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    How I Do Penmanship (Printing — Cursive — Copywork)

    June 3, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    Today, I’m going to describe for you how I do penmanship. I’ve been doing it this way for six or seven years, so there is a possibility that there is a newer, hipper way to do it. Maybe there is an app for that. Or something. At the end of the day, the best way to do penmanship — and by this I mean teaching our students to print and to write in cursive and doing copywork as well — is whatever way that you can actually execute with consistency.

    How I Do Penmanship

    Buy a Font

    I suppose if I had to choose my top tip it’d be to buy a font. Really, everything I do begins and ends with a font I bought years ago when my oldest was in Year One. I bought my font from Educational Fontware. Since I’m still using it after all these years, saying I got my money’s worth is a bit of an understatement.

    There is a huge selection. I chose Frank Schaeffer Style because it was close enough to how I actually write that I thought I could teach it without thinking too hard. (Remember, I was severely sleep deprived at the time, so this was a real concern.) If I write something in cursive and it looks different from what they have been taught, my girls question me, so having it be similar was important to me. I just knew these children would be like that!

    You may have other concerns when buying a font. For example, if your child is left-handed, or if you suspect dyslexia or dysgraphia, and so on. If you buy one, buy one that makes sense to you.

    (These were not affiliate links. I just really like my font!)

    Preliminary Worksheets

    After this, I begin with one letter at a time. We learn the capital and small letters at the same time in order to reinforce that they are two ways of denoting the same letter. I’ve had some little ones really question me on this. The whole idea reeks of injustice.

    Writing the letters on paper can be supplemented with writing them in the air, using a stick in the dirt, and so on.

    We do one letter per day, and then after we know a few I alternate learning new letters with a page that reviews a few of the ones we’ve already learned. My goal is to get them through the basics of the alphabet as soon as possible so that we can get on to the real thing: the writing of actual words.

    In fact, as soon as they know enough letters to write a few words, we do. We write simple words, like cat or Dad. No matter. We are really writing now!

    Copywork Worksheets

    After letter formation is mastered, we move to copywork worksheets. In the beginning, I select the passages that they copy, and I type them up using the same font I mentioned above. They might not finish a passage in a single day. That’s okay. Our goal is properly formed letters, properly spelled words, and proper punctuation, not a certain amount copied each day.

    At first, I figured out the amount of time a child can handle writing, and then after that I set a timer. Over the course of Year 1, we work up to where the child can write for 10 minutes at a time.

    Self-Selected Copywork

    Once the copywork is going well and the child can write the full 10 minutes, we move from copywork worksheets, where each line of text has a blank manuscript line below it, to copying from the text. I print out a blank page full of manuscript lines — my font has the option of creating these blank lines and what I like about this is that I can make them the exact size I think my students need — and they begin to choose their own passages and copy directly from a book to their pages, using a timer to make sure they do not write too long at any one time.

    Graduating to a Commonplace Book

    The above progression — from preliminary worksheets to copywork worksheets to self-selected worksheets — varies in how long it takes to get through. Some of my children moved through it quickly while it feels like others have taken forever. I considered teaching cursive first, or at the same time as printing, but practically it has played out that I teach printing fully and once they are doing self-selected copywork in print, then we begin the preliminary work for cursive.

    It is my hope that by the age of 11 or 12, the child has mastered printing as well as cursive and is doing all of his copywork in cursive. At this point, I buy the child a commonplace book — I really think 12 is a great age to start this — and now he begins to build the habit of commonplacing like an adult. He selects his own quotes and adds the reference information. Instead of throwing his copywork away, he keeps it as a treasured notebook.

    Edited to Add: Video Tutorial on Making Worksheets!

    Here are a couple resources mentioned in the video below:

    And here’s the video tutorial. Enjoy!

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  • Reply Alissa Dimov August 4, 2022 at 6:39 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this Brandy, both your method and your advice to purchase a font. I’m the opposite – looking for something that DOESN’T look like my handwriting – if you look at any of the Australian fonts, you’ll understand why! Two quick questions – did you use the contemporary or classic version of Frank Schaeffer Style? And, more significantly – how did this play out with boys???

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 6, 2022 at 10:07 am

      Hi Alissa! Now you have me doing an internet search for Australian fonts!! 😀

      I used classic, and it played out very well with 3 of my 4 children, and most especially my oldest son. With my youngest — who is also a boy — I really think the issue was me being too distracted by other students to watch him as well as I ought to have. So I finished up by having him do IEW’s Cursive Knowledge. I love the fonts, and I loved the freedom it gave me, but the IEW Cursive really is quite good! In the end, all the children can read and write in cursive, so that’s something. 🙂

      • Reply Alissa August 8, 2022 at 6:27 am

        Thanks Brandy for your reply!
        Educational Fontware has the main Australian fonts – I grew up in New South Wales, and was only “allowed” to do loops on my running-writing, as it was called, because I was moving to Victoria the following year. Thankfully I was homeschooled from then on and developed my own style.
        I’ve been using Worksheet Works to make custom sheets, and am already seeing an improvement. My oldest was writing a capital A – even in the middle of words – but now is writing perfectly formed a’s. After using an off-the-shelf program for about 2 years, I can see why you love the freedom of designing your own.
        Thanks again for all your help!

  • Reply Elizabeth Clause June 24, 2020 at 11:52 am

    I have been handwriting out my eldest’s cursive copywork and my husband said, “You have to find an easier way. This is so much work for you.” I just came across this and using the Getty-Dubay Italic Cursive font from Fontware has not only made copywork prep easier, and digital (and thus more permanent than those newsprint pages I was using), but my daughter’s handwriting has improved! I’m not sure why, since my examples were cleanly written in Getty-Dubay / “A New Handwriting For Teachers” style, but I’ll take it!

  • Reply Dovey January 1, 2018 at 6:01 pm

    Brandy, am I missing the video tutorial? It’s not appearing on my page, so I was wondering if the problem was on my end.


    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 1, 2018 at 6:16 pm

      Huh. I don’t know how that broke, but I was able to fix it. You should be able to watch now! 🙂 Sorry for the inconvenience.

      • Reply Dovey January 2, 2018 at 5:59 pm

        Thank you!

  • Reply Annie April 29, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Hi Brandy – I appreciate your blog and find myself bookmarking lots of posts! I saved this post awhile back and am just now sitting down in prep for the start of our year (which starts mid-May for us). So as far as the cursive font you purchased goes….do the cursive letters magically connect, regardless of the preceding letter? I have an inexpensive learn-to-write cursive font I purchased for copywork and just tested it out. Sometimes by chance the letters flow smoothly since they have similar starting and ending points (e.g., “sad”)…other times the letters within a word are extremely disjointed as stand-alone cursive letters (e.g., “fox”). Are the higher-end purchased fonts smarter than the one I have? Or am I asking too much from a font?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 1, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      This font comes with a script called “link letter” or something like that. So, what I do is I type up the whole passage I’m using. After that, I cut it, run LinkLetter, and then paste it back into the document. It only takes a couple seconds. Everything is linked exactly as it ought to be when I paste it back in. I think the reason for the script is because the basic cursive fonts can’t really be taught to do it to this level of precision … too many variables.

      • Reply Annie May 2, 2017 at 11:58 am

        Thanks for the clarification! Glad to know some pixie dust is needed (and provided).

  • Reply Toni December 15, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    This tip may be helpful to someone digging through the archives – KG (Kimberly Gesswein) Primary Penmanship is a nice manuscript font, and it’s free. There’s also a lined version. I haven’t looked for cursive yet, but I am sure there is something out there.

  • Reply Tasmanian June 10, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    I was directed here by Seven Quick Takes from June 10 2016. I was anxious about how copywork was going in our home, and had specifically asked God to help me. This felt ridiculous, like asking for a parking spot, but I knew God has asked us to call on Him when anxious, and I am overjoyed that I could find this post this morning. I am working through the word-by-word concept and not sure exactly how I can make this work, as well as untidyness from one child due to her not wanting to take care in her work. It’s my first year in AO with AO3, AO2 and two AO0s. I have already had a few “aha” moments since reading and rereading this post (and forming my comments) so thank you.

  • Reply Catie June 16, 2015 at 11:24 am

    I’ve mentioned this on the AO Forum, but at what age do you start? The problem I’m running into is that my children start “writing” at around age 4 (as all children do I’m sure) but they’re writing how they want to, which is usually incorrectly, obviously. Meaning, they might not start their “A” at the bottom left, go up, back down, etc.

    So when I begin teaching letter formation, the child is actually having to re-learn how to “correctly” write each letter. My oldest got frustrated and bored very quickly doing that! I’ve now switched to just writing a word, having her copy it and as long as the letters look like mine (or close to) I’m ok with it, regardless of how she got there.

    I feel like if I start NOW with my 4yo, I might be able to nip that in the bud. But then I’ve heard a lot of people say that that’s too young–they don’t have the dexterity yet and it’s not good for them to start too early. *sigh* Your thoughts?

    (sorry this is so wordy!)

    • Reply Laurie Hawley June 16, 2015 at 8:14 pm

      The Handwriting Without Tears program starts with a Pre-K program which is great for 4 year olds and very developmentally appropriate.

      • Reply Catie June 21, 2015 at 1:34 pm

        Thank you, Laurie! 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 21, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      Catie, Sorry I didn’t see this comment before! Sigh. I never know exactly what to do with them when they want to write that young. I have always ignored it, with varying levels of success. Some of them really struggled to transition to proper hold of the pencil and proper letter formation, and others didn’t. I would go with your gut on this one. I will say that I have been able to teach all of them {so far — my 6yo starts writing lessons in a couple months} eventually, it’s just that some resisted more than others.

      • Reply Catie June 22, 2015 at 6:24 am

        No problem, Brandy! I know you’re a busy lady! 🙂

        Thanks for the advice. I think I might try the HWT with my 4-almost-5 year old. I’d like to nip the bad habits in the bud! 🙂 It’s not easy teaching my 6yo to re-learn letter formation and I’m not even sure it matters at this point? I’d rather start out right and risk my 4yo not being ready, than let her write ‘however’ for the next 2 years, you know? 🙂

        Thanks again!

        • Reply Brandy Vencel June 22, 2015 at 6:54 am

          That totally makes sense, Catie!

  • Reply Danielle June 7, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Hi Brandy-
    I am trying to get ready for homeschooling and love this post but am confused. I bought a font, as you suggested, but realized that there isn’t a way to create blank lines AND use the font as well… seems like all the font is good for is just typing an example. Am I missing something or do you just use the font for creating sample pages and your kids have blank handwriting pages??
    Thanks in advance for your help!!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 8, 2015 at 6:01 am

      Hmmm…There should be a way to do both!

      There are probably a couple ways to do this, but the easiest way I have found is to be writing using the font that has the manuscript lines around it and then use Shift+\ (don’t push plus, I just mean you push the two other keys at the same time) to make blank spaces. I often put a blank line in between each text line to start and then later move to a page that is text at the top and manuscript at the bottom.

      You can let me know if the Shift+\ works for you, because if not I will dig a little deeper!

  • Reply Karen @ The Simply Blog June 4, 2015 at 5:31 am

    We started with Handwriting w/out Tears. It was a good program to start with for my youngest. Then she moved to copywork. I’ve been doing like you, Brandy, and having her slowly build up to 10 minutes. We just work at it in very slow increments, 1 minute at a time. I’ll increase by 1 minute and we’ll stay at that time for awhile…then increase another minute and stay at that time for awhile, etc. She is finishing up first grade this year and she is doing well with her handwriting. She has expressed an interest in cursive writing. So we may begin working on that soon.

  • Reply Herbwifemama June 3, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    This has all the simplicity and elegance of someone who has lots of experience and is comfortable with the method. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Reply Laurie Hawley June 3, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    For anyone who has a child for whom fine motor skills are particularly challenging, I recommend starting with the Handwriting Without Tears program. They have pre-k – 5th grade materials. They have workshops around the country several times per year and their workshops are very good and practical and the registration fee comes with one set of the materials (perfect for someone who is homeschooling!). Their programs and materials are used by many Occupational Therapists. I have had great success using their program with both of my boys who have poor/delayed fine motor skills (my oldest who has Down syndrome and my second son who is typically developing but weak fine motor skills).

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 3, 2015 at 5:02 pm

      I have heard nothing but good things about Handwriting Without Tears! Thank you for sharing your recommendation, Laurie. 🙂 ♥

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