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What level should I purchase to begin using the Peterson Method with my child?

This page is intended to answer one of the most frequent questions received from parents who want to help a child who struggles with handwriting. The question is, "Which level should I purchase to begin using Peterson movement-based instruction with my child?" There are several things you should consider.

If you are home schooling you may have tried a program or two without much success. If your child is in school but struggling with handwriting, you can make a big difference by tutoring at home. A search for alternatives has lead you to Peterson Directed Handwriting, but you are faced with a dilemma because our program is developmentally organized and our kits are grade level specific. If the information below stimulates more questions, or you have a unique situation to address, please contact us by phone or email. Rest assurred, we want to help.

Consideration One

The long term goal of handwriting instruction should be to develop an ability to put thoughts on paper easily and at a rate that is practical for communication. That means fluency is one major goal. It is not helpful if the writing cannot be read later or by others. This simple fact presents the second major goal - legibility.

To develop skills for fluent legibility, we are faced with a motor training challenge. We want to teach the child how to move using the fluent kind of movement and to control the movements so that the result is readable.

Both of these objectives relate to your decision. First you must decide between print writing and cursive. We teach both of course, beginning with print and progressing to italic (slant print) and then to cursive. This progression is due to the fact that the curriculum in most schools follows this progression. We believe, based upon decades of observation and very recent motor science, that cursive should be your eventual goal. There are motor development reasons for the sequence of learning in our curriculum. That complete sequence is addressed in every cursive level.

The best approach to improving fluency with either print or cursive should target the gross motor level first. This means that the student should master control of the target movement sequence by writing at a large size then working to reduce the output size to a practical level. The gross motor system shares recorded information readily between various muscle groups. The good guidance information stored at the gross level will be shared with the fine system as practice occurs.

If you employ the Peterson directed lessons strategy, including all four steps in your instruction and in the student learning, you need not start an older cursive student with second grade materials and progress through the grade levels. You can do the gross-to-fine training with the advanced cursive level materials.

If your student is at the third or fourth grade level, you can jump in with that level. If your student is an adult, you can use the advanced cursive level. All four cursive levels begin with simple basic strokes, develop patterns for letters and provide opportunity to apply the letters patterns in words.

If you feel you must improve print writing skills with an older child, you would likely do best to use the grade one Teacher Handbook. Recognize however, that fluent application with print should result in forward slant of the product. Once the older student learns to hold the paper in good writing position, and the pencil in a grip that will allow fluent lateral movement, the print letters should slant forward. Forward slant is a side effect resulting from good position with improved rhythm and lateral movement. An older student should be able to generate text for sentences easily (lateral movement), so progress should be much more rapid than the lesson time line in the teacher handbook. Follow the sequence, but use mastery to guide the rate of progression through the lessons. In this case I would recommend the Grade One Teacher Handbook for the lesson sequence, and the Print Step Three E-workbook instead of the grade one student text.

Consideration Two

Once you begin to include fluent movement as a goal, you will discover that position skills are very important. It makes sense that movement control would relate to the position of the writing arm and hand relative to the image area on the paper. It makes sense that the fluent, sliding movement needed to compose a sentence will be retarded by a tight, cramped grip on the pen or pencil. It really doesn't matter if the writer is printing or writing in cursive. Poor position habits result in less fluency and less control causing legibility problems.

Test your own position habits with this simple activity.

Use a piece of paper with lines. You will write a simple sentence using print or cursive - your preference. However, you must write with your eyes closed. Touch your pen or pencil, close your eyes and then write this sentence. "I love to read and write." When you open your eyes consider the following observations.

When your eyes are closed your motor system must handle movement control alone. Your arm moves sideways naturally in the direction that is actually determined by its position on the table. You placed the paper for writing without thinking about it - a perceptual habit.

How does your habit affect the outcome? Did your sentence travel up hill or down off the baseline which would have been the target for alignment if your eyes were open? Letter spacing, relative size and slope are all qualities of legibility. How did your motor system do with those process skills? If your spacing or size left something to be desired, maybe your pencil grip makes lateral movement harder to control by increasing the friction factor between your hand and the page. Perhaps you roll your wrist outward putting the edge of your palm on the paper.

If you wrote uphill or down, consider the effect of your paper/arm position habit on fluent composition. With eyes open you would be trying to align the writing with the ruling on the page. Yet your arm would really like to move in another direction. It is pretty easy to see that fluency and legibility would suffer as a result. It would have been far better to learn good habits from the beginning. It is not easy to change those habits once established. It takes consistent, cognitive effort to work on new position skills until new habits can be formed.

Consideration Three

The need to work for improvement of position skills can be handled with any movement goal - print or cursive. However, cursive allows more rhythmic flow and requires lateral movement for joining. It offers help that you might not recognize. Working to meet the challenge of cursive movement control stimulates the necessary adjustments to allow the movement. It should mean that the student is more likely to adjust a poor grip or less than desirable paper position in order to overcome the movement challenge.

It makes sense therefore, that a successful effort to improve movement control for cursive, will result in improvement of print writing as well. If your student has learned print writing but has not been very successful in terms of applied legibility, learning how to control movement for cursive will likely transfer to an extent for automatic application using print. And, the challenge offered by cursive will result in other changes - changes that affect processing of written language in all applications.

In January of 2007 a small filler article appeared on page 18 of the Reader's Digest. The unnamed author stated some statistics from the fall round of SAT tests. Of teens taking the test, only 15% used cursive to write the essay now required. It was also noted that the 15% using cursive achieved higher scores than the 85% who did not have the skills to use it.

Handwriting lessons should be about fluency. That is a different goal than artistic production of calligraphy or perfect vertical lettering on mechanical drawings. Handwriting skills are enabling when taught for the right purpose because of the impact on sequencing and processing. Despite what is said, or simply left implied, in many workbook programs; pencil grip, paper holding and sitting posture are important for fluent legibility.


If you are working one-on-one or with a small group of two or three, you will be able to make more rapid progress than our daily lesson plan outlines. That teaching sequence is designed for a classroom teacher with twenty or more children. Because you will be able to monitor and coach position skills and movement process more closely, your students should be able to progress faster. Use mastery as your guide. When the student has mastered both large and small control of rhythmic movement for the target form, move on to the next challenge.

I mention this for good reason. You may be ready for the next level sooner than you think. Given minimum shipping costs, it might be a good idea to plan ahead and get the next level at the outset.

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