The choice between teaching students a cursive versus foundation font in the junior primary is still a very controversial question within Australian schools and within the research.
The Australian curriculum recommends teaching children in Foundation through Year 2 to write with an unjoined print script. In Year 3 students transition to a joined handwriting style. PLD would support this approach of using a foundation font from Kindergarten to Year 2 and then to focus on a cursive font thereafter.
Fine Motor Perspective
Although there is still some debate regarding the fine motor skills involved in print and cursive styles, the research and many Occupational Therapists agree that cursive requires greater motor coordination and complexity of letter formation. With print (such as foundation font) each letter is isolated, it’s shape stable and the pen lifts between letters allow planning time, whereas cursive is more difficult to master (Poudou, 2018; Bara & Morin, 2013). Occupational Therapists explain that a cursive tick (that is the final aspect of letter formation in cursive fonts) is quite a mature controlled movement and often an inappropriate expectation for young students. What you will frequently observe is young students finishing letters with a large or elongated tick, rather than finishing letter formation with a small and controlled tick. You will also observe students forming the letter and then after taking their pencil off the page adding the cursive tick onto the end of letters in a secondary movement. Hence from an occupational therapy point of view, cursive font introduced in the early years will often challenge students, often impacting their posture and pencil grip.
Most text and educational support resources students’ encounter will use a form of print (foundation font). From a literacy point of view, when cursive font is focused upon in the junior years we are presenting young students with a reading font (typically a foundation font) and a spelling/writing font (a cursive font). This adds a level of complexity for students, particularly when dealing with certain letters (e.g. p, r, b etc). In addition, the most recent research suggests cursive is much harder for dyslexic students as it is more complex. Because each letter connects, students have to not only form the letter but consider what letter is coming next so they can join them correctly.
Speed and Automaticity of Writing
The ultimate goal in teaching handwriting is for students to automate their handwriting so they can write with speed and accuracy and focus on the task of sharing their ideas through written composition. The research is inconclusive and much of the research is reluctant to recommend one style of handwriting over another. However recent studies of older primary students have shown a mixed style of print and cursive is faster and equally legible as either cursive or print (Bara & Morin, 2013). As Bara and Morin (p.614) concluded, students will eventually develop their own style often combining letters from different writing styles and perhaps teachers should not “insist on a strict adherence to a particular model.” Professor of Education Psychology at the University of Washington, Virginia Berninger suggests “evidence supports teaching both formats of handwriting and then letting each student choose which works best for him or her” (2012, p.31).
PLD’s position is always to suggest a foundation font in Kindergarten to Year 2 and thereafter a cursive font.
Bara, F. & Morin, M. (2013). Does the Handwriting Style Learned in First Grade Determine the Style Used in the Fourth and Fifth Grades and Influence Handwriting Speed and Quality? A Comparison between French and Quebec Children. Psychology in the Schools, 50(6), 601-617.
Berninger, V. W. (2012). Strengthening the Mind’s Eye. The Case for Continued Handwriting Instruction in the 21st Century. Principal. May/June, 28-31.