, there are the exceptions on both sides of this statement, but studies show strong relationships, and thus infer.
Practice is necessary. You must practice. You do not need hours worth of practice. You can accomplish quite a lot in a mere 15 minutes a day.
Outside of style, paper, and practice, consider other reasons that your child does not write legibly. Handwriting develops hand-eye coordination, visual perception, and motor coordination. However, we must be active in setting the stage for effective results and legible writing. Have you used Cheerios for your little one to teach the two-fingered grasp? For a moment, consider the finger dexterity and skill needed for many of the things we do today. Please keep in mind and realize the age appropriateness of the child too. To be successful and supportive, provide other activities. Tracing, outlining, and connecting the dots will develop hand-eye coordination and visual perception. I suggest painting, puzzles, threading beads, play dough, clay, cutting with scissors, et cetera to develop motor coordination and perception.
My last comment, get your children outside – running, batting, hopping, jumping rope, et cetera. All of these things that we took for granted as children helped us to develop and be prepared for our academic lives. Our gross motor skill development is important and affects our handwriting. You may laugh and roll eyes at this point. Ask any teacher of 25 years or more and s/he will tell you that a child who can hop on one leg and switch to hop on the other is ready to hold a pencil and learn to write. Our bodies are not isolated little bits of machinery, but instead, they are complex units with much needed part development.
I spent months researching writing. I honestly cannot tell you where I read or how I derived this information because it has been so long ago. What I can tell you is that my mother began teaching 30 years ago. She taught K through the second grade. She taught me to write. I am told often how beautifully my name and other written material appear.