Does starting with cursive lead to confusion in reading?

A recent email from a parent voiced a question we hear frequently from customers wondering about starting with cursive.

'I really want to teach my almost 5-year-old cursive first, but I’m worried about confusing him when I’ll be teaching him to read using print-face. I purchased your Foundations curriculum to teach him cursive and am looking for readers written in cursive but haven’t found any as of yet. Has anyone else brought up this concern and do you happen to know of a solution so I can reinforce cursive while teaching reading?'

--Judy K., Connecticut

Yes, this is definitely a question we’ve thought about!

In fact, students have to learn to recognize multiple appearances of a phonogram from the beginning to be able to read successfully no matter what handwriting style you teach; not only is any handwritten text different from book print (consider a, g, and t, for example), but bookface print fonts vary greatly as well.

We’ve found it most effective to teach students about this head-on, rather than try to temporarily shield them from it. Lesson 5 of Foundations A is a good example of this. Consider the following page from the student workbook and accompanying instruction from the teacher's manual:

Students also discuss any differences between the bookface and cursive letter each time they learn a new phonogram in Foundations A.

While cursive is a bit more different from bookface than manuscript writing, once you discuss the connector stroke (which Foundations does) the differences are not much greater than between other font styles in most cases. So while it’s possible that the visual recognition of the handwritten letter might come slightly faster with manuscript for some students, we have not found it to be a problem for students learning cursive.

It’s extremely beneficial to teach students to read and to write the phonograms simultaneously because writing is the natural kinesthetic experience of the printed letters. Students should hear the sound of a phonogram, see how it looks in writing, and feel how to write the letter from beginning to end. They should also say the sound of the phonogram themselves. This way, they learn the phonogram through hearing, seeing, saying, and doing. The fact that cursive is less fine-motor intensive and more stroke-based makes it especially effective for this purpose, particularly when teaching young children with developing fine-motor skills. We have concluded that the benefits of cursive for young kids are numerous enough that they clearly outweigh the slight increase, if any, in the time needed to recognize the handwritten and printed forms of the letters. In our experience students have learned to recognize the two appearances of the letters just fine starting with cursive - and more than that, they thrive!

It takes practice for the recognition of the written and printed phonograms to become automatic, of course, and this is why we included so many games and activities in which students need to recognize or match both. They are also practicing recognizing the written phonogram every time they write it, every time they see you write it during Spelling Dictation or other activities, and again every time they critique their handwritten version and compare it with the tactile card (which they do often in Foundations lessons).

So - to sum up, our experience is that students do beautifully learning to read bookface and write cursive at the same time. Incidentally, this is how written English was taught through most of our language’s history, and cursive is still taught first, with students reading bookface, in many other languages today.

Learn More

On the Logic of English Blog:
On the LOE YouTube channel: