Should we promote starting letters from the top or the line?

An attendee at the Early Childhood conference in Edmonton this week asked the following question and I thought it was a good one to share:

My observations of children printing is that they often start from the line, not at the top as we want them to do. Do they do that because the line is a good/easy reference/starting point? I wonder why we want them to start at the top? And by the time they do handwriting, most letters start from the line. Why are we insisting that they start from the line?

Here is my response:

Good question – and you are right, I think they do start from the bottom because often there is just one line and they use that as a visual reference. I often find, when they start at the bottom, their pencil tends to just keep going – probably because, if there isn’t a top line, they don’t know where to stop – they tend to swipe their line, rather than start and stop in a controlled way.

I like my students to start at the top – it especially makes a difference for the ‘down, back up and around letters’ – r, n, m. h, b and p. For example, when they start ‘r’ from the bottom, they end up going right up into the curve and then sticking a little line on afterward up at the top. I encourage the use of ‘continuous stroke’ letters – their pencil doesn’t stop until the letter is finished. Starting at the top facilitates that. One of the tricks I use to get them to start at the top and come down is to say “put the pencil on the paper and come down to your tummy’. Their tummy is usually right around desktop level and so they put their pencil on the paper and come down toward their tummy. They think this is kind of funny, too!!

In my presentation, we got into a discussion on cursive. While it is still being taught, it was generally agreed that in another generation or two, cursive may have gone the way of the dinosaur, especially with the way people are so reliant on using technology for their written communication. When I stop to think about it, I can’t remember the last time I’ve used my formal cursive writing skills.

Let me know your thoughts on this!!