Although typing has become central to modern learning, learning to write legibly and efficiently by hand is still an important skill that students need to master.
The D’Nealian and Zaner-Bloser methods of handwriting are two of the more well-known and popular styles taught to students today.
Both methods have been proven to be quite effective over the years and have their own official curricula that homeschooling parents can purchase.
Perhaps due to their popularity and strong reputations, as well as their respective fans online, it can sometimes be hard for parents to decide between the two.
To help, we’ve decided to compare both the D’Nealian and Zaner-Bloser methods, as well as their respective curricula, so that parents looking for handwriting program for their child can make a more informed choice.
What Is The D’Nealian Method Of Handwriting?
Developed by educator Donald N. Thurber in the 1960s, the D’Nealian method is a particular handwriting style intended to make it easier for young students to learn cursive.
The method is most characterized by its stylized manuscript alphabet that is designed to look as similar to cursive as possible.
It contains slanted lettering with little stroke curls or “monkey tails” on their ends that students eventually learn to connect as they transition into cursive.
What Is The Zaner-Bloser Method Of Handwriting?
Developed by educators and handwriting specialists Charles Zaner and Elmer Bloser in the early 20th century,, the Zaner-Bloser method of handwriting was designed to make handwriting simpler, quicker and more efficient for students by minimizing the amount of strokes and body movements required to produce lettering.
In this system, students learn both a vertical, straight-line-and-circle manuscript alphabet, as well as a traditional-looking, slanted cursive one later on.
How D’Nealian And Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Methods Compare
When it comes down to how a handwriting style looks, especially for homeschooling families who have more of a choice when it comes to selecting, things usually boil down to personal taste.
After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
That said, broadly speaking Zaner-Bloser tends to have a more traditional manuscript form.
With unadorned, straight up and down letters, it tends to look a lot like a sans-serif font, i.e. simple and tidy.
D’Nealian manuscript writing, on the other hand, tends to seem a little fancier, owing to its letters slant and “monkey tails,” and many parents find it to be a little more aesthetically pleasing.
Slanting letters is an important part of proper cursive writing and it isn’t always so easy for younger students (or even some adults) to do neatly and consistently.
The Zaner-Bloser method tends to introduce slanted lettering a little later, around the second or third grade when formal cursive instruction begins.
Prior to this, students learn to write by hand using a vertical (unslanted) manuscript alphabet.
The D’Nealian method, on the other hand, seems to take the view that earlier is better and introduces slanted writing and practice from the start with its unique manuscript lettering.
As a result, parents whose younger students struggle with the fine motor control required for slanting may find that Zaner-Bloser to be a better fit as it can get them up and writing with less frustration.
Simplicity Of Alphabet and Letter Transformations
The Zaner-Bloser and D’Nealian methods do differ when it comes to how they handle manuscript and cursive lettering.
Zaner-Bloser teaches students two distinct styles of creating letters by hand – a simple, straight up and down manuscript style and a traditional, slanted cursive one.
Consequently, all 26 letters in the method tend to change shape (from print to cursive) and so, over the period of their elementary learning, students have to learn two separate alphabet styles.
With D’Nealian, however, manuscript and cursive lettering are very similar in style and creation.
There is really only one style of lettering to learn and only about 13 letters change their shape in some way.
Rather than learn two distinct lettering styles, students instead learn to connect their manuscript lettering together with a few strokes to create cursive.
Students who struggle with or feel frustrated by having to learn a specific cursive alphabet may find the D’Nealian method to be a little easier.
In contrast, students who enjoy learning two different letter styles, and showing off their ability to do so, may prefer Zaner-Bloser instead.
Ease Of Finding Real World Examples
One thing that often helps students when learning handwriting is to frequently see or be exposed to proper lettering, whether that is outside, in books, on signs or anywhere else.
Seeing real world examples of what they’re learning can be an effective part of learning penmanship, passively reinforcing concepts such as shape, size, spacing and even slant.
Between the two methods, Zaner-Bloser’s method of manuscript is a little better represented in the real world and in media, which can make it easier for parents to point out examples or for students to find examples of how they write in the proverbial wild.
Continuous Stroke Printing
Having a student learn to form manuscript letters while lifting their pencil off the page less often (continuous stroke printing) can have quite a few benefits.
In general, continuous stroke printing requires fewer strokes overall, can more rapidly encode lettering to muscle memory and can result in fewer directional errors..
Both the Zaner-Bloser and D’Nealian teach students to minimize the amount of times they lift their pencil off the page compared to older “stick and ball/balloon” methods, such as Palmer.
Overall, at least in our opinion, we feel that the flowing, slanted, cursive-oriented D’Nealian manuscript style tends to lend itself to this a little better, with students rarely lifting their pencil at all except to dot their i’s and j’s or to cross their t’s, x’s and f’s.
Until about 1978, the Zaner-Bloser method was the dominant handwriting style taught in the United States.
After it’s introduction, the D’Nealian method quickly caught up to Zaner-Bloser and today both styles are widely taught in both schools and homeschools, with champions on both sides continuing to argue reverently about their relative strengths.
D’Nealian vs. Zaner-Bloser Curriculum: How do they Compare
Both the D’Nealian and Zaner-Bloser methods do have their own “official” curricula that homeschooling parents can use.
D’Nealian Handwriting, published by the Savvas Learning Company, is an official and exclusively licensed program designed to teach the D’Nealian style.
Zaner-Bloser, Inc., meanwhile, publishes and sells its official handwriting curriculum, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting, on its website and through various educational retailers.
Having reviewed both programs in some depth, we’ve laid out some of their similarities and differences below.
Both D’Nealian Handwriting and Zaner-Bloser Handwriting are pretty similar when it comes to their intended age groups.
Both programs target roughly the same age group, K-5, and their books are divided into different levels, each covering a different grade.
Similarly, they both begin to introduce cursive at around Grade 2, a relatively traditional point in a student’s academic career.
It is important to note that while both D’Nealian and Zaner-Bloser Handwriting target students at the kindergarten through elementary level, their books can be used by homeschooling students outside of their intended age range, such as by precocious students or those who are struggling.
One point of difference that parents should note, however, is that Zaner-Bloser uses more in-depth written exercises as part of its practical applications of handwriting, and these tend to be grade-leveled.
That is, later books in the series may involve students completing essays or reading/writing about history or science-related topics, which can be a bit advanced for younger students who might be advanced in handwriting but grade-level in their general studies.
Instructor’s Guides and Workbooks
Both D’Nealian Handwriting and Zaner-Bloser are designed to be parent-led, or more specifically teacher-led as these programs were originally designed for schools.
Both programs offer full-color and detailed teacher’s manuals that include structured and scripted lesson guides, teaching tips and activities, and which generally can serve to guide parents through the process of teaching handwriting.
As a result, these Teacher’s Guides can be very valuable resources to homeschooling parents, particularly those who are new to teaching or who are uncertain of their own ability to help their students with their handwriting.
One notable difference between the two is that, while both D’Nealian Handwriting and Zaner-Bloser offer advice on teaching, modeling and differentiation, Zaner-Bloser tends to go a step further and can offer parents a more diverse set of handwriting tips.
For example, its Teacher’s Guides can, at times, offer assorted suggestions and activities rooted in occupational therapy best practices to help students improve their fine motor control.
In addition to these guides, both programs also offer student workbooks that contain brief but fairly intuitive and clear handwriting instruction and modeling.
They can, in a pinch, be used independently by students who are a bit more secure in their reading skills.
Although students would miss out on some of the fun activities and explanations offered by the teacher’s manuals, this can help families save a little money and let students work a little more independently of their parents.
Interestingly, and unlike D’Nealian Handwriting, Zaner-Bloser also offers what it calls Practice Masters to go alongside its workbooks.
These are, essentially, companion books that offer extra focused handwriting practice should students need it, as well as an assortment of interesting hands-on and multisensory activities and exercises that can help spice up a lesson.
Approach To Teaching
Inclusion of Multisensory Learning
Both Zaner-Bloser and D’Nealian Handwriting include multisensory learning opportunities in their lessons.
In addition to the reading and writing done in the workbooks, students and parents are encouraged to explore the world of letter creation through discussions and dialogues, tactile finger tracing activities, or even kinesthetic sky-writing exercises, as can be seen in the example from Zaner-Bloser below.
In this way, both programs can be an excellent fit for students with different learning styles and they can engage a greater number of cognitive pathways, which can improve long term memory and recall.
Use of Activities
Both D’Nealian and Zaner-Bloser handwriting also include a wide variety of activities that go beyond simple letter formation exercises and copywork, which can make learning a little more engaging and interesting for students.
At any given time in both programs students might be asked to write letters, create to-do lists, engage in various arts and crafts and more, which allows them to practice their lettering while honing other skills as can be seen in the example from D’Nealian Handwriting below.
The two programs do, however, differ in where these activity suggestions are located.
In D’Nealian, activity suggestions are a little more centralized and located at the bottom of its Teacher’s Guide lesson plans.
With Zaner-Bloser, while the Teacher’s Guides can be a source of activity ideas, they can also be found in the Practice Masters and student workbooks.
Both D’Nealian and Zaner Bloser Handwriting use a systematic and step-by-step approach when it comes to their instruction.
With Zaner-Bloser, lessons are broken down into three steps – Model, Practice and Evaluation.
Parents introduce a letter and go over its formation with the student, who then goes on to practice on their own in their workbook before engaging in a process of self-evaluation.
D’Nealian Handwriting follows a broadly similar process, using four steps instead of three – Teach, Model and Practice, Practice, Evaluate.
The extra Model and Practice step involves parents and students working together, tracing letters and reciting a description of stroke formation to really hammer things home before the student begins to practice on their own.
Whether a student needs this extra step really depends on their individual learning pace, skill and ability, but it can introduce a little more multisensory learning and procedural review into a lesson, albeit at the cost of perhaps seeming a little repetitive.
By and large, D’Nealian and Zaner-Bloser Handwriting keep lessons quite short, typically requiring only a page or so of work that generally takes well under 30 minutes or so to go through.
As a result, neither program tends to be overly intimidating or frustrating to students, and both programs are pretty easy to fit into a busy homeschool schedule.
Inclusion of Cross-Curricular Learning
While both D’Nealian Handwriting and Zaner-Bloser Handwriting offer practice activities and exercises that hone skills beyond handwriting, a notable difference between the two programs is that Zaner-Bloser Handwriting offers more in the way of cross-curricular learning and practice opportunities.
While both programs hone broader skills in English Language Arts (reading, writing and grammar, most notably), starting at about level 4 activities in Zaner-Bloser Handwriting also touch on other subjects, such as geography, science, history and more.
Not only can this make Zaner-Bloser lessons a little more interesting for students and parents, it can also be used to help reinforce learning in other areas, which can be helpful.
Quizzes and Other Methods of Evaluation
D’Nealian Handwriting and Zaner-Bloser Handwriting do noticeably differ when it comes to administering tests and quizzes.
As with many traditional curricula, D’Nealian offers dedicated quiz lessons where students work on various writing and penmanship exercises in order to see how they’re progressing.
In contrast, while it does offer pre- and post-tests at the beginning and end of each book, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting focuses more on assessing student development through its application activities, i.e. writing exercises and activities, evaluating their handwriting in a more natural context.
Handwriting aside, for these reasons parents who want more frequent assessment and evaluation might gravitate more towards D’Nealian, while those who don’t or have quiz-shy students may prefer the Zaner-Bloser Handwriting curriculum.
Finally, the D’Nealian Handwriting and Zaner-Bloser Handwriting curricula tend to differ quite a bit in terms of price.
A D’Nealian grade bundle can be picked up by parents for about $24.97, while a full bundle of Zaner-Bloser is more expensive and costs around $75.89.
To be fair, however, these bundles do differ in content.
D’Nealian bundles tend to offer a consumable student workbook and access to a year’s access to Savvas Realize, where parents can then print off or use their Teacher’s edition and other resources.
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting bundles, on the other hand, tend to include full, physical copies of their student workbook, Teachers guides and/or Practice Masters.
Curriculum Summary Table
|D’Nealian Handwriting||Zaner-Bloser Handwriting|
|Can students work on their own if needed||✅||✅|
|Full color student workbooks||✅||✅|
|Full color teacher’s guide||✅||✅|
|Step by step approach||✅||✅|
|Teaching tips and differentiation ideas||✅||✅|
|Hands-on activities to support learning||✅||✅|
|Dedicated review lessons||✅||✅|
D’Nealian vs Zaner-Bloser – Deciding Which is Best For You
Both the D’Nealian and Zaner-Bloser methods (and their respective official curricula) are well-known, popular and respected and have helped millions of children learn to write legibly and efficiently over the years.
For homeschooling parents, choosing between the two can be a bit of a challenge and can go well beyond simple aesthetics.
To help out, we’ve put together the chart below offering some possible considerations that parents should keep in mind when thinking about these programs.
|I’m a parent and…||Consider|
|I’d like a handwriting program that is commonly used by schools and/or homeschools||Either|
|I’m looking for a handwriting method that’s more fanciful and fun to look at||D’Nealian Method|
|I’m looking for a simple and traditional handwriting style||Zaner-Bloser Method|
|My student has a hard time with slanting their letters||Zaner-Bloser Method|
|My student hates the idea of learning two different styles of alphabet and/or struggles with letter transformations||D’Nealian Method|
|I’d like a manuscript print style that is well-represented in media, books and on signs in the real world||Zaner-Bloser Method|
|I’d prefer a program that encourages continuous stroke print writing||Either|
|I have a very artful student who is primed to advance quickly through their handwriting practice||D’Nealian Handwriting|
|I want a program that can support, reinforce and integrate with other homeschooling subjects||Zaner-Bloser Handwriting|
|I’m uncertain about my own ability to teach handwriting||Either|
|My student can read well and I need them to be able to work independently of me||Either|
|I want lots of opportunity for review||Either|
|I prefer periodic quizzes and assessments to keep track of student performance||D’Nealian Handwriting|
|My student gets anxious around testing and would benefit from other methods of evaluation||Zaner-Bloser Handwriting|
For More Information
Jennifer Keenes is a writer and a new mom living in Florida. She studied education and, prior to becoming a freelance writer, worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary and middle school level. She is a big fan of the beach, working out and homeschooling her two daughters.