The most common handwriting model in classrooms is verbonden schrift, a slanted continuous cursive with loops, though blokschrift, an unjoined simplified print script, has gained popularity. Teachers can choose either or both, based on their discretion.
Dutch education is governed by a series of bodies that operate under the Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschappen (OCW), or Ministry Education, Culture and Science. These are Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs (DUO), or Education Executive Agency, the Directie Primair Onderwijs, or Primary Education Directorate, and the Stichting Leerplan Ontwikkeling (SLO), or National Expertise Center for the Curriculum.
There are both public and private schools in the Netherlands. Public schools are run by the government, while private schools are independently managed and generally based on religious or ideological principles. Education starts with optional daycare, followed by primary school, then secondary school that can be vocational or focused on preparatory teaching for university, and finally higher education. Primary school has eight grades, locally known as groepen. Education is compulsory from Groep 2 until the age of sixteen.
The SLO publishes a series of texts and goals that define knowledge, skills and attitude objectives for each learning area. The last iteration was published in 2021. Schools use them as a framework on whose foundation they develop their own specific curricula and teaching methods. For the learning area of writing, the instructions go no further than students needing to achieve “legible writing”. No details are provided about the handwriting models that should be used for teaching, or the grades when this instruction should take place. In the absence of guidelines from the OCW, teachers depend on handwriting instruction systems developed by private publishers such as Zwijsen, Noordhoff Uitgevers and Malmberg.
Handwriting education commonly begins in Groep 3 after students have learned fine and gross motor skills in previous years. The most commonly used handwriting model in classrooms is verbonden schrift, a slanted continuous cursive with loops. However, teachers have increasingly opted for blokschrift, which features unjoined, simplified print letters. Some teachers choose to instruct in both models: one after another, together, or in a permutation that suits their students.
A brief history of handwriting models for instruction
In the Netherlands, a notable feature of handwriting instruction has been the coexistence of different teaching methods and styles since the early 20th century. The trend of using styles based on English Roundhand permeated into schools from the end of the 1800s. This generated local adaptations similar to those found in other European countries, such as those presented W. Hoogenboom and A.S. Moerman’s, De nieuwe lopende hand, and P.M.H. Welker’s De terugkeer tot de natuurlijke schrijfmethode. The letterforms in these books are slanted and narrow, with rather flourished shapes, and bear a striking resemblance to Copperplate script, which is closely associated with Roundhand.
The argument that slanted writing caused poor posture and childhood myopia triggered a reaction against Roundhand in the Netherlands, where it came to be replaced by upright, simplified handwriting models. These models, some with unjoined letters and others with connected ones, saw their golden age between 1920 and 1950. Van Gestel and van der Laan’s Het Nieuwe Schrift method and M.A. Schaly’s Verbonden Blokschrift were two prominent examples of this new style of handwriting. This style, however, didn’t exist exclusively. Other popular books such as P. Tazelaar, S.J. Matthijsse, and F. Evers’ Eerst duidelijk…dan snel offered both vertical and slanted cursive models.
The growing need for standardisation in this arena led to the formation of the Hoofdcommissie voor Normalisatie van Nederland (HCNN), or Main Committee for Standardization of Writing Education in the Netherlands, in the mid-1950s. In the 1959 extended version of the Dutch publication Naar beter handschrift or Towards better handwriting by Ben Engelhart, A.J. van Houwelingen Rijkhoek and J.A. Dortmond and the renowned calligrapher and type designer Chris Brand, pinpoints the main problems of the Verbonden Schrift: the big loops on ascenders and descenders and the mutilation of several letterforms. In the same book the Normschrift NEN 2296, developed by the commission in 1958, was introduced. The norm provided several variants of un-looped, modern italic letters of moderate slant that teachers could choose from, but was never fully implemented in primary schools.
Naar beter handschrift by Ben Engelhart, Chris Brand, A.J. van Houwelingen Rijkhoek and J.A. Dortmond, second edition 1959
In 2012, the OCW conducted a survey whose results confirmed that a variety of writing methods were used in schools, all of them from private publishers. Among the respondents, the Pennenstreken method by Zwijsen was the most frequently used with 37–45% of all teachers employing it, depending on the grade(s) they taught. Schrijven in de basisschool by Noordhoff Uitgevers was used by 19–24% educators, followed by the Schrijftaal by Zwijsen with 10–15%, and finally, the Handschrift by Malmberg with 5–12%.
Most of the systems that were popular in the OCW survey are still being published in 2023. They generally feature two types of slanted letters: a continuous cursive with loops and unjoined simplified print letters.