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 printing 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.

Penmanship Guidelines K-12

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

  1. Posture: Students should be sitting squared up with the front edge of the writing surface with feet on the floor. Smaller students may have desks that do not allow them to put their feet on the floor and thus have a tendency to sit on their feet. Students should have desks or tables that 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 far right for left-handers. What other books or objects are on the student desk? Pencil boxes and other books need to be arranged or removed so that students can place their writing page in the center of the desk. This attention to paper placement must be done multiple times during the day, every time a new workbook or subject is begun. Students must also 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 should move 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, one inch from the pencil tip for right-handers, and one and a half inches for left-handers. The thumb holds the pencil steady while the index finger rests on top of the pencil. The tip rests against the middle finger and the eraser end rests against the index finger and knuckle.

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. Students have a very strong tendency to curve the wrist, especially if their paper is not tilted, or if they are left-handed.


While students are writing, monitor all aspects of writing and correct any problems by tapping your finger on the student’s finger, paper, arm, or wrist, so the student self-corrects.

  • Kindergarten: Students learn manuscript. Manuscript is vertical, but the paper placement and pencil grip are the same. The slant of the paper has nothing to do with the slant of the script.
  • 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.

Students new to school will be given a class on penmanship and New American Cursive. Teachers should give special attention to new students, since many will have already formed bad habits.

Pencil-Holding Position:

Penmanship Pencil Position

Correct Paper Placement for Cursive Writing:

Penmanship Paper Placement

Instructions for Teaching Penmanship

Teachers in K-6, and the English teacher in 7-12, will begin each year with this lesson:

  • Posture: Teacher models how to sit properly, and also some examples of incorrect posture.
  • Paper: Teacher shows how to slant paper to left for right-handers, and to far right for left-handers. Paper should be in the comfortable writing zone on the desk with no other obstructions.
  • Pencil grip: Teacher demonstrates how to pick up the pencil correctly and hold it correctly for writing.

Place pencil on desk with point toward yourself. Pick up pencil 1” from tip for right-handers and 1 1/2” from tip for left-handers with thumb and index finger. The thumb is on the side, the index finger on the top, and the pencil rests against the middle finger (see diagram). [Let eraser end of pencil fall back against knuckle.] There should be space between the thumb and index finger. The hand should be relaxed and the fingers extended. Practice multiple times with students as necessary. Students who struggle with pencil grip will be provided with pencil grippers (we recommend The Pencil Grip Crossover from The Pencil Grip, Inc.)

The arm should rest on the edge of the desk and be parallel to the slant of the paper. The wrist and arm are straight. The non-writing hand is used to keep the paper or workbook in the comfortable writing zone as necessary.

For this lesson the teacher will have chosen a sentence for students to copy from the board. Teachers in grades 3-6, and even in 7-12, may choose to begin each day with the exercise of copying a sentence from the board.

Pencil Grip

Motivating students to change 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

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.

The Three S’s

  • Size: The correct size for cursive is determined by the lined paper used in class. Some students have a tendency to write smaller and some larger than is consistent with the lines of their paper. Students should be required to write tall letters close but not touching the top line, and small letters close but not halfway to the middle of the line space. The goal is to make your writing as legible as possible as a courtesy to your reader.
  • Spacing: Spacing of letters within words and spacing between words is the second factor in developing legible cursive. Flowing, open letters are more readable than small, crowded letters. Consistent space between words makes for a more readable script than crowded words.
  • Slant: The cursive of beginning writers is usually vertical. Students should be encouraged to develop a more flowing, open, leftward slant, which results in more speed, fluidity, and beauty.

New American Cursive Font

New American Cursive Font

Other Cursive Capitals

Once you know how to write in a quick, legible cursive style, you can relax and enjoy the writing process. After you master a foundational cursive style, you can have fun developing your own individual style. Just don’t go overboard with embellishments though.

As Leonardo da Vinci once said, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication! The following letters will give you some ideas as you begin to develop your own unique style.

Penmanship Capital Letters

Penmanship Other Capital Letters


New American Cursive


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