By the mid-1700's, there were special schools established to teach handwriting techniques, or penmanship. Master penmen were employed to copy official documents such as land deeds, birth and marriage certificates, military commissions, and other legal documents. Timothy Matlack was commissioned to write the final copy of the Declaration of Independence, and Jacob Shallus penned the final copy of the Constitution of the United States of America.
John Jenkins was the first teacher, in the late 1700's, to break down the strokes used for writing letters into 6 basic strokes. In the early 1800's, a man named Platt Rogers Spencer developed a system to teach very elegant script writing, known as Spencerian Script, which became popular in the late 1800's, thanks to the efforts of his sons. The Palmer method was developed in the late 1800's and replaced the Spencerian method in the early 1900's. The Zaner method (later Zaner-Bloser) started about the same time as the Palmer method, and also rose in popularity.
There have been many methods, or schools of thought, used to teach good penmanship over the years. Most handwriting methods and published materials today look very much like the Zaner-Bloser method, one of the oldest methods used in elementary schools the United States. There are very subtle differences between letter forms and some strokes on the letters, but these are not significant enough to affect students' writing. Some methods reflect more stylized writing, like upright cursive letters, or flat connections between cursive letters.
In the late 1800's, Charles Zaner founded the Zanerian College of Penmanship, and later sold part interest to Elmer Bloser. Together, they founded the Zaner-Bloser Company, and created materials to be used in teaching good penmanship as part of a general education. In 1904, they published the Zaner Method of Arm Movement, developed especially for elementary-aged children. The Zaner-Bloser style is one of the main styles of handwriting taught to children in U.S. schools today.
The Zaner-Bloser method starts children with learning to write simple, printed letters that are straight up and down and the page. The letters consist of vertical lines, horizontal lines, and circles, so children write basic "sticks" and "circles" to form the letters. The method also includes cursive letter forms for older children to learn cursive, or connected, writing. See examples of the Zaner-Bloser handwriting style.
A newer method of teaching penmanship was developed in the mid-1970's by Donald Neal Thurber, called D'Nealian style. It uses slanted letters to teach printing, to help children transition more easily to cursive writing. It is also believed that the slanted letters help to eliminate dyslexia. This has also become a popular method taught in U.S. schools. See examples of the D'Nealian handwriting style.
There is an ongoing debate about whether slanted printed letters are better for children, or if they actually inhibit children's ability to learn to read as well as write. Younger children can more easily recognize and draw letters that are vertically oriented, as opposed to slanted, and vertical letters are also used in children's books for reading. You can learn more here.
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