A Defense of Penmanship

A Defense of Penmanship

In a world dominated by science and technology, the value of legible cursive penmanship must be defended. Why indeed spend time on developing a beautiful cursive hand today?

Training in Accuracy and Discipline

Penmanship, both manuscript and cursive, is an important part of education. Neat, legible penmanship is an important factor in the development of accuracy in spelling and arithmetic. Practice in neat, legible penmanship instills in students the habits of quality work and a disciplined approach to academics. Technology has not and will not make this important life skill obsolete. Putting words on a page is the hands-on academic skill. It is vitally important, yet virtually ignored. There is nothing more physical and elemental in academics than writing letters and words on paper with one’s own hands. The whole body is involved—mind, eyes, arm, hands. The physical act of writing requires focus, discipline, patience, attention to detail, and accuracy—priceless skills for the young child at the beginning of his academic career. And the beginning work sets the stage for all that follows. The habits we form here will either help or hinder our students for the rest of their lives.


In an age that values speed like ours, cursive is a real benefit to the student. Think of the advantage of taking rapid, accurate notes in college, at meetings, and in many different real-life situations. Just as the ability to do quick mental math in everyday situations is useful and impressive, so too the ability to jot down notes quickly and legibly is a practical and valuable skill. In business we are always brainstorming, thinking on our feet, calculating in our heads, and jotting notes on paper. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are fundamental skills that are used constantly in everyday life, and there is no technology that will change that.


Write something down and you are likely to remember it. Write it with conscious attention to beauty and legibility and you will remember it even more.


The human hand performing a graceful skill is a beautiful thing—painting, playing piano, throwing a football. So why not that most useful and universal human skill of writing? If calligraphy is desirable and attractive, how much more so an attractive written hand for everyday use? Doing anything with one’s hands in an orderly and beautiful way is physical and mental therapy. The fluid motions of cursive are soothing and holistic, and the everyday pleasure of writing a handwritten note (or even just a grocery list) with beauty and grace is one of life’s small blessings and pleasures. We want our children to make beautiful things with their hands at school—art, crafts, calligraphy—how much more so when it comes to daily written work? In cursive penmanship we have the perfect opportunity to develop a child’s pleasure at working with his hands, to teach patience, to practice accuracy, and to instill an appreciation for creating well-proportioned pages full of beautiful letters. A page of excellent writing is a process to enjoy and a pleasure to see.

Continuous Learning

Penmanship is a kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade skill. Teachers in all grades are responsible for addressing student penmanship.

Developing a Cursive Culture

New American Cursive has been the solution to one of our most intractable problems at Highlands Latin School—cursive penmanship. Although we had high ambitions for our students, the switch from print to cursive in the third grade never really took. Right at the time when the demands of written work escalated, students were asked to learn a new script that initially slowed them down. This poor timing, plus the force of habit, almost ensured failure, and most students reverted back to print.

Cursive programs designed for younger children were available, but the instructions were confusing, the methods unnecessarily complicated, or the slant either nonexistent or too extreme. Then we discovered New American Cursive, a program that has everything we wanted for primary children. When we finally made the switch to cursive in the first grade, our problem disappeared. What a difference! Students at Highlands Latin School begin cursive in the first grade and are using it exclusively by the end of second grade. Our primary students love cursive and have the motivation and desire to master it. In fact, since we have added New American Cursive to our curriculum, two HLS students have won the World Handwriting Contest in the last three years.

Writing at a high level begins with the humble skill of speed, accuracy, and beauty in writing letters and words. Writing in cursive teaches our students to value precision, neatness, attention to detail, accuracy, and beauty—values which cross over to all of their other academic subjects. We believe that the cursive culture we have developed at Highlands Latin School is a significant factor in the excellence that has come to characterize our school.

New American Cursive Script

New American Cursive Font

Penmanship Guidelines K-12

  • Kindergarten: Students learn manuscript. Manuscript is vertical, but the paper placement and pencil grip are the same as cursive.
  • Grade 1: Students practice manuscript and cursive.
  • Grade 2: Students transition to all cursive.
  • Grades 3-12: Cursive required in all grades. Students continue to work on The Three S’s: size, spacing, and slant. Each day, in grades 3-12, the teacher will choose a sentence for the students to copy from the board in their best legible cursive.

Instructions for Teaching Penmanship

The Three P’s: Posture, Paper, Pencil Grip

  1. Posture: Students should be sitting squared up with the front edge of the writing surface. Desks or tables should allow them to sit comfortably with feet on the floor, if possible.
  2. Paper placement: Paper should be slanted to the left for right-handers and to the right for left-handers. Pencil boxes and other books need to be arranged or removed so that students can place their workbooks in the center of the desk. Students should learn how to keep their paper or notebook in the comfortable writing zone with the non-writing hand. As the student moves down the writing page, the non-writing hand moves the page up so the student is always writing in the comfortable writing zone.
  3. Pencil grip: The pencil should be held with a light grip, between your thumb and middle finger, one inch from the pencil tip for right-handers, and one and a half inches for left-handers. Place your index finger on top of the pencil to help guide it. Gripping the pencil too tightly will cause your hand to get tired. It just takes three fingers to hold the writing instrument properly. The thumb is strongest and holds the pencil in place. The index finger is the most agile and moves the pencil. The middle finger, being the longest, supports the pencil.

Compare correct pencil grip in writing to correct form in sports, music, dance, etc. Correct form in tennis, golf, swimming, piano, violin, and ballet is required because it leads to improved performance. Coaches and instructors in the arts do not accept poor form but constantly challenge their students to strive for perfection.

Arm and Wrist Placement

Arm placement: The writing arm should rest on the edge of the desk and be parallel to the slant of the paper.
Wrist placement: The wrist should be straight in alignment with the arm. Many students have a strong tendency to curve the wrist, especially if their paper is not tilted, or if they are left-handed.

Pencil-Holding Position:

Penmanship Pencil Position

Correct Paper Placement for Cursive Writing:

Penmanship Paper Placement


Pencil Grip

Motivating students to correct their pencil grip can be difficult. Change is awkward and takes time for adjustment and to see results. Correct pencil grip:

  • reduces hand fatigue
  • improves legibility
  • increases speed
  • increases the pleasure of writing
  • is classic in form and beauty
  • is a mark of an educated person

New American Cursive Penmanship Samples

First Grade – Boy

nac first grade boy

First Grade – Girl

nac first grade girl

Second Grade  – Boy

nac second grade boy

Third Grade – Boy

nac third grade boy

Once you know how to write in a quick, legible cursive style, you can relax and enjoy the writing process.
Happy Handwriting!

New American Cursive develops brains one writer at a time.


About the Authors:
Cheryl Lowe is the founder of Highlands Latin School and Memoria Press.
Iris Hatfield is a handwriting specialist and author of the New American Cursive Penmanship program.

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