The right slant
Any primary school about to develop a policy on handwriting should seriously consider using the Collins Handwriting package as its core. It consists of a set of spiral-bound photocopiable books which provide a comprehensive, carefully structured handwriting programme starting with pre-writing skills and progressing to a fully developed cursive style. The style adopted is that used by most primary schools - functional and devoid of superfluous flourishes.
For the pupils, there are attractive uncluttered worksheets which involve the usual tracing and copying activities and include clear instructions as to how the patterns should be constructed. For the teachers there are helpful notes. In the first two books there is one page of notes for each worksheet with useful suggestions for related activities.
For example, in book 1, the teacher's notes for an oval tracing activity (where the ovals are the bodies of teddy bears having a picnic) include a poem and a riddle about teddies, an oral cloze activity from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and a suggestion for making a model teddy from card. In the other two books, the teacher's notes relate to groups of worksheets.
The authors subscribe to the now widely accepted view that there is a strong correlation between fluent handwriting and correct spelling. So in book 2, the notes offer lists of simple key words which include the letters being practised. And in books 3 and 4, the worksheets explicitly double up as spelling exercises. Some of the book 4 worksheets also offer work on such things as verb and adjective recognition, similes, synonyms and punctuation.
There is no consensus as to the best time for children to start joining letters, although I think most teachers would expect children to have at least started by the age of seven.
In this scheme, letter joining is introduced in book 3 - after the children have learned to print all the letters correctly. The change to the cursive style involves a slight reduction in the size of letters and a slight slant to the right.
Completing the package are various other bits and bobs such as notes on developing a school handwriting policy, advice on correct pencil grip and positioning (for both left and right-handed children), assessment checklists (with a self assessment sheet for older children), and a letter for parents.