Penmanship can vary so much between children, but there are so many options available that it's easy to adjust according to what a child needs. I have some children who likely have some level of dysgraphia, so we are constantly adjusting and encouraging, and often fussing about this...
Teach proper pencil grip from very early on. There are some pencil grips that can help with this, but many are more of a pain to use. Find something that you like and your child is comfortable with. Our favorites are these minis, and this homemade one. Instructions are in the comments at that link, but basically it's a potholder loop or piece of soft elastic connected to a piece of cording or yarn that holds a large bead. I have a couple children who grip too tightly so I like 30mm-45mm beads depending on their hand size and comfort. We have even found small rubber balls that are comfortable to hold, especially for older kids and adults.
|Tombow Mono Graph shaker pencil with lead lock|
Some kids need encouragement when it comes to pinching the pencil. They need to be reminded to pinch loosely and not so close to the tip. Observe and model! Supplying a beginning writer with fun writing tools makes penmanship more exciting. Hold off on fountain pens and mechanical pencils until they are better at controlling the pressure on the paper (bent nibs and broken lead). I don't like kids using ball point pens either, they encourage too much pressure. My favorite pen is a Pilot G-2. The 0.5 extra fine point is a great pen to encourage writing without pressing. These are nice mechanical pencils with a natural triangle shape and thicker lead. Once your child can control the pressure and write "like a feather brushing the page", a Pilot Kakuno is an excellent beginner pen. But any good pen will do! A Dr. Grip Shaker Pencil is fun for math time or times when a pencil is necessary. (We like to shop for pens and pencils and other fun things at jetpens.com)
We start formal instruction when a child demonstrates that they are ready. You'll notice they have more purpose with their drawings, the child can draw wobbly shapes, they may even start to copy letters. The first two they try to write are usually | and O. I like to let the child use simple tracing pages at that point, and try writing on lined paper if they can. I don't like wide lines, such as 1" lines. I have noticed that once a child can begin to form letters they naturally write smaller than that, and if they have to fill a large line, it's more like controlled drawing than writing. Don't go too small though, that's tricky too!
Have you noticed that a child looks at the character immediately to the left of what they are writing? If you have a page that shows a correctly formed letter then has a blank space, then repeats, they will write more legibly. Try to keep a letter to copy very visible so they don't get in the habit of copying the last letter they wrote.
|Fundanoodle Lowercase and Pilot Kakuno pen|
I start my kids with manuscript letters in preschool, uppercase then lowercase. Sometime during Kindergarten I've had them start cursive. You can tell they are ready when you notice loopy coloring, imitating cursive loops.
It's pretty amazing to see the cursive penmanship a kindergartner can produce! My youngest recently started learning cursive. After much deliberation, I bought Cheerful Cursive for her. I have been happy with how it gently introduces each letter then allows practice of words. The letters are taught in fun ways with helpful graphics and verbal cues. I've used different books for other children, and there are still others that interest me. We have Pentime 2 to use after we finish Cheerful Cursive. It has cursive and manuscript practice. We continue with books like these for as long as the child needs help with letter formation. We usually talk more about letter formation, but with cursive I like to tell the child to "watch the tiny triangles", the ones that form as the letters sit on the line. Observing those triangles helps more than other letter formation lectures.
Once a child learns how to form all the manuscript letters and can write short sentences, introduce copywork. You probably already have your child copy their name. Observe them as they copy, and ensure it is done perfectly. That means correct spelling, punctuation, spacing, and the best handwriting your child is capable of. This can continue for as long as the child needs, I have a child who did it until 7th grade. Eventually they can do copywork in manuscript or cursive.
Most of all, encourage frequently, and observe every little bit of progress! In a world where all they see is printed fonts it can be discouraging to not have perfect handwriting, but everyone has their own style and your child is developing theirs. Let them know it's okay to have their own style! Don't let them rely on texting and typing too much unless there is a physical need for it.
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