Canada

Update

13.10.2023

Students typically learn the print script, known locally as “manuscript” or “printing”, in first grade, followed by a slanted continuous cursive model in late second or third grade.

The education system in Canada is decentralised, and each province and territory is responsible for the funding, organisation and curriculum of its own public schools. Regional authorities also select, approve, purchase and distribute textbooks and other learning materials to schools. While education is generally compulsory from ages 6–7 to 16 years old, some provinces choose to make it mandatory from pre-school onwards, or extend it until students turn 18 years old.

There are two official languages: English and French. Most schools have English as the main language of instruction, however in most provinces and territories, it is possible to choose francophone or bilingual schools. In Quebec, the language of instruction in elementary school is French.

Sample of Zaner-Bloser style font. Schoolhouse Educational Handwriting Fonts, vLetter.

Handwriting education is usually a multi-stage process that begins in the first grade (6–7 years old). Students start with uppercase letters in print script style (locally known as “manuscript” or “printing”). Cursive writing is taught either in the late second grade (7–8 years old) or in the third grade (8–9 years old). The system closely resembles what is followed in many schools in the United States. Although the general practice is to teach both print script and cursive in Canada, this may vary by region, school or teacher.

During the 20th century, the advantages and disadvantages of teaching print script and cursive writing were hotly debated in Canada. Owing to issues of motor complexity and the cognitive load on students in learning two distinct styles, print script prevailed in most regions in the 1990s and cursive writing fell out of favour. Even today, writing is viewed largely from the perspective of text production and communication, and recommendations about letter shapes are limited to comments regarding legibility and character recognition. Consequently, curricula and related resources do not provide directions about using specific styles for handwriting instruction. In recent years, this state of affairs has come to be scrutinised by authorities and schools. There have been failing handwriting standards and a decline in the quality of written production by students. Since the 2010s, there has also been a global push towards cursive writing by neurocognition experts, and its strong influence continues to be felt in Canada. Consequently, some provinces have reinstated cursive writing.

In seven provinces — Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island — cursive writing is a mandatory requirement between third (8–9 years old) and sixth grades (11-12 years old). While in British Columbia, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador, teaching cursive writing is not mandatory, though teachers may choose to do so.

Sample of a typical school model of cursive letters in Ontario schools. Currie, A. B., 1981. Instruction in handwriting in Ontario schools (Educational Bulletin).

MacLean’s impact on handwriting education

MacLean’s Method of Writing is the traditional method of handwriting instruction in Canada. It was developed by educator Henry Boyver MacLean (1884–1976), between the 1920s and 1960s in Victoria. Building on letter shapes devised by Austin Norman Palmer (1860–1927) in the United States, MacLean introduced several adaptations to suit the needs of school instruction, such as modifications to teaching methods and addition of motor preparation exercises. By the 1960s, he also incorporated American print script style into his system to serve as the first letters introduced to students.

Sample of lowercase alphabets of Canada’s most used handwriting teaching method during the 20th century: The MacLean Method of Printing & Writing. MacLean, H.B.: The MacLean Method of Printing and Writing, Practice Compendium Number 2, 1965, p. 28.

MacLean’s approach was influential in the country until the end of the 20th century, and was at the time the official method for handwriting instruction in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and in English-speaking Catholic schools in Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia.

Even though his books have not been used in Canada for several years, the structure of the MacLean’s letter shapes — Palmer-based slanted, continuous cursive — survive in schoolbooks published by regional governments, such as those of Prince Edward, and private publishing houses. Consequently, they are widely used in the majority of Canadian primary schools.

References

  • Alberta – Ministry of Education [WWW Document], n.d. URL https://www.alberta.ca/education.aspx (accessed 7.6.22).

  • Bara, F., Morin, M.-F., 2013. Does the handwriting style learned in first grade determine the style used in the fourth and fifth grades and influence handwriting speed and quality? A comparison between French and Quebec children. Psychol. Schs. 50, 601–617. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.21691

  • Bara, F., Morin, M.-F., Montésinos-Gelet, I., Lavoie, N., 2011. Conceptions et pratiques en graphomotricité chez des enseignants de primaire en France et au Québec. Revue française de pédagogie. Recherches en éducation 41–56. https://doi.org/10.4000/rfp.3154

  • Currie, A.B., 1981. Instruction in handwriting in Ontario schools (Educational Bulletin). Ontario Ministry of Education : Ministry of Colleges and Universities : Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Toronto, Ontario.

  • Cuthbertson, S., 1998. H. B. MacLean’s Method of Writing. British Columbia Historical News – Journal of B. C. Historical Federation 32, 6–10.

  • Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2012. Guidelines for Handwriting Instruction: Printing and Cursive Kindergarten to Grade 6. Government of Prince Edward Island.

  • Elementary | Ministère de l’Éducation et Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur [WWW Document], n.d. URL http://www.education.gouv.qc.ca/en/teachers/quebec-education-program/elementary/ (accessed 7.08.22).

  • English Language Arts | Building Student Success – B.C. Curriculum [WWW Document], n.d. URL https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum/english-language-arts (accessed 7.09.22).

  • Government of Canada, 2021. Education in Canada: Elementary and secondary school [WWW Document]. Government of Canada. URL https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/new-immigrants/new-life-canada/education/types-school/elementary-secondary.html (accessed 7.4.22).

  • Mullaley, R., 2018. Some provinces don’t teach handwriting in schools but is it necessary? | SaltWire [WWW Document]. Saltwire – The Telegram. URL https://www.saltwire.com/cape-breton/lifestyles/some-provinces-dont-teach-handwriting-in-schools-but-is-it-necessary-240157/ (accessed 7.11.22).

  • Neilson, W., 2017. No longer part of the school curriculum, cursive writing still plays an important role, say proponents. The Observer, p6–7.

  • Ontario Ministry of Education, 2008. Trillium List | books approved for use in Ontario schools [WWW Document]. URL https://www.ontario.ca/page/trillium-list (accessed 7.13.22).

  • Robson, K.L., 2019. The Structure of Education in Canada.

  • Schoolhouse Educational Handwriting Fonts | vLetter, Inc. [WWW Document], n.d. . vLetter, Inc. URL https://www.vletter.com/schoolhouse-educational-handwriting-fonts.html (accessed 7.17.22).

  • The Conversation, 2019. Should we bring cursive writing back to schools? Macleans.ca. URL https://www.macleans.ca/opinion/should-we-bring-cursive-writing-back-to-schools/ (accessed 7.12.22).

  • Turnbull, D., 2015. Canadian Daily Cursive Writing Practice. Chalkboard Publishing Inc.

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