Handwriting Without Tears is – hands down – my favorite handwriting curriculum for little people. It’s a manuscript-style (as opposed to cursive) program that specializes in reducing all pen strokes to two basic shapes: straight lines and curves. I find this reductionist approach simplifies handwriting for little learners and makes it approachable.
If you want to read more about the HWT philosophy – which really is extremely well thought out and quite excellent – see their website. I love that the program is simple, easy to understand, approachable, consistent, affordable, and FUN.
Rather than telling you WHY the philosophy is good, I’d rather spend my time telling you HOW we used it and saved money…
There are also MOUNTAINS of hands-on manipulatives you can get for Handwriting Without Tears (HWT), from fancy ones you buy (like this magnetic set with doodle pad combo) to simple solutions you can make yourself, like playdough, to an app on your tablet.
Handwriting Without Tears: Book 1
The very first book is the green Get Set For School: My First School Book. The book covers all capital letters and numbers – and it’s PERFECT for the child who has no experience using a crayon or pencil. You begin by practicing your aim, tracing bugs, coloring objects, and doing other pre-writing exercises.
HWT’s method is to always start at the TOP (or, as the app calls it: The Starting Corner). The first letter you learn is L: a big line down and then a little line across. It should be noted that they begin with all the Top-Left-Starting Letters: L, F, E, H. Personally, I appreciate how they build on letters and skills, rather than going alphabetically.
Practicing The Letters
There are a BUNCH of ways to practice these letters:
- You can print worksheets off their main webpage.
- You can practice on the HWT app, which my kids LOVE.
- You can roll the shapes using play dough (see example).
- You can form the letters using large shapes and cue cards.
- You can form letters using wiki stix and instruction cards.
- You can stamp it out on magnetic doodle pads.
- You can use a slate and their famous Wet-Dry-Try method.
This video just shows the Wet part… First you make the letter with chalk on a slate, then trace over it with a Wet sponge (cut it down into small squares). Then you take a paper towel and trace over again to Dry it. Then you Try it again… so you’ll make the letter multiple times in a row.
You can learn more about Wet-Dry-Try here.
Saving Money with Handwriting Without Tears
There are some great ways to save money using HWT.
The books themselves are ~$15, depending where you purchase them. (I’ve ordered from Amazon and from Rainbow Resource.)
We personally did buy the slate, little chalks, and little sponges. I know you can get cheap slates at Target or even Dollar Tree, but we decided to get the HWT slate just for ease. And I got the little chalks and sponges because… well, just because. You can most certainly create your own — you can get economical chalk here, for example, or bulk slates.
I loved the idea of the wooden lines and curves for kids to make their own letters. But there was NO WAY I could afford the set. So I did a simple internet search and stumbled across this template to make my own pieces out of thick 6mm foam. I was pretty stoked about this! I also laminated a colored piece of cardstock and let the kids put a sticker in the upper left corner to represent the starting corner to give them a mat to assemble the pieces. This has been perfect for younger siblings to play and be entertained with them.
We did eventually buy the HWT laminated placecards because my then-2yo REALLY wanted to do school like his big sister and this made him extremely happy for 45 minutes whenever we pulled it out (hallelujah). I bought these used.
HWT comes with a separate teacher manual that you can purchase. It is somewhat helpful, but the book is fairly self-explanatory.
We also bought the HWT app and my kids LOVE it.
How We Used Handwriting Without Tears
Handwriting is a daily activity in our home.
We worked on 1-2 new letters a week. I went with mastery to let me know it was okay to move on: can the child remember what this letter looked like? And can they make it on their own?
Since we only learned 1-2 letters in the Green book per week, that left time to rotate through the other activities to reinforce letter formation and identification. So, for our family, the manipulatives were well-worth the investment.
Handwriting Without Tears: Book 2
The second book in the series is orange and called Letters and Numbers For Me. It introduces lower case numbers and writing on two lines (as opposed to simply writing in boxes). After a review of capital letters, this book continues the same Big Line, Little Line, Big Curve, Little Curve method of writing to make lower case letters.
We found that we didn’t need to do as many manipulatives with this book – the joy of writing had already been “caught” thanks to all the fun of the first book.
What We Do Next
Once we finish the Orange book, we don’t go on to the next HWT book. Rather, we switch to copywork that reflects whatever is going on in our lives. And to be honest, I’m not even sure I would do the HWT Cursive books (their cursive just looks… odd to me). But for a foundational manuscript writing program – I have to say I am absolutely pleased.
If your kiddo needs more guided practice, we have used this book for fantastic letter tracing and guided practice.