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Blog: Cursive writing, what you need to know

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Friday, 24 March, 2017

The teaching of handwriting, cursive or joined up writing can come later

We believe in a fully experiential, fascinating and motivating early years. 

The EYFS statutory framework (2017) does not specify anything about handwriting, cursive or joined up writing, nor do they mention the word itself. The Development Matters in the EYFS guidance covers writing (but not specifically handwriting or cursive and joined up writing) in both prime and specific learning areas of physical development and literacy but stresses that all learning is interconnected and learning must be developmentally appropriate for each child. 

There is much debate about how and when to teach handwriting and whether to introduce joined up cursive or partially cursive writing to young children as opposed to print. At Early Education we are strongly child-centred with a firm belief in what is developmentally right and appropriate for young children so we emphasise that writing, handwriting and its teaching should be developmentally appropriate and part of a carefully researched and thought out policy for consistency and agreement across the school to show how children's development is understood, supported and progressed.

For many of us in this organisation, fully cursive writing in the EYFS does not "feel" developmentally appropriate for a child, given all we believe about how children should learn in their early years. But it is necessary to be able to justify why. Here we present curriculum information to support your thinking to help you formulate an opinion. This is a summary of the content of the first of three pages on cursive writing that we have written. 

Early Education principles relating to writing and handwriting

Our Early Education principles steer our pedagogical beliefs about early learning. We believe effective early childhood education requires

  • a relevant curriculum and practitioners who understand and are able to implement the individual learning of each unique child.
  • practitioners across all early childhood education settings to understand that children develop rapidly - physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially - but at varying rates

early childhood education should

  • build on what children already know and can do. Babies and young children are individuals first, each with unique talents and abilities. Schedules and routines should acknowledge the child's needs. In order to meet the child's needs children should be observed to understand and respond to their current interests, stage of development and level of learning. 

and to be effective, those designing and delivering an early childhood education curriculum framework should understand

  • children's exploration through play reflects their wide ranging and varied interests and pre-occupations. In their play, children learn at their highest level. Play with their peers is an important aspect of their own development
  • children learn best through physical and intellectual challenges. Active learning involves other people, objects, ideas and events that engage and involve children for sustained periods 
  • when children have the opportunities to play with ideas in different situations and with a variety of resources, they discover connections and come to new and better understandings and ways of doing things. Adult support in this process enhances their ability to think critically and ask questions.

A rich and varied environment supports children's learning and development through experiences and activities that are challenging yet achievable. It gives children the confidence to explore and learn in safe and secure, yet challenging, indoor and outdoor spaces. 

Given our beliefs and values, we hold the opinon that handwriting in the early years is about developmental readiness, appropriate playful experiential experiences, acknowledging the unique child. it is not about getting children ready because of what is to come. It is to recognise the early years foundation stage in its own right.

What the EYFS says

The four guiding principles in the EYFS Statutory Framework (DfE April 2017) on page 4 state

  • every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured 
  • children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships 
  • children learn and develop well in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and/or carers 
  • children develop and learn in different ways.. and at different rates...

Statutory early learning goals 

  • Physical development (prime area) moving and handling: children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They move confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space. They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing
  • Literacy (specific area) writing: children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds. They also write some irregular common words. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible. (page 11)

On considering your practice and policy, these are the only parts specifically about writing in the statutory requirements that you must meet in your practice and setting. It is important to reflect on this when considering whether children are ready and if or when it is right to teach cursive or joined up writing. 

Development Matters in the EYFS

The non statutory guidance material in Development matters in the early years foundation stage (EYFS) written by Early Education clearly gives guidance "to help adults understand and support each individual child's development pathway". Writing is included in prime and specific areas of learning as follows but it must not be seen in isolation. It sits alongside, interconnected and incorporated within the Characteristics of efffective learning and the themes and principles of the EYFS as a whole. It states:

Children develop at their own rates, and in their own ways. The development statements and their order should not be taken as necessary steps for individual children.

They should not be used as checklists. The age/stage bands overlap because these are not fixed age boundaries but suggest a typical range of development. 

Physical development: moving and handling (pages 23-24)

30-50 months:

  • Holds pencil between thumb and two fingers, no longer using whole-hand grasp.
  • Holds pencil near point between first two fingers and thumb and uses it with good control. 
  • Can copy some letters, e.g. letters from their name. 

​40-60 months:

  • Shows a preference for a dominant hand. 
  • Begins to use anticlockwise movement and retrace vertical lines. 
  • Begins to form recognisable letters. 
  • Uses a pencil and holds it effectively to form recognisable letters, most of which are correctly formed. 

Early learning goal:

  • Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They move confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space. They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing. 

Literacy: writing (pages 30-31)

Birth to 26 months:

  • Children’s later writing is based on skills and understandings which they develop as babies and toddlers. Before they can write, they need to learn to use spoken language to communicate. Later they learn to write down the words they can say. (See the roots of Writing in Communication and language). 
  • Early mark-making is not the same as writing. It is a sensory and physical experience for babies and toddlers, which they do not yet connect to forming symbols which can communicate meaning. (See roots of mark-making and handwriting in Playing and exploring and Physical Development). 

22-36 months:

  • Distinguishes between the different marks they make. 

30-50 months:

  • Sometimes gives meaning to marks as they draw and paint. 
  • ​Ascribes meanings to marks that they see in different places. 

40-60 months:

  • Gives meaning to marks they make as they draw, write and paint.
  • Begins to break the flow of speech into words.
  • Continues a rhyming string.
  • Hears and says the initial sound in words.
  • Can segment the sounds in simple words and blend them together.
  • Links sounds to letters, naming and sounding the letters of the alphabet.
  • Uses some clearly identifable letters to communicate meaning, representing some sounds correctly and in sequence.
  • Writes own name and other things such as labels, captions.
  • Attempts to write short sentences in meaningful contexts.

Early Learning Goal

  • Children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds. They also write some irregular common words. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible. 

The EYFS material above provides a clear guide for the teaching of writing in the EYFS. There is nothing about joined-up handwriting. It is about acknowledging that children develop at their own rates, in their own ways. Some children will show an interest in writing, others will not be ready. There are endless ways to provide deeply rich opportunities for children to become confident writers and perhaps in time develop their handwriting skills.

These include: confidently holding a pencil after lots of gross motor play and coordination, practising making lots of large marks with mark making equipment, in the air or in dance or in climbing, providing examples of print and writing through adult modelling, labelling and display, modelling letter formation, having spatial awareness, experiencing lots of opportunity to talk and communicate, confidently listening to sounds and hearing sounds in words. So many aspects of learning and playing lead up to the skill of writing and handwriting. To talk about these in isolation is impossible. 

Teaching cursive or joined up handwriting is not part of the EYFS 

Joined up handwriting teaching in the EYFS is not part of the statutory curriculum nor EYFS guidance. Writing however, has to be considered alongide all learning areas of the EYFS through rich and varied excellent EYFS provision which covers every aspect interconnectedly. 

So here's to more movement, activity, motivation, storytelling, creating, innventing, excitement, enthusiasm, mark making, patterning, making connections, forming, investigation, exploring, experiencing....!

Handwriting terms used in this blog 

  • writing: the activity or skill of writing
  • handwriting: using a pen or pencil to write, a person's particular style of writing
  • cursive writing: has lead-ins (entry strokes or 'whooshes') before the letter and exit flicks after the letter
  • pre-cursive writing: has exit flicks only
  • joined up writing: joining all letters in a word together using the lead-ins and exit flicks, keeping pen or pencil on the page; can be a quicker form of writing (also called cursive joined or continuous cursive)
If you are an Early Education member you have free access to our 3 new pedagogic pages on cursive writing for more information, evidence, research and recommendations to support practice and pedagogy
  • part 1: cursive and joined up writing are not in the EYFS
  • part 2: cursive and joined up writing in the early years: more evidence against
  • part 3: cursive and joined up writing beyond the EYFS ELGs
If you are not a member, you can find out more about our membership here. 

Cathy Gunning is the Pedagogic Lead for Early Education. She is an accredited coach mentor with the Centre for Educational Leadership at the University of HertfordshireShe works part time for Early Education as well as being a part time nursery teacher and mum. She has previously been a primary teacher, early years coordinator and day nursery manager. Her pedagogy was nurtured and inspired during her time as an early years advisory teacher and whilst studying for a masters degree in early years education with care. Most recently she was a nursery school headteacher where she developed and led an integrated centre - including all year daycare and a children's centre - with an inspiring team for over 10 years. As a reflective practitioner and leader she enjoys continually learning about effective pedagogy in early education and refining her own through research, practice and collaborative conversation. 

You can follow Cathy on twitter.