The fashion for cursive writing comes and goes. Many years ago all children were taught to write in an elaborate cursive script, requiring many hours of weekly practice to perfect. Over the years as other subjects began to crowd out handwriting lessons in the school curriculum this gradually gave way to teaching a basic print style of handwriting (ball and stick). Many people now believe that keyboarding skills are more important than good handwriting. Others believe that even computer keyboards will soon be defunct with speech recognition software becoming more popular. However, many schools do still teach cursive writing. Traditionally schools teach children a simple print style of handwriting first, moving on to cursive at a later stage. This has the advantage that the initial letter shapes are less complex to write and most of them match the style of letters which children come across in their reading books. One disadvantage is that children spend many hours practicing one style of handwriting only to be told after two or three years that they now need to write in a completely different style. As any teacher or parent knows, it`s very hard to get children to `unlearn` well-established habits, whether it`s thumb-sucking or a writing style.
In the Waldorf approach writing is always taught before reading. The reason for this is that writing is a much more concrete, practical and less demanding activity. In writing (again) the whole being is involved. Ideally, the child begins with beeswax paper on the largest sheets of paper so the scale of the form can be fully (physically) experienced by the child. Also, when done very large the child can clearly differentiate between the straight lines and curves of the letters. In Waldorf schools the letters are taught by "drawing" them in the air, on the floor, by drawing, painting and modeling them... Each letter - each form must be "alive" to the child. This way also follows the natural development of civilization. The first writing was picture writing and writing as we know it today evolved very slowly and gradually out of picture consciousness. The little shapes of printed letters which we ADULTS use are completely foreign to young children! Also note that reading came much, much later - following the printing in Europe in the 15th century. As recently as 100 years ago relatively few people worldwide could read or write. So as you begin to think about it in this way, it really is quite "foreign" to our soul life and consciousness to effectively grasp or understand reading - at such a young age.
This is also why the introduction of letters is ALWAYS accompanied by certain form drawn - because the child sees and understands the picture. The young child lives in a world filled with imagination where animals can talk, fairies and witches live, and all kinds of wonderful things happen. When playing with a stick he sees it in turn as an aeroplane or a train, a man, etc. We must recognize the world of fantasy and use it in our teaching. The child will learn far more quickly and easily because he has not been forced to work in an adult way with concepts and facilities that have not yet matured, it will have a healthy influence on his later life. Drawing and writing between the lines is an adult concept. It may appear that the writing looks neat and all organized to us, but are we doing a service to the soul and will forces of our child? Are we allowing the child to fully experience the form of the letters? These are the questions we must ask ourselves.