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Handwriting Without Tears Review by Heather Jackowitz

8001 MacArthur Blvd.
Cabin John, MD 20818
(301) 263-2700
Jan Z. Olsen
(301) 983-8409

In response to numerous requests for preschool materials, Handwriting Without Tears has created a developmentally appropriate readiness program. Really a pre-writing program, these materials will give your young child a strong start in letters and numbers through songs, hands-on activities, and crayon-only workbook exercises designed to develop the necessary motor skills for later writing.

The upbeat Get Set for School Sing Along CD offers twenty-four songs performed by award winning musicians Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer. Simply listening to and singing along with these songs, children will be exposed to the alphabet, correct crayon grip, number concepts up to ten, and familiar childhood classics such as "Skip to My Lou" and "Down on Grandpa's Farm." Happily, the CD includes the original Handwriting Without Tears song called "Where Do You Start Your Letters?" This fun song has been an immense help in preventing or correcting my children's natural tendency to start all their letters on the bottom line.

The Wood Pieces Set for Capital Letters introduces children to the lines and curves that make capital letters and numbers. Working without paper and pencil, children build letters and numbers with these pieces. There are enough big lines, little lines, big curves, and little curves for two children (or one parent and one child) to work simultaneously on the complete alphabet. In the beginning, use the Capital Letter Cards for Wood Pieces as guides for making all the capital letters and numbers. Each line or curve on the cardstock guides is numbered in the order in which they are written so children learn the proper stroke sequence. Once children know how to make each letter, they can practice on the HWT Mat for Wood Pieces, a blue foam pad with a yellow happy face in the "starting corner" to prevent reversals.

Some parents may wonder why Handwriting Without Tears starts with capital letters in preschool and kindergarten when lower case letters are used more often in reading and writing. One reason is easier discrimination (consider B, D, and P versus b, d, and p). Another reason is that all capital letters begin at the top, while lower case letters start in many different places. From my personal experience using the HWT program with four children, I can confirm that learning capitals first in no way hindered my children's progress in reading or writing.

A fun new preschool product is the new Roll-A-Dough Letters, a 4 x 6 inch plastic tray with laminated capital letter and number cards. The tray has the HWT trademark "starting corner" happy face, a wonderful tool to prevent reversals. I found the HWT play dough a little dry, like typical store bought dough. You need pliable snakes to form the letters, so I recommend making your own dough so it is not crumbly. (My favorite recipe uses cream of tartar. See

Without a doubt, our family's favorite HWT item was the Stamp and See Screen, a 4 x 6 inch magnetic screen, like a miniature MagnaDoodle. However, this fabulous learning toy has the HWT "starting corner" happy face, four magnet pieces (big line, little line, big curve, little curve) and a chalk-sized magnet piece for writing.

Finally, the HWT Slate Chalkboard, a 4 x 6 inch slate chalkboard complete with "starting corner" happy face, provides a transition to writing with a pencil and paper. While this is a very nice quality chalkboard, I find chalk messy and cannot tolerate the chilling effect of the scraping sound! However, the HWT "wet-dry-try" method is based on the use of the chalkboard, so you might want to try this inexpensive tool.

The Get Set for School student workbook is a crayon-only workbook full of coloring activities designed to develop fine motor skills; grip; and color, shape, and line discrimination. Children learn to use proper crayon grip to make curves and vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines. Each letter has a double-page spread with a fun coloring activity on one side and practice tracing the capital letter on the right side. For example, on the left side of the V page, there is a drawing of children riding down a roller coaster which turns sharply upward at the bottom (like a V). After coloring this page (and practicing the diagonal lines necessary to make a V, your student traces four large gray V's and then colors a picture of a van. For you phonics purists out there, each letter is illustrated with its most common sound (i.e. short vowels, hard G and C), except for X (xylophone). The workbook also includes number concepts up to ten, with practice writing numbers one through five. Especially fun and clever are the songs and coloring pages using legs to count by 2's: two legs (birds), four legs (animals), six legs (insects), and eight legs (spiders).

The Pre-Kindergarten Teacher's Guide provides excellent teaching ideas and problem solving strategies. I highly recommend reading and understanding the philosophy behind this gentle approach to writing.

I have used Handwriting Without Tears materials with four children, and I have few complaints. I do not care for their cursive materials, nor do I use their special double line paper. (My children do better with a top line; otherwise, their letters are too tall.) Visit to see their full line of materials and samples of the handwriting style. Some of their products are designed for large classrooms of children, but most are well suited to homeschooling, and these products are very reasonably priced.

-- Product review by Heather Jackowitz, The Old Schoolhouse®, LLC, December, 2005

Handwriting Without Tears®

By Jan Z. Olsen
(301) 983-8409

If you want a handwriting curriculum that will teach your child to write neatly and legibly, you need to seriously consider using Handwriting Without Tearsâ„¢ (HWT). Jan Z. Olsen, an occupational therapist, has developed a marvelous handwriting curriculum that is fun, effective, and inexpensive. As the name suggests, gone are the frustrating and tearful handwriting lessons. Goodbye handwriting headaches and hello happy handwriting! HWT teaches neat and simple letter formation using a vertical style for printing and cursive. You won't find balls, sticks, or monkey tails here. The teacher's guides contain complete lesson plans for each letter of the alphabet, are thorough, helpful, and full of suggestions to ensure the success of the student. The HWT website is available 24/7 for additional teacher instructions (it also contains answers to common questions). HWT is not a curriculum you just hand over to your child. Each lesson requires five to 15 minutes of instruction, which is a very small investment for a lifetime of neat handwriting. HWT is designed for kindergarten through fourth grades, but is appropriate for older students. HWT is available in Spanish, as well.

WOW! I am really excited about HWT and wish I had know about it seven years ago. I have looked at many (and I mean many) handwriting programs and this is absolutely the best program I have ever seen. HWT is very well suited for left-handed or learning disabled students. The workbooks are not cluttered with distracting, cutesy pictures and are laid out so that a left-handed student will be able to copy letters and numbers just as easily as a right-handed student. Try Handwriting Without Tearsâ„¢. I am sure you will love it. To learn more about HWT, or to purchase it online, go to or call (301) 983-8409.

-- Product Review by: Tina Rice, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine