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.
Dotted letters are very effective for handwriting practice too. You can buy handwriting practice books but they won`t be personalized for your child so you may want to consider getting a dotted font for your computer. Make sure you get the same style as your child is using at school to avoid making handwriting more complicated for them! It`s easy to install a font on your computer and then you will be able to create name cards or type out a little story your child tells you. Once printed out the child can trace over the dotted letters. Probably the most important point is to supervise children closely whenever they are writing. That way parents and teachers can ensure that the child has a good tripod pencil grip for control. Supervision should also ensure that children start each letter in the right place and move the pencil in the right direction. Getting the letter formation correct is much more important than neatness in the early stages. If children get into the habit of starting a letter in the wrong place or moving in the wrong direction, for example drawing the letter o in a clockwise direction instead of anti-clockwise, these habits will easily become ingrained and very hard to correct later.
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.