Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) is a handwriting curriculum designed to build letter formation skills and techniques. Each level is meant to last one year of school, and includes a consumable student book ($7) and a teacher’s manual ($12). The teacher’s book is not required, but comes with valuable information on teaching, extra activities, and an online code for bonus materials. There are also plenty of manipulatives you can buy, all of varying degrees of usefulness.
HWT does do a good job of introducing letter shapes and formation in the pre-K and K levels. Wood pieces are used to build capital letters, showing the students that all the letters are made of the same basic pieces. I opted not to purchase the wood pieces, but instead made my own out of tag board from a provided template. These worked well, but I’m sure the wood pieces would have been much more fun. Lower case, like upper case are taught not in alphabetical order but in families based on shape. For instance, magic c lower case letters are all made with a c shape and include c, o, g, a, d. This organization is actually pretty clever, and helps practice certain shapes over and over, improving all the letters of the same family.
After the kindergarten level, letter formation is reinforced, but not taught. Instead, the focus shifts to forming words and sentences. The letters are quickly reviewed, then each letter has a page of text to copy where the words feature that letter heavily. Starting at third grade, you can introduce cursive using Cursive Without Tears.
With a code from your teacher’s manual, you can access a host of additional activities to fill out the year (the student book doesn’t last a full year of daily use). These are handy, even though I only use about 1/2 of them, I find them rounding out our year nicely. After a year, all that access goes away though. I’m making sure to download everything for student number 2. There is no way I’m buying another license. Also online is a testing tool designed to be used three times a year. This is actually an extremely helpful tool. A test is given to the student, then graded using multiple criteria. The scores get recorded with the online tool, and a report of how the student is doing is generated. The report tells you where the benchmark is for each aspect, so you can determine which aspects the student needs the most focus on.
With all the extras and online licenses, this program can get expensive fast. HWT is designed for a classroom setting, not a homeschool setting. Adaptation is easy, but the cost of investing in all the extra teaching materials doesn’t make sense for a homeschool budget at all. If you can get creative and do without, adapt other materials, and make your own materials, it is possible.
As amazing as this program is, my oldest is still having trouble with handwriting. I doubt the fault lies with HWT. This is just his difficult subject, and he needs to work hard to keep up. His reversals have gotten better after implementing this program (especially with the letter and number stories that teach tricks to keep things straight). We will continue to use this program, but we will continue to do it as cheaply as possible.
Pros: Quality program, teacher’s manual offers lots of helpful tips, very good at correcting reversals
Cons: With extras the program can be insanely expensive, online resources expire after a year