Cursive Handwriting Letter Families

cursive letter families

This post is a comprehensive resource on cursive handwriting letter families. Did you know that teaching cursive letters in a series of similar letters can be helpful for kids who are just learning letter formation? Using groups of letters that are formed similarly makes them a letter family. So, when we use the motor plan required to form a cursive letter, we can help learners retain and use that cursive formation appropriately for legible cursive writing. Let’s break down cursive letter families!

What are Letter Families

Letter families are related letters. Just like a family, letter families contain similar traits. These similarities might include the same starting point when forming a letter, similar lines that make up the letter, or other traits that make the letters easy to group. Letter families might include these traits:

  • Same starting point
  • Same initial pencil movement
  • Same connecting lines or ending pencil strokes
  • Similar movements within the letter, like bumps, slants, re-trace, etc.

When it comes to cursive letter families, this is a powerful teaching technique because we can break down the task of learning all uppercase and lower case cursive letters as we break down the task into chunks.

Teaching cursive letters in chunks can be helpful because many cursive letters are similar in formation either in starting lines or with components. Consider a lower case cursive letter “i”. The way the beginning line curves up and stops is similar to the start of a lower case cursive letter “t”.  

Letters like m, n, v, x, y, and z all start with a bump curve that starts from the baseline and curves up in an arch toward the middle line. 

Letters like e, l, h, b, f, and k all start with a loop.   

There are similarities in upper and lowercase cursive letters that indicate a need to teach letters in an order that takes cursive letter families into account.

Why use letter families to teach cursive

Cursive families and grouping letters by lines is an occupational therapy strategy that uses motor planning, muscle memory, and fine motor development to impact legible cursive writing.

Tricks to help with teaching cursive handwriting can make all the difference when it comes to carryover and legibility. Below, you will find information about teaching cursive handwriting and letters that are similar and should be taught together in groups for ease of learning.

You’ll discover more about cursive letter families below as well as more cursive writing strategies and tools here and in the How to Teach Cursive Writing series.

You can find all of the tips and strategies for teaching cursive handwriting under the handwriting tab up above.

Cursive letters fit into families because there are similarities in how letters are formed that can help kids learn to write in cursive.

 
 

Lowercase Cursive Letter Families

Lowercase cursive handwriting letter families are broken down by the writing strokes that start the letter. We’ve broken these letter groups into these types of starting strokes:
  1. Wave Letters
  2. Spike Letters
  3. Loop Letters
  4. Bump Letters
  5. Slant Letters
  6. Tow Truck Letters (based on the ending strokes or connecting strokes)

You can see that when we break cursive letters down into groups, it makes it easier for learners to learn and carryover the motor plan to form the letter because the letters that start similarly use the same small muscle movements.

Wave Letter Family

Wave letters are lowercase cursive letters that curve up from the baseline with a curve that follows the outside and left side of a circle. The curve traces back on itself to create a curve shape. Read here about specific strategies to teach Wave Letters.

Wave letters include lowercase cursive: c, a, d, g, q, and o.

 

Spike Letter Family 

Spike Letters are are lowercase cursive letters that curve up from the baseline with an inverted curve that follows the underside and right side of a circle. The curve traces back on itself for the strait portion of the letter, but then pulls away to either continue with additional components of the letter or to connect to subsequent letters. 
 
Spike letters include lowercase cursive: i, t, u, w, p, and j.
 

Loop Letter Family

Loop letters are lowercase cursive letters that begin with a loop from the baseline. These can be easy to learn at first : cursive e and cursive f are simple motor plans. But, the remaining loop letters contain re-traced lines, inverted lines that move back toward the middle line and then in the opposite direction (cursive k), and multi-loops (cursive f). 
 
Loop letters include: e, l, h b, k, and f.
 

Bump Letter Family

 
Bump letters are lowercase cursive letters that start from the baseline with a low curve on a 45 degree angle that peaks with a curved “bump” at the middle line.
 
Bump letters include: n, m, v, x, y, and z.
 

Slant Letter Family

Slant letters are lowercase cursive letters that start from the baseline and slant at a 45 degree angle without a curved portion at the direction change. 
 
Slant letters include: s and r.
 

Tow Truck Letter Family

Tow truck letters use terminology from the Handwriting Without Tears program and refers to the way the letter connects to another letter.
 
Another way to distinguish cursive letters even further is to identify tow truck letters. This term uses a verbal prompt from the Learning Without Tears handwriting program which identifies letters with a high connection point. The “tow truck letters” connect to subsequent letters in a word with a connector at the middle line rather than the baseline.
 
Tow Truck Letters include: o, v, w, and b.
 

Uppercase Cursive Letter Families

Upper case cursive letters can be hard to learn. Why? Because uppercase letters are not often used, especially as often as their lowercase relatives. An uppercase K may not be used often and it is easy to forget which way to make the starting lines or the mid-loops. 
 
We’ll break down uppercase cursive letters into groups, just like we did with the lowercase letters. 
 
Uppercase cursive letter families are broken down by starting point.
 

Right Curve Start Upper Case Cursive Letters

Right-Start Letters are uppercase cursive letters that start at the top line with a counter clockwise (or right curve) motion from the top line down to the baseline. 
 
Right Curve Start Letters include: A, C, O, Q, and E (Uppercase cursive letter E starts with a right curve to the middle line.)
 

Rocker Start Upper Case Cursive Letters

Rocker-Start uppercase cursive letters are those upper case letters that start with a small rocker motion to the top line.
 
Rocker start letters include: B, R, P, and L. 
 

Down Stroke Start Letters

Down-Stroke upper case cursive letters are uppercase cursive letters that start at the top line and move down.
 
Down stroke start letters include: D, T, F, U, Y, V, and W.
 

Left Loop Start Letters

Left-Loop start letters are uppercase cursive letters that begin with a small loop start at the top left side of the letter. 
 
Left loop start letters include: H, K, M, N, X, and W.
 

Slant Start Upper Case Cursive Letters

Slant start cursive are uppercase cursive letters that start at the baseline and slant up to the top line at a 45 degree angle. 
 
Slant start letters include: G and S.
 

Left Curve Up Start Cursive Upper Case

Left Curve Up start letters are uppercase cursive letters start at the baseline and curve up to the left side. They start of the opposite side than the rest of the upper case cursives. This can be a difficult start for some learners, especially if these letters are not used often.
 
Left curve up start letters include: I and J.
 

Other Upper Case Cursive

Uppercase cursive letter Z doesn’t seem to fit into any of these categories! That is to say: all of these cursive letter starts depend on the font. Occupational therapy practitioners tend to teach simple writing strokes to reduce the motor plan and to improve carryover. So, it is possible to group Z into another group, including the Slant Start Letters or Left Loop Start Letters.

 
 

What order to teach cursive Letter families?

When it comes down to it, having a specific order of uppercase and lowercase cursive letters doesn’t matter hugely. It is much more important to teach letters in their family chunks for ease. That being said, you do need to start somewhere when it comes to starting to teach cursive letters. So where to begin?

It’s also a great idea to teach letters that are similar in look or formation to their printed counterpart.  

There are so many different cursive letter curriculum out there without a clear letter sequence so it’s truly up to the instructor. Consider the benefits of teaching cursive letters in their letter family clusters. Here is one list of recommended cursive letter order for ease of instruction.    

For explicit instruction, use the suggested order to teach cursive letters listed on this handout.

How to Teach Cursive Families

Teach Cursive Letter Families with Picture Frames!

This post contains affiliate links.


Use the cursive letter order descriptions to create family photos like we did. Use these in the classroom to teach kids about how the letters are related in formation. We used just a few items to create family photos for cursive letters:

To make teaching cursive with a cursive letter family fun and “stick” try this memorable activity.

Cut the cardstock to fit the frames. Add a small piece of tape to keep the cardstock in place. Write the groups of cursive letters on the cardstock. Fit the paper into the frames.

Use these frames to teach common cursive letter families. Place them on desks or tables in the classroom or home and refer to cursive families during instruction.

Cursive letters fit into families because there are similarities in how letters are formed that can help kids learn to write in cursive.

  Need help with the underlying skills needed for handwriting? Start here on our Handwriting resources page.  

The Handwriting Book is a comprehensive resource created by experienced pediatric OTs and PTs.

The Handwriting Book covers everything you need to know about handwriting, guided by development and focused on function. This digital resource is is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support handwriting development in kids.

The Handwriting Book breaks down the functional skill of handwriting into developmental areas. These include developmental progression of pre-writing strokes, fine motor skills, gross motor development, sensory considerations, and visual perceptual skills. Each section includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas.

  • Strategies to address letter and number formation and reversals
  • Ideas for combining handwriting and play
  • Activities to practice handwriting skills at home
  • Tips and strategies for the reluctant writer
  • Tips to improve pencil grip
  • Tips for sizing, spacing, and alignment with overall improved legibility

Click here to grab your copy of The Handwriting Book today.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Valentine’s day activity sheet

valentine's day activity sheets

In today’s free printable the Valentine’s Day Activity Sheet, all the Valentine stuff is certainly mixed up!  This set of Valentines pencil control scanning worksheets combines visual motor and visual perceptual skills in several different PDF forms to delight and entertain even the most picky learner! Add this resource to your Valentine’s Day occupational therapy activities.

Valentine's Day activity sheets to work on visual perceptual skills

Valentine’s Day Activity Sheet

Add this hearts and roses worksheet to your therapy line-up. This is such a fun time of year to add creative resources like the Valentine activity sheet described below. It may even become a new Valentine tradition!

Do you have any Valentine’s traditions? Maybe making handmade valentines, baking cookies, or going out to a favorite restaurant.  Sometimes traditions are purposeful, while other times they just happen. If something “works” one year, it tends to become a tradition whether you want it to or not.  There are expectations in motion, or maybe just lack of creativity.  Hey, she liked it last year, let me do it again for 25 years.

For at least fifteen years I received a box of Russell St****rs chocolates for Valentine’s day.  I am not a fan of this kind of chocolate.  I probably faked enthusiasm the first year, thus starting a tradition.  In short, traditions are ok, but it is also awesome to mix things up a little!

Before looking at the Valentine’s Day Activity Worksheets, we need to understand:

What is visual perception and why is it important? 

Visual perception is being able to look at something and make sense of it.  Items have to be “perceived” in the correct way for motor output, reading, following directions, self care, and just about everything we do. That jacket that is inside out?  It takes more than just fine motor skills to right it.  The eyes and brain need to “see” that the jacket is inside out, where the problem stems from, then use motor skills to correct it. 

Check out this article from the Vision Learning Center about breaking down visual perceptual skills.

While righting jackets and reading are not the most enticing tasks for developing visual perceptual skills, Valentine Printable Scanning Sheets are!

Better yet, to avoid having to submit your email address each time, consider becoming a member of the OT Toolbox! Membership has it’s perks. As a member you will not only be able to find every single one of the free printables offered on The OT Toolbox, but you’ll:

  • Be able to download each of them with a single click (No more re-entering your email address and searching through folders!)
  • Receive early access to new printables and activities before they’re added to the website (You’ll find these in the What’s New section.)
  • Receive a 20% discount on all purchases made in the The OT Toolbox shop!

Valentine’s Day Activity Sheet for Visual Perception

This great bundle of free visual scanning/pencil control printables works on several different visual perceptual skills:

  • Visual memory – remembering what was seen long enough to find it somewhere else
  • Visual scanning – being able to look at all of the choices (either in random or sequential order)
  • Visual form constancy – looking at items that might be slightly different or in a different position and recognizing they are the same figure

four more visual perceptual skills

We use these to make sense of what is seen.  Can you think of examples of activities or everyday tasks that require these skills?

  • Visual figure ground – picking out items from competing backgrounds
  • Visual spatial relations – identify items in relation to other items. What is in front, next to, behind
  • Visual closure – making sense of an item when only given part of it, such as doing a puzzle
  • Visual discrimination – the ability to idenfity differences between objects which may be obvious or subtle

When thinking about figure ground, picture looking for an item in the refrigerator.  This skill requires being able to perceive or “see” the item among a forest of other items.  Visual spatial relations may be looking at pictures to determine what is in the foreground and what is in the background, or how far something is.  There are a lot of pictures and games that trick the mind’s eye into thinking it is seeing something else.  The brain has to work extra hard to decipher these.

In case you missed it, Colleen Beck posted a great article on visual perception:

Some people have amazing visual perceptual skills, while others really struggle. I have mentioned before, there is a gender divide when it comes to visual perceptual skills.  Males were designed to hunt/gather/protect, therefore their eyes do not perceive subtle differences.  Do not despair!  These can be taught, or at least compensated for.  

Knowing that visual perceptual skills can be a weakness for many, it is important to address these difficulties early, and train the brain to recognize the difference between objects, be able to find things, and solve puzzles.  Learners who struggle with anything, are going to be less likely to want to do something that is challenging.  Make it fun!  Get puzzles that have the theme your learner gravitates toward. The OT Toolbox has a great Valentines Day Fine Motor bundle to add to your theme. Use food or other motivating items to teach these skills.

While I tend to discourage more electronic use than is already imposed on young minds, here are a couple of fun examples of online games that are motivating AND build visual perception from the Sensory Toolbox.

As always, there are a dozen ways to adapt and modify these Valentines Day Activity Sheets to meet the needs of most of your learners.  

This Valentine scanning pencil control worksheet is no exception:

  • Laminate the page for reusability. This saves on resources, and many learners love to write with markers!
  • Print in black and white or color for different levels of difficulty
  • Cut the shapes and make a matching game instead of using a writing tool to draw lines
  • Talk about the items, describe their characteristics, and give context clues to help your learner understand why certain pictures match
  • Copy some of these designs to add to the visual motor element
  • Try different writing utensils. This is not only motivating, but some learners work better with markers as they glide easier on paper. Did you know that golf sized pencils promote more of a tripod grasp than traditional long pencils? Try having your learner color with one inch crayons to enhance their grasp
  • Enlarge the task for beginning writers who need more writing space
  • Shrink the task for older learners who need to learn to write smaller
  • Velcro the back of the Valentine items, after laminating and cutting them,  to create a matching game
  • Have students write on a slant board, lie prone on the floor with the page in front to build shoulder stability, or supine with the page taped under the table
  • Project this page onto a smart board for students to come to the board and write in big lines
  • More or less prompting may be needed to grade activity to make it easier or harder
  • Make this part of a larger lesson plan including gross motor, sensory, social, executive function, or other fine motor skills
  • Don’t miss this great post on Valentine’s Day Activities, including Valentine’s Day Playdough, and a Valentine’s Day Shredded Paper Sensory Bin

Besides visual perception and/or writing, what else is being addressed using this Valentine’s scanning, pencil control printable?

  • Fine motor – grasping pattern, wrist stability, intrinsic hand muscle development, pencil control
  • Bilateral coordination – hand dominance, using “helper hand”, crossing midline
  • Proprioception – pressure on paper, grip on writing tool
  • Strength – shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, core, head control
  • Visual perception – scanning, figure ground, line placement, crossing midline, visual closure, seeing parts to whole
  • Executive function/behavior – following directions, attention, focus, sequencing, planning, task completion, frustration tolerance
  • Social function – working together in a group, problem solving, sharing materials and space, turn taking, talking about the activity

It can be very frustrating if you have excellent visual perceptual skills and other people do not “see” the world as you do. Take comfort in the fact that these skills can be learned with a little bit of effort.  Until then, make sure the Ketchup is always on the same shelf, and the clothing is never inside out!

Free Valentine’s Day Activity Sheet

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    Superior visual perceptual skills here! – Victoria Wood, OTR/L

    Victoria Wood

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

    **The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability, however this information is relevant for students, patients, clients, children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

    Looking for more pencil control activities?  Look no further: