thoughts on handwriting: why i (mostly) like getty-dubay (with significant tweaking)

When my oldest began obsessively filling page after page of scrap paper with wobbly, ill-formed letters the year he was four, I suddenly realized that I would have to teach handwriting.

When I learned handwriting, I learned the ball-and-stick method.  I think everyone I knew learned the ball-and-stick method—it was the way to go back in the day.  And there’s nothing wrong with ball-and-stick writing: it’s simple and it’s readable.  It’s just not especially lovely or efficient.

The other well-known handwriting is the nearly-ubiquitous D’Nealian; it’s taught in every school in which I taught as well as in the school of seemingly every child whose parents post work on Facebook.  I have a problem with D’Nealian, though.  Well, maybe more than one.  First of all, it looks really dopey to have those curly tails off all your letters.  I know the theory behind it—making it simple to join letters into cursive later—but that doesn’t make it right to do in print.  And there’s a second problem: the name.  Perhaps you are a fan of superfluous apostrophes—and if so, I apologize—but in my opinion, apostrophes are used for possessives and contractions.  This business of inserting apostrophes randomly in names makes me about as enthused as unique alternate spellings like “Jooleeyah”.  It’s just poor English.  I can’t select a handwriting method that so egregiously mangles a simple piece of punctuation in its very name.

Can you tell I didn’t seriously consider D’Nealian?

I did do quite a bit of research into different methods, though.  Folks raved about Handwriting Without Tears, and the simplicity of the strokes and the adorability of Mat Man were pretty appealing.  Whilst I continued pondering, I made my own big and small curves and big and small straight lines and let the kids make letters and designs and go wild with those.  But I’m an aesthetic gal, and I didn’t love the look of the Handwriting Without Tears style.

I considered going straight to cursive, which is touted as having various benefits…but though folks said it was simple for kids to learn, it sure didn’t look simple to me.  After looking into several different methods, I couldn’t find an affordable option that looked like it would work for my kids.

In all this looking, I somehow ran across Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting.  At first glance, I knew it was what I wanted.  Why?  Well, for one, it looks an awful lot like my handwriting, an efficient hybrid of cursive and print strokes developed after years of training in both methods.  For another, it’s both neat and attractive—a solid and respectable beginning for one’s handwriting journey.  After some more extensive agony (because what purchase would be complete without an equal ratio of dollars to hours spent agonizing?), I purchased Getty-Dubay Book A.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t love at first sight; I found a few things wrong with the arrangement of the book.  Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay deemed it best to begin with lower case letters.  While I’m sure they had excellent reasons for this choice, it quickly became evident that their progression of lower case letters was not working for my kids.  Sure, “i” was an easy beginning, and “l” was no trouble.  But the curve of “j” was a doozy for us, and “k” just kicked our rears.  At the sight of tears during handwriting time, I knew I had to make some changes.  So I went against the recommendation and started with capital letters.

Unfortunately, Getty and Dubay failed to organize the capital letters in any logical stroke-learning sequence, instead choosing to include them on the back side of their corresponding lower case letter.  This left me browsing the sequence of other handwriting books and leaning on my own logic to create a progression for upper case letters.  Upper case letter practice worked vastly better for us, gradually building our skills and confidence.

There was another problem, as well.  For some inane reason, Getty-Dubay includes a word at the bottom of each page.  Inane?  Yes, because the word included is not limited to the letters which a child has learned.  Thus, on the very first page (“i”), kids are supposed to write “igloo” before having been taught any letter except “i”.  This seemed utterly nonsensical to me, so I once again changed things up.  Until we had mastered the entire alphabet (capital and lower case), we skipped all the bottom-of-page words.  Then, after we knew all our upper- and lower-case letters, we went back through and practiced the words at the bottom of each page.

After all this finagling, it hardly seemed worth it to have the Getty-Dubay book.  After all, I started with capital letters instead of lower case, made my own capital letter sequence, and skipped all the words until the end.  If you ask me, the book was poorly organized…but I do so love the font.  The alternative is to buy the font and recreate the worksheets myself.  After some recent agonizing, I’ve decided that my time is worth enough that I’m willing to buy another book when my third child is ready to begin handwriting—but this time I’ve got my sequence prepared.

In case you, too, love the Getty-Dubay font but want to tweak the order things are presented, here’s what I did:

F (page 34)
E (page 37)
D (page 43)
B (page 40)
P (page 39)
R (page 47)
T (page 33)
I (page 58)
L (page 56)
H (page 50)
A (page 44)
U (page 46)
V (page 54)
W (page 53)
Y (page 45)
N (page 48)
M (page 49)
O (page 38)
Q (page 41)
C (page 36)
G (page 42)
Z (page 51)
X (page 52)
J (page 57)
K (page 55)
S (page 35)

We followed those with numbers, lower case letters, and review pages all in the order presented before diving into the words at the bottoms of the pages.  After that, Book B was no trouble at all, usable for solidifying handwriting skills with no tweaking necessary.  Here’s hoping that someone else in the world will find this information somehow useful.


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