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A Reason for Handwriting

About a dozen years ago, a friend shared with me that she decided to bypass teaching her children the art of penmanship. Her children would jump straight to keyboarding: “This is the computer age. Cursive handwriting is archaic. Why do the work?”

What about beauty?

When I pressed her, my friend agreed that handwriting is an art form. She simply did not see the value of her young children expending effort to master an art form that would not be useful in college a decade or so in the future. This was my first encounter with creative illiteracy.

Mastering the art of handwriting fosters the ability to concentrate, to contemplate, and to communicate confidently.

Let’s face it. We are a distracted people. We are technology-centric, and our children are at risk. We are obsessed with digital signals that tickle our attention.

But we all, somewhere deep down, appreciate ideas that are beautifully inked by hand. I, for one, long for this personal touch. Of course, there are countless typographical fonts that mimic hand-written text. We download them for free. Sometimes we even pay for these fonts. But can the illusion of written-by-hand really fill the void?

Technology is here to stay. We all need to be technologically literate. I’m connected to my iPhone because I value the many benefits this technology offers.

But what if a technological world without the balance of human artistry is shrinking individuality?Taymusic copy
My eldest son is a composer. Until recently, he composed all his pieces by hand on archival paper. When he was a college student, his professor pulled him aside and praised his melodic compositions that are equally beautiful to the eye. However, while he crowned Taylor one of the last “by-hand” composers, he suggested that purchasing a notation program such as Sebelius would be imperative. This is not because the program will make Taylor’s work easier, but because most musicians who will read his work have never played music that is handwritten and the foreign individual nuances are challenging to interpret. Taylor purchased the program, but assured the professor that he will always begin the process of composing by hand hoping to, in the end to also be known for the individuality of his hand on the page.

This got me to thinking, how many times do children come to me and say, “I can’t read cursive.”

Handwriting is an extension of the writer’s voice. Lettering by hand—whether it’s verbal or musical—is beauty, is unique voice. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien encouraged one another as writers, still, their voices on the page are vastly different. Voice is the fingerprint of the writer, that one-of-a-kind something that no two writers have in common.  Our handwriting is a beautiful extension of that voice. We are known by the whisper of our loops on the page.

Remember, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” That’s Hemingway, of course, from A Moveable Feast. I want to add:  Ink your one-true-sentence by hand onto paper in the most beautiful way you can!

This month, try carving out fifteen minutes a day to compose one true sentence, but not just the truest sentence you know, the truest-most-beautifully-handwritten sentence you know!

Begin with these things in mind:

Choose the right writing implement and the right
. The feel of the pencil or pen on the page is a personal choice. The balance of resistance and flow has to be just right. Take time to explore the options.

Consider grip and posture. While I don’t believe there is a single right way to grip the writing implement, I do believe the pressure of the grip matters. The grip should always be relaxed, not cramped. The posture should be upright, comfortable, and the arm should rest on a table so that the arm directs the stroke, not the wrist.

Beautiful handwriting begins with beautiful lines. Remember, our alphabet is a set of symbols developed by human beings to represent spoken sound. The symbols, from an artist’s standpoint, are arbitrarily looped and curved lines that
represent the spoken word. There are many letter forms in the world. You might even add one of your own!

Be the tortoise. Slow handwriting is nimble. Slow and steady is non-chaotic. Fast handwriting is mindless, awkward. Fast and rickety is chaotic. Consider the metaphor. An investment of time practicing the art of handwriting will generate much more than beautiful strokes on the page.

Click through to access our FREE lettering by hand activity to get the tradition started.



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Write a Summer Sink Monster


As summer sizzles her sunshine, be inspired by a delightful collection of clever images at our Write it…! board on Pinterest to write a poem or two. Write about some whimsical or fantastical creature from your imagination. Begin with sentences that you break into poetic pieces.  Remember to “show” the reader concrete sensory details. Take inspiration from the creativity of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and William Blake’s “The Tyger.”


Sink Monster

This one lived beneath the kitchen sink:

When I was a child, I could hear its

Subterranean gurgling from the pipeline guts

Of the basement. I could have sworn I saw

The tip of its fin peek out from the drain,

Or heard the snap of its jaws, with its many

Monstrously tiered teeth after turning the faucet off.


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Q is for Quilt

I love it when the weather turns cozy.

Cozy means quilts and hot cocoa.

But you don’t have to wait for winter to enjoy a quilt.

Quilts make a terrific summer fort.

Quilt making is wonderful community, no matter the season!

When I’m wishing for cozy, I think of Q, and my favorite quilt stories come to mind:

The Keeping Quilt, by Patricia Polacco
Stitchen’ and Pullin’ by Patricia C. McKissack
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson
Luka’s Quilt by Gerogia Guback

So read a book, quilt a Q, and embark on a literary tradition!


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Growth Mindset: Just Keep Swimming

The next time your student gets tackled in the I CAN’T zone, share a story of your own.

Yesterday I was shopping at Trader Joes, contemplating an almond milk purchase when a good friend approached me and said quite simply: “Why don’t you make your own?”

This suggestion set off a cascading thought process in me that went way beyond the situation at hand. All in a millisecond I thought about the many times I had thought about making my own, the videos I had watched, and the numerous blog posts I had read. Still I had never “pulled the trigger” so to speak. Now, I’m smart enough to know we all have “stuck” areas in our lives. There are things we aspire to in life, but we often get overwhelmed OR SOMETHING and are stopped in our tracks. Who knows all the things that hold us back. I suspect the problem has myriad roots.

Anyway, back to Trader Jones, what happened this time is that my friend continued: “Just soak 1 cup nuts (any nuts) overnight in water and in the morning drain the nuts, add 3 cups of water in the blender, and blend to liquify.”

There was something in that moment. I think it might be that the process was presented so simply to me that I thought: “Okay it’s time to do this. I have almonds. I have water. I CAN do this…!”

And so I did. I added a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla too. And the result was delicious—you don’t even have to strain it if you don’t want too! There were no additives so MY almond milk tasted so good!

I think sometimes the moment becomes right to make a move into the stuck zone. It’s so easy to over complicate things in our minds, to Pinterest an idea to death! In the case of almond milk, you know, make it all pretty with mason jars and ribbon and chalkboard labels,etc,etc, etc. when the true beauty is in the MAKING (and consuming) of the scrumptious drink itself.

It felt SO good to FINALLY just do it! And the icing on the cake? This is going to save me a ton of money!

So back to education… What if I had failed? Would I have learned something? YES! and I would have had strengthened my tenacity to try in the process. I would have learned some right and wrong strategies. I would have been learning.

Thing is, a growth mindset is NOT always easy. Students are NOT always successful when they try, but they ALWAYS learn something that is useful. Something that will help them in the future when they are faced with something new to learn. So the next time your student shrinks into the “I CAN’T” zone, share a story of your own, hum Dory’s song, and just keep swimming!

PS By the way, my friend said the roasted unsalted hazelnuts from Oregon at Trader Joes makes an incredibly good milk. No fixed mindset here… I’m making some!!


~Sara Evans

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Y is for Yarn

Want to know what it means to spin-a-yarn?

Read Extra Yarn by Mac Bennett, illustrated by Jon Klassen and you’ll soon see.

Winner of the Caldecott, this contemporary fairy tale is bound to become a classic. Annabelle reminds us that curiosity, determination, and generosity are three ways to thwart a villainous archduke! So, like Annabelle, grab a ball of yarn and imagine the possibilities.

PS Be sure to watch the story. It’s delightfully animated!



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Ars Poetica for April

A poem about “what-is-a-poem” is an Ars Poetica.


Sometimes a poem is as small as a list.

Sometimes it encompasses all the words we need.

Sometimes a poem is restless buttons  in a jar.

But always,

a  l  w  a  y  s

a poem

is translucent,

waiting to unfurl

its magic.


~Kimberly Bredberg

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Caterpillar of Birds


Write poem that is at once a story describing an image or event or memory. Be imaginative. Think Caterpillar of Birds. Be the blind man who thinks he is describing a snake but is actually describing an elephant. Draw more inspiration from metaphor and synecdoche.

“The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop overtly describes the catching of a fish, but subtly describes the concept of choice, the wonder of the natural world, mortality, beauty, and more.



“Dropping a Plate While Washing Dishes”


I nearly caught it—

the plunge of dish from hand

frame by frame was frozen

as the slippery china slid,

still fleeced with shining bubbles,

from my gloves, and the wild waltz

of slippery fingers grasping

still failed to stop

its spiral to floor: one frame remains

still rendering in loops—

my heartbeat expanded into

throbs of meaty bass

the second when the runaway

nearly seemed suspended

above the unforgiving tile,

I stood staring like a friend

left behind on a train platform,

even after the floor burst

into a kaleidoscope, shreds

of blue glass.



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It’s April… Read and Write Poetry!

Try Douglas Florian.

Winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and recipient of an ALA Notable Children’s Book Award, Douglas Florian is the author and illustrator of many children’s books. He believes there is only one rule when it comes to poetry, that there are no rules. Douglas Florian gives credit to his father as his first art teacher, who taught him to love nature. He begins his poems with research of the real thing and then uses that information to create an imaginary poem. Douglas Florian lives in New York City with his wife and five children.

Try Love That Dog.

What is a poem anyway?

I don’t want to
because boys

don’t write poetry.

Girls do.

Meet Jack, who tells his story with a little help from some paper, a pencil, his teacher, and a dog named Sky.

Although this guide includes many of the same elements as the other Level 1 guides, such as vocabulary and comprehension, the format is unique.Each week, your student will be encouraged and guided to write poems in the style of each poet being introduced in the story.

Try Locomotion.

When Lonnie Collins Motion – Locomotion – was seven years old, his life changed forever.

Now he’s eleven, and his life is about to change again. His teacher, Ms. Marcus, is showing him ways to put his jumbled feelings on paper. And suddenly, Lonnie has a whole new way to tell the world about his life, his friends, his little sister Lili, and even his foster mom, Miss Edna, who started out crabby but isn’t so bad after all

Poetry bundleTry Exploring Poetry.

Discover the poet within you!

This unit will help you discover the craft of writing poems and the delight of reading poetry. Over the course of seven weeks you will be introduced to some of the basic techniques used by poets, explore excellent poetry, and practice writing original poems. Each section is designed to be completed in about two, one hour sittings.

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It’s Nearly Spring!

The first day of Spring is right around the corner.

Celebrate spring with your students! Blackbird and Company’s Early Bird Spring Stories Thematic Unit will help do just that! You’ll have 5 weeks of great reading and writing and projects at your finger tips.

First book in the line up is, It’s Spring by Linda Glaser. The cut paper illustrations are so adorable! It’s quite a fun project to paint a wide selection of colorful papers with tempera paint then after they dry use them to cut out a spring scene. Think of all the colors of spring like blues and greens and browns for trees and animals. Use the illustrations in the book as inspiration for your collage.

Or, another idea to celebrate the arrival of spring, from our very own blog archives,  write a haiku and make some blossom cards.


Whatever you decide, be sure to celebrate the blossoming!



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Written by Hand

Writing with a pencil by hand is a foundational skill. But it’s also a beautiful endeavor. I have fond memories of learning to form the ABCs. This work was quiet, slow, and mysterious. Yes, mysterious. My grandmother, who raised me, wrote little notes by hand and left them in various places around the house to my great delight. Her hand was one of a kind, a lovely extension of her loving self.  It was not like any other by-hand note I’ve ever encountered in life. That’s the thing about penmanship. Penmanship is personal.

Sadly, digital teaching tools have pushed handwriting instruction to the back seat. But writing by hand is multi-sensory, connecting hand-eye coordination and memory. Writing by hand, the art of encoding language, strengthens the ability to read (decode) language. Writing by hand slows us down so that we might engage with and bring shape to our ideas.

This past Sunday, January 23, was the birthday of John Hancock—the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. I can see his strong, courageous calligraphy in my mind’s eye. His is the one famous signature that my elementary classmates and I committed to memory. So it is fitting that here at the end of January each year we celebrate the art of handwriting connected to this larger than life signature!

So at the dawn of 2022, may you pick up a pencil, craft your very own John Hancock, marveling at each individual stroke that defines your hand.

Want to learn more about printed letterforms?

Take a look at our free worksheet: Typography 101

Typography 101