Cursive First is a “different” penmanship program in many ways.

It’s as much a method for teaching penmanship as it is a cursive program for beginning writers or transitioning students. Following are the ways it distinguishes itself from other programs available today.


Cursive books are typically for students in second or third grade, the time at which the transition from manuscript is taught. Cursive First can be used with the young Kindergarten or first grade child just learning to write his phonograms or with the older student transitioning to cursive.


Penmanship instruction is typically packaged in expensive consumable workbooks. Cursive First offers the teacher practice pages to copy for all of her students as many times as needed so that mastery of the letters and multiletter phonograms can be achieved. Teachers can use pages in the order presented or pull out sheets that meet the individual needs of a particular student. Some sheets will need to be duplicated more than once whereas others may not be used at all. Cursive First provides the teacher greater flexibility and cost-effectiveness.


Other manuals introduce the letters in alphabetical order, but knowing the alphabetical order is important for dictionary work, not for learning how to write them. In Cursive First, the letters are introduced according to the first strokes used to form the letter, thus reinforcing new motor patterns.


Many penmanship books amount to nothing more than copybooks with little or no instructions to guide the student or teacher. Libby noticed that instead of teaching handwriting skills, most workbooks use the instruction set known as “trace and write,” leaving the children to figure out the starting and stopping points of letters (Francis, 2000). Cursive First offers detailed instructions for the teacher to ensure that the student is properly taught the penmanship skills necessary to develop a fluent, neat, and legible cursive hand.


The prevailing practice with penmanship books is to teach capital letters on the same page as their lower-case partners. According to Romalda Spalding, the student needs to have learned the lower-case letters well before being introduced to the capital letters (Spalding, 1990). Hilde Mosse also warned, “The best way to teach writing from kindergarten on is to use one style of letters only” (Mosse, 1982). Capital letters are used much less frequently than their lower-case partners. Also, by delaying the teaching of capitals, we demonstrate to the child that English has rules which dictate where the capitals are required. The lower-case letters are introduced first in Cursive First, before capital letters are taught. The first capital the child is taught is the one that that starts his name.


Most penmanship books have page after page of beautifully illustrated practice sheets with very little space for actual writing practice. Kathy Libby says, “Perhaps large American educational publishers, those that provide expensive, beautiful, four-color practice books, ought to reevaluate the quality of their materials. I observe that the amount of actual practice per page is reduced by colorful cute pictures, robbing attention and space from the goal of developing fluent cursive” (Francis, 2000). Every practice page in Cursive First is completely dedicated to practicing penmanship without wasting paper or distracting young writers with busy pictures.


Penmanship publishers use wide-lined paper for Kindergartners and first graders with narrower lines for older students. Contrary to popular opinion, writing on larger spaced lines is harder for young children than writing on narrower lined paper. Larger lines require greater control of the writing instrument to maneuver the larger space and is more of a drawing than a writing activity (Spalding, 1990). Young children can use smaller lined paper and excel at it. The lines in Cursive First are 7/16″ (11 mm), narrower than usually found in writing paper for young children. The narrower lines also make these practice pages appropriate for all ages wanting to learn cursive penmanship.


A kindergarten student must not only master the skill of writing his letters and words, but he must also be a fluent writer of his numerals for arithmetic. The marking system used in Spell to Write and Read (SWR) incorporates numbers to indicate phonogram sounds and the spelling rules used within a word. The student is expected to write these soon after formal instruction in SWR has begun. Most penmanship workbooks ignore numerals, leaving that to the math workbooks to teach. The problem with this segregation of skills is that many of the same writing skills that help a child become fluent in his letters are also necessary for numerals. Cursive First includes instructions for teaching the young student how to write numerals along with beginning penmanship practice.


Cursive First was designed to coordinate specifically with the phonograms used in SWR and with the order of presentation for the multiletter phonograms found in the companion book The WISE Guide. This penmanship manual goes beyond teaching the letters of the alphabet to incorporate the practice of penmanship within the context of the 70 most common phonograms of the English language.


No other manuals for cursive incorporate the clockface as a directional teaching device. This crucial element of Spalding’s method for writing instruction was too valuable to lose. The clockface is used in Cursive First for writing the first six phonograms, several of the numerals, and as a reference point for many other letters.


Finally, unlike traditional copybooks, Cursive First includes a set of cards to assist the instructor in teaching the numerals and phonograms. The cards can be used within reading and spelling lessons to further reinforce the sound-symbol relationship.