Cursive and joined-up writing in the EYFS

Content published on 24.3.17 – not updated with references to the EYFS 2021 although the principles still apply

Is joined up or cursive writing in the EYFS appropriate?

There is much debate about how and when to teach handwriting and whether to introduce joined up cursive or partially cursive writing to young children as opposed to print. The teaching of handwriting style is different to the teaching of writing, which is about the formation of letters and using them to make words and sentences. 

At Early Education we are strongly child-centred with a firm belief in what is developmentally right and appropriate for young children so we emphasise that writing, handwriting and its teaching should be developmentally appropriate and part of a carefully researched and thought out policy for consistency and agreement across the school to show how children’s development is understood, supported and progressed. For many of us in this organisation, fully cursive writing in the EYFS does not “feel” developmentally appropriate for a child, given all we believe about how children should learn in their early years. But it is necessary to be able to justify why. This page sets out information to support your thinking to help you present an opinion. 

On this page we have researched writing and handwriting in the EYFS. The links are to help inform your practice, formulate your thinking and support your reflections so that you come to your own personal or team pedagogy on early writing and how to teach it.

We hope that many of you working in the EYFS will be able to use this page to help your practice. You might be arguing to keep play in the EYFS, others of you might be presenting your case against the teaching of handwriting in the EYFS, or you might be looking at how you can accommodate the early years into your school handwriting policy. Whatever your role or position, we hope that this helps. 

Meanings of terms used in these pages

  • writing: the activity or skill of writing
  • handwriting: using a pen or pencil to write, a person’s particular style of writing
  • cursive writing: has lead-ins (entry strokes or ‘whooshes’) before the letter and exit flicks after the letter
  • pre-cursive writing: has exit flicks only
  • joined up writing: joining all letters in a word together using the lead-ins and exit flicks, keeping pen or pencil on the page; can be a quicker form of writing (also called cursive joined or continuous cursive)

Early education principles relating to writing and handwriting

Our Early Education principles steer our pedagogical beliefs about early learning. We believe effective early childhood education requires

  • a relevant curriculum and practitioners who understand and are able to implement the individual learning of each unique child.
  • practitioners across all early childhood education settings to understand that children develop rapidly – physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially – but at varying rates

early childhood education should

  • build on what children already know and can do. Babies and young children are individuals first, each with unique talents and abilities. Schedules and routines should acknowledge the child’s needs. In order to meet the child’s needs children should be observed to understand and respond to their current interests, stage of development and level of learning. 

and to be effective, those designing and delivering an early childhood education curriculum framework should understand

  • children’s exploration through play reflects their wide ranging and varied interests and pre-occupations. In their play, children learn at their highest level. Play with their peers is an important aspect of their own development
  • children learn best through physical and intellectual challenges. Active learning involves other people, objects, ideas and events that engage and involve children for sustained periods 
  • when children have the opportunities to play with ideas in different situations and with a variety of resources, they discover connections and come to new and better understandings and ways of doing things. Adult support in this process enhances their ability to think critically and ask questions.

A rich and varied environment supports children’s learning and development through experiences and activities that are challenging yet achievable. It gives children the confidence to explore and learn in safe and secure, yet challenging, indoor and outdoor spaces. 

Given our beliefs and values, we hold the opinon that handwriting in the early years is about developmental readiness, appropriate playful experiential experiences, acknowledging the unique child. it is not about getting children ready because of what is to come. It is to recognise the early years foundation stage in its own right and to apply it. 

What the EYFS says

The four guiding principles in the EYFS Statutory Framework (DfE April 2017) on page 4 states:

  • every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured 
  • children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships 
  • children learn and develop well in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and/or carers 
  • children develop and learn in different ways.. and at different rates…

Statutory early learning goals 

  • Physical development (prime area) moving and handling: children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They move confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space. They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing
  • Literacy (specific area) writing: children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds. They also write some irregular common words. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible. (page 11)

On considering your practice and policy, these are the only parts specifically about writing and joined up writing in the statutory requirements that you must meet in your practice and setting. It is important to reflect on this when considering whether children are ready and if or when it is right to teach handwriting. 

Development Matters in the EYFS

The non statutory guidance material in Development matters in the early years foundation stage (EYFS) written by Early Education clearly gives guidance “to help adults understand and support each individual child’s development pathway”. Writing and handwriting is included in prime and specific areas of learning as follows but must not be seen in isolation. They sit alongside, interconnected and incorporated within the Characteristics of efffective learning and the themes and principles of the EYFS as a whole. It states:

Children develop at their own rates, and in their own ways. The development statements and their order should not be taken as necessary steps for individual children.

They should not be used as checklists. The age/stage bands overlap because these are not fixed age boundaries but suggest a typical range of development. 

Physical development: moving and handling (pages 23-24)

30-50 months:

  • Holds pencil between thumb and two fingers, no longer using whole-hand grasp.
  • Holds pencil near point between first two fingers and thumb and uses it with good control. 
  • Can copy some letters, e.g. letters from their name. 

​40-60 months:

  • Shows a preference for a dominant hand. 
  • Begins to use anticlockwise movement and retrace vertical lines. 
  • Begins to form recognisable letters. 
  • Uses a pencil and holds it effectively to form recognisable letters, most of which are correctly formed. 

Early learning goal:

  • Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They move confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space. They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing. 

Literacy: writing (pages 30-31)

Birth to 26 months:

  • Children’s later writing is based on skills and understandings which they develop as babies and toddlers. Before they can write, they need to learn to use spoken language to communicate. Later they learn to write down the words they can say. (See the roots of Writing in Communication and language). 
  • Early mark-making is not the same as writing. It is a sensory and physical experience for babies and toddlers, which they do not yet connect to forming symbols which can communicate meaning. (See roots of mark-making and handwriting in Playing and exploring and Physical Development). 

22-36 months:

  • Distinguishes between the different marks they make. 

30-50 months:

  • Sometimes gives meaning to marks as they draw and paint. 
  • ​Ascribes meanings to marks that they see in different places. 

40-60 months:

  • Gives meaning to marks they make as they draw, write and paint.
  • Begins to break the flow of speech into words.
  • Continues a rhyming string.
  • Hears and says the initial sound in words.
  • Can segment the sounds in simple words and blend them together.
  • Links sounds to letters, naming and sounding the letters of the alphabet.
  • Uses some clearly identifable letters to communicate meaning, representing some sounds correctly and in sequence.
  • Writes own name and other things such as labels, captions.
  • Attempts to write short sentences in meaningful contexts.

Early Learning Goal

  • Children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds. They also write some irregular common words. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible. 

This provides a clear guide for the teaching of writing in the EYFS. There is NOTHING about joined-up handwriting SPECIFICALLY. It is about acknowledging that children develop at their own rates, in their own ways. Some children will show an interest in writing, others will not be ready. There are endless ways to provide deeply rich opportunities for children to become confident writers and perhaps in time develop their handwriting skills. These include: confidently holding a pencil after lots of gross motor play and coordination, practising making lots of large marks with mark making equipment, in the air or in dance or in climbing, providing examples of print and writing through adult modelling, labelling and display, modelling letter formation, having spatial awareness, experiencing lots of opportunity to talk and communicate, confidently listening to sounds and hearing sounds in words. So many aspects of learning and playing lead up to the skill of writing and handwriting. To talk about these in isolation is impossible. 

Teaching cursive or joined up handwriting is not part of the EYFS 

Joined up handwriting teaching in the EYFS is not part of the statutory curriculum nor EYFS guidance. Writing however, has to be considered alongide all learning areas of the EYFS through rich and varied excellent EYFS provision which covers every aspect interconnectedly. 

Many of our Early Education Associates give specific training on all aspects of these skills and areas. Some have specialisms in writing, physical development and movement, speaking and listening. Julie Cigman, one of our Associates who is a specialist on boys’ writing makes these excellent points when reflecting about the specific teaching of cursive and joined up handwriting in the EYFS:

  • It places the emphasis on transcriptional writing over compositional, and the finish product is prioritised over the process of “becoming a writer”
  • It puts too much pressure on children too young, especially children who don’t have the fine motor skills to form conventional letter shapes
  • It’s very hard for children to read their own writing, so children can’t make the link between reading and writing
  • Handwriting has to be taught in adult-focused sessions, taking time away from child-led learning
  • What’s the rush? We don’t stop children crawling because they’ll have to “unlearn” crawling when they start to walk. Becoming a writer is a developmental process, from mark making to conventional writing and spelling