Why Do You Start (Uppercase) Letters at the Top? Speed and Accuracy

Another week, another second-grader showing me how he writes uppercase letters starting on the baseline.  You don’t have to use Handwriting Without Tears to use correct start and sequencing of strokes; no standard letter style starts uppercase letters on the baseline.  For a reason.  It is harder to achieve good control of your fingers in that direction, so letters written from the bottom are written more slowly or/and with less control.  It isn’t a visual or a perceptual issue.  It is how our hands work best and fastest.

Adults can write letters neatly with a bottom-start.  We have years of practice and good muscle control.  We could write them backward and they would still be legible.  In fact, some preschoolers have shown me that their teacher has instructed them to make an “A” by starting on the baseline, making a diagonal line up, and then another diagonal down.  Cross it in the middle, and there is their “A”, made just like a mountain.  It looks pretty good, and they are so proud to be able to do a challenging letter at 4.

There is a reason that the letter “A” is late in the developmentally-oriented sequence of teaching in Handwriting Without Tears.  Connecting diagonal lines is tough.  Kids need to be good at connecting horizontal and vertical lines first, well practiced in the skill of controlling their fingers to make accurate strokes.  By starting teaching in the beginning of the alphabet instead of looking at the developmental demands of handwriting, this “mountain style” is the easy, maybe the only way, to teach a 4 year-old to write an “A”.  As if getting early skills rather than good skills is the goal.

It can also doom them to having trouble writing the finely controlled lowercase letters next. Sometimes you have to put in the time to build skills, not run for the easy end-product.

I am teaching a class for preschool and kindergarten teachers next month.  You know that this will be one of the topics I cover.  Let’s start kids off with good skills.  They count on us to make things easier for them!

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