With its structured lessons, multisensory learning, clear and intuitively laid out workbooks, frequent review and cross-curricular writing exercises, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting can be a straightforward, easy to learn and engaging way of learning to write by hand.
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What Is Zaner-Bloser Handwriting?
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting is a handwriting curriculum designed to help students learn to write their letters and numbers neatly and efficiently.
The program teaches students how to write by hand in both manuscript and cursive through the use of short lessons, explicit instruction, a simple three-step lesson model and plenty of practice.
What Is The Zaner-Bloser Style of Handwriting?
Developed in the early 20th century by Charles Zaner and Elmer Bloser, the Zaner-Bloser script is a method of handwriting designed to simplify and optimize the process of writing by hand by using a minimum of strokes and a clear, straight line and circle style.
The method involves students learning two sets of alphabets – a vertical (straight up and down/slantless) one for manuscript or print writing and a cursive, slanted alphabet that students begin to learn once they’ve mastered the first.
Along with the more cursive-oriented D’Nealian Method, it remains of the more popular and commonly taught handwriting methods around.
What Ages Or Grades Are Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Books Intended For?
The Zaner-Bloser Handwriting series is a complete handwriting program designed for students in K-6.
It covers everything from posture, pen control and basic block letter formation through to upper and lower case cursive writing.
To teach its method of handwriting Zaner-Bloser offers 8 levels of books, each of which targets a specific grade level, with two books covering the second grade (2 Manuscript and 2 Cursive) as students begin to transition into cursive from print in this year.
While Zaner-Bloser Handwriting ostensibly is intended to teach students at the kindergarten and elementary level, homeschools can, of course, use the program outside of this range if they so choose.
The course’s illustrated student books, short lessons and intuitive instruction make any of the books well-suited to more precocious learners, while its efficient stroke system, differentiated guidance and carefully structured lessons can make them well suited to older students who are struggling with handwriting.
That said, parents should note that there can be a couple issues for those learning outside of a traditional grade progression.
Precocious students using books at a higher level, for example, may find the various application exercises a little challenging.
These are often designed with grade level writing skills in mind and can be a little complex for younger students, for example asking them to apply their handwriting in order to write essays, read and respond to historical documents or letters or construct arguments of one kind or another.
Younger students who do well with handwriting but aren’t quite as advanced in reading, writing or social studies may find they need the application work to be adjusted or replaced with more grade/skill-appropriate exercises.
Similarly, parents of older students should keep in mind that the books have their grade levels printed prominently on the cover, which can be a little embarrassing for those working significantly below grade level.
What’s Included In Zaner-Bloser Handwriting
Much like other formal handwriting programs out there, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting offers a few components that students can pick up, including:
- A Student Edition
- Practice Masters
- A Teacher’s Edition
Zane-Bloser Handwriting Student Edition
The Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Student Editions form the core of the program and are essentially workbooks that contain more or less everything a student needs to learn to write in the Zane-Bloser style.
They include direct instruction, dotted and solid-line letter modeling, handwriting practice exercises, writing activities that students can use to put what they’re learning into practice and even occasional QR codes that link to cool and helpful digital content such as tips, animations and more.
Around 80-160 pages long, the Student Editions are consumable workbooks, with 3 and 2-lined spaces for student response (depending on grade level).
They contain a good amount of colorful illustrations, particularly at the younger grades, which should prevent them from being too boring to look at or feeling like a simple set of printed worksheets.
The drawings are more modern and cleaner looking than previous editions, and, as might be expected, the amount of illustration decreases as the levels progress, which is good for older students as they won’t feel that the material is too “babyish” for them.
Finally, we feel that overall the Student Editions are pretty clearly written, well-structured and intuitive to use.
As such, older students and those more secure in their reading should be able to do much of the work independently, which is a plus for busy homeschools.
Designed to go along with the Student Editions, the Practice Masters are softcover books filled with brief reviews and extra exercises and are intended to be used as lesson reinforcement in case a student needs a little more practice.
Unlike the Student Editions, the Practice Masters are printed in black and white and are pretty much focused on the practice they provide, containing far fewer visuals and very concise instruction focusing on best practices.
Similar to the Student Editions, however, they are pretty clearly written and most fluid readers should be able to use them on their own without a lot of parental involvement.
Interestingly, as Zane-Bloser Handwriting was originally designed for classroom use, its Practice Masters do include sections called “School to Home,” which are intended to inform parents about what students are learning and to help them do extra practice at home.
While perhaps less relevant for homeschooling families, they do include a wide variety of interesting and often multisensory activities, such as coloring work, arts and crafts, games, puzzles and more.
These activities can help Zaner-Bloser go beyond copywork and writing exercises and, properly implemented, can help make studying handwriting a lot more engaging and interesting for kids.
Zane-Bloser also offers Teacher’s Guides for its handwriting course that are, essentially, manuals designed to help parents and teachers more effectively oversee and guide students as they do their work.
The Teacher’s Guides contain everything a parent might need to teach each level of the program, including background information on the Zaner-Bloser method, pre-writing skills such as grip and posture, lesson guides, multisensory activity ideas, teaching tips, ideas for differentiation, ESL support, and guidance for proper letter modeling.
They also, depending on the level, can contain a variety of additional resources that go beyond those offered by most other handwriting programs out there, such as handwriting troubleshooting, help with evaluation and recordkeeping, and even occupational therapy-related advice and exercises.
The books themselves are softcover and printed in full color, and while illustrations are kept to a minimum, each lesson does include a copy of the relevant student workbook page (with sample responses) for parents to look at and use.
In addition, the lesson guides are scripted, but not overly so.
They provide enough detail and instructions to guide parents through a lesson, but for the most part refrain from providing a word-for-word dialogue.
While this means that parents may have to improvise discussions with their students, something that can be a little tricky for new or uncertain homeschoolers, it does mean that parents are more free to teach in the way they are most comfortable or feel will work best with their child.
Homeschooling parents should note, however, that the Teacher’s Guides are written to teachers in a classroom setting.
Although they’re not exactly hard to adapt for home use, they can and do make reference to things like homework, other students, independent work time and other trappings of traditional schooling, which can annoy some parents.
Do Homeschooling Parents Really Need the Teacher’s Guide?
As the Zaner-Bloser Student Edition forms the core of the program’s instruction and is pretty clearly and intuitively written, some parents may question the need for a Teacher’s Guide altogether.
Ultimately, this is a decision that parents will have to make for themselves, but we will say that while it may cost a bit more money the Teacher’s Guide does provide parents with quite a few helpful tips, guidance, structure and scripts to fall back on that can make teaching handwriting a lot easier and more effective, particularly for new homeschoolers and those uncertain about their ability to teach handwriting.
Further, the Guides also include a lot of extra, multisensory teaching and activity ideas that can really enrich lessons and make them more enjoyable for all involved, which we always appreciate.
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Approach to Teaching
As one might infer from the title of the series, Zane-Bloser Handwriting teaches handwriting in the Zane-Bloser style.
As previously mentioned, the program uses two distinct, continuous stroke alphabets, one for print and one for cursive, and these are generally taught with fewer strokes and, in print form, with a simpler, slantless stick-and circle method that’s neat and easy for students to form and is well-represented in the everyday world (so students have a lot of opportunity to see it in action).
On the downside, of course, students will have to learn two distinct methods of forming letters (a sort of sans-serif slantless print and slanted cursive), which can take a little more effort.
Additionally, while the cursive that Zane-Bloser produces is as neat and fanciful as any other, some parents do feel that its print lettering, while neat and efficient, isn’t quite as nice to look at on paper as some others, particularly the monkey-tail sporting letters produced by the D’Nealian handwriting method.
Sequential, 3-Step Model Of Teaching
Zaner-Bloser lessons teach handwriting using a sequential approach that breaks each lesson down into three steps- modeling, practice and evaluation.
While we discuss this process more in the section below, this approach can make the challenging, sometimes frustrating, process of teaching handwriting more user-friendly and logical, giving parents a simple, step-by-step process to follow while making each lesson far more consistent for the student.
Zaner-Bloser places a particular emphasis on self-evaluation in its lessons, providing periodic stop-and-check sections that encourage students to look at their own work and pick out the best examples thereof.
Further, the program even makes use of a set of 4 illustrated keys, called the Color Keys of Legibility, which pop up from time to time in the books, typically after exercises.
These keys are color coded and each represent some aspect of legible handwriting. The keys act as a visual shorthand that helps point out particular aspects of handwriting students should be paying attention to in order to create neat lettering.
- Letter shape (green)
- Size (blue)
- Spacing (purple)
- Slant (red)
All of this is intended to help students pay more attention to their own handwriting and develop a more critical eye towards their own work.
This self-editing can help them learn to identify any mistakes they may be making in their penmanship, which is really the first step in correcting them and improving.
This is in contrast to other handwriting programs that tend to take a more traditional, parent-as-editor approach, which students can end up using as something of a crutch to their eventual detriment.
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting lessons are also fairly multisensory, particularly when used alongside the Teacher’s Edition and Practice Masters books.
In addition to letter modeling, copywork and written exercises, the series offers students a fairly wide range of activities they can engage in, from arts and crafts, finger tracing, whole body movements, discussions and verbal dialogues and even going outside an interacting with the world (writing outside with chalk, for example).
By engaging in activities that engage a wider variety of senses, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting can better suit students with different styles and preferences (i.e. visual, auditory and tactile/kinesthetic learners), as well as making lessons more fun in general.
Multisensory can also be more effective at helping students store and retain their handwriting skills due to these activities engaging multiple cognitive pathways.
Finally, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting goes beyond teaching simple handwriting and involves a number of cross-curricular activities.
Depending on the level and exercise in question, students might be asked to read and respond to poems, work with maps, do some grammar work, write a personal narrative, write an essay or even do a short science-related written exercise.
As a result, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting can serve to reinforce other subjects a student might be learning, from English language arts to geography and history to science and more, which we alway appreciate when homeschooling.
It also means that the program’s practice can be a little more interesting and engaging for students, going far beyond the usual endless pages of copywork and letter formation drill.
How It Works
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting books are designed to be teacher-led, with parents or teachers working from the Teacher’s Guide, introducing and demonstrating letter forms, leading discussions and initiating various activities and exercises.
Students, meanwhile, review and practice their handwriting in the Student Edition workbooks.
As discussed above, because the workbooks are pretty intuitive and clearly written, more experienced readers may be able to work with the Student Edition on their own.
The Zaner-Bloser books are each divided into several units.
The first is typically a review, either of pre-writing concepts (such as proper posture or legibility) and/or previously learned letters in manuscript or cursive, depending on the level in question.
There is also a pre-text evaluation, which usually consists of some basic writing exercises or copywork and serves to set a baseline of student handwriting for later comparison.
The next two units, generally split into upper- and lowercase work, introduce the main handwriting learning and practice for the course, with students learning a few letter forms and then doing some light application exercises, such as creating to-do lists, writing essays, working with nouns or verbs and so on.
The final unit has students use what they’ve learned throughout a course level, typically through various writing exercises.
Depending on the level and exercise in question, students might create sentences, write a response, opinion or narrative, read and respond to historical texts, and even write short essays on science or social science topics.
The lessons themselves follow a three-step format of Model, Practice and Evaluate as outlined in the Teacher’s Guide.
At the beginning of a lesson, parents first introduce the letter and model it in the Zaner-Bloser style.
The Teacher’s Guide encourages parents to discuss the letter and its method of creation with students, modeling it in writing and even bodily drawing it in the air (known as skywriting), which can add a nice kinesthetic touch to instruction.
Students are then directed to their workbook where they practice what they’ve learned in a relevant worksheet.
As with many other programs, these usually begin with focused practice (“trace and write”) where students do their best to create Zaner-Bloser style letters.
This is usually followed by practicing letter formation with more complex exercises, such as by creating or copying full words and sentences.
Periodically, students will be asked to stop and circle the best example of their handwriting, a process that is designed to help students develop a more critical eye towards their own work and help them (hopefully) avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
These stop and circle, self-editing exercises form the core of the evaluation component of Zaner-Bloser handwriting and parents are encouraged to remind students to complete the task, even being offered scripted, leading questions in the Teacher’s Guide to help them do so more effectively.
Every few lessons, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting offers a dedicated review lesson, which also follows the Model-Practice-Evaluate pattern.
These reviews are a sort of cumulative revision of several letter patterns reviewed in that section and generally involve students either writing words or sentences that contain said letters.
Following this review, students are then given several application lessons where they put their handwriting to use in a number of different ways.
As mentioned previously, a student might be asked to create a written piece, such as a paragraph or story, engage in cross-curricular work, such as working with historical documents or writing about scientific concepts.
Finally, at the end of each book, parents can administer a post-test. These are broadly similar to the pre-tests and allow parents to compare student handwriting samples to measure progress.
By and large, Zaner-Bloser handwriting is a pretty easy to use and straightforward handwriting program.
The lessons are kept pretty short, usually requiring only about a page or so of workbook exercises.
With concept introduction and self-evaluation, this means that lessons often take around 15 minutes each (often less), so they aren’t so intimidating for kids and can fit easily into pretty much any homeschool schedule.
In terms of instruction, Zaner-Bloser keeps things pretty clear and concise.
The workbooks offer easy to understand and concise guidance, so students and parents should be able to go through lessons without a lot of prep work or risk of confusion.
The lessons can also be quite multisensory, with parents and students discussing, drawing, modeling and even skywriting letters throughout.
At times, there are even more hands-on suggested activities, such as arts and crafts and outdoor work, that can be great for students who have a hard time sitting and doing copywork.
At the same time, the Teacher’s Guides offer a good deal of useful and practical tips for teaching handwriting, which can be great for parents new to teaching.
These go far beyond the simple instructional advice found in most handwriting programs and can even offer best practices taken from occupational therapy, helping students better hone their gross and fine motor skills, which is kind of interesting.
We particularly liked the cross-curricular aspect of the program.
At times, through the application section of the program’s lessons, students can do work that directly involves grammar and other English Language Arts concepts, science and social science subjects, such as history.
In this way, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting can be more broadly applicable and useful for homeschools (particularly those doing unit studies) by reinforcing learning in other subject areas.
We also like the fact that Zaner-Bloser Handwriting offers a good deal of dedicated review and practice in each book.
By offering ample opportunities for revision, the books can be very effective at making sure that students better retain what they’re learning, which can be helpful for students who are prone to developing skill gaps as time goes on.
Similarly, through the dedicated application unit, students can get more thorough practice in applying their handwriting.
And because these involve different activities, such as writing letters, responses or essays, they can be a lot more interesting (and less boring) for students to complete compared to simple copywork exercises, which can prevent them from zoning out.
On the downside, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting is written specifically for a classroom setting and for a teacher to use, and so some resources that are referenced may not be applicable to a homeschool setting.
In a similar vein, some of the program’s resources are not available for homeschool users as of writing, such as the ZBPortal, which is somewhat disappointing.
Finally, parents should be aware that, while the practical handwriting activities offered by Zaner-Bloser Handwriting can be very engaging, cross-curricular and thorough, they can take some time to complete and can be a little much for some students to handle, particularly if they are already working through a rigorous homeschool schedule.
How Easy is Zaner-Bloser Handwriting To Teach With?
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting is pretty easy to use and teach handwriting with.
Its Teacher’s Guides are pretty user-friendly, being well-written, well-structured, clear and fairly scripted.
As such, they should be able to guide even less experienced homeschooling parents through lessons fairly effectively and without a lot of pre-lesson reading or prep work.
While they are scripted, they leave enough room for parents to put their own touch on things and speak to their students in a more natural and effective manner.
At the same time, the Zaner-Bloser workbooks are nicely laid out and intuitive, with brief and clear instructions and easy-to-understand letter models that make it easy for students to follow along, even without a lot of parental involvement or oversight.
Finally, unlike more specialized or unique handwriting programs such as D’Nealian, the simplified and efficient lettering of Zaner-Bloser should be pretty familiar to parents and its style is quite well-represented in media and in real life, so there are plenty of examples that can be pointed out to students outside of lessons, which can be quite helpful.
Pros and Cons
Student books are quite affordable
On their own, the student books cost less than $15 and cover a year’s worth of handwriting practice and exercises.
Although they will miss out on many tips and fun, multisensory activities, homeschooling families with fluid readers should be able to use these on their own as a resource for handwriting instruction, which makes them quite budget friendly.
Open and go handwriting program
Zaner-Bloser Teaching Guides and Student Editions are very well-written and structured, offering very clear, concise and step-by-step instructions that make it hard to get lost.
As a result, there is very little in the way of prep or research that parents have to do before starting a lesson, making the program pretty open and go.
Very visually appealing
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting has updated its series of books to include even more colorful, clean-lined and modern illustrations than previous editions, making them even more interesting to look at and use.
By and large, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting lessons are kept pretty short, usually only having a page or so of workbook activity, which makes the program far less intimidating or frustrating for students and much easier to fit into tighter schedules.
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting lessons don’t just involve writing and copywork, but also can have students and parents discuss letters, draw, color, skywrite and more, which can be appealing to students with different learning styles and can be more effective at helping students remember things long term.
Scripted, but still flexible
Lessons in the Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Teacher’s Guide are scripted in that they provide clear, explicit and step-by-step instructions for parents to follow.
For the most part, however, they refrain from providing an exact dialogue to follow, allowing parents to interact with their students more naturally and add their own personal touches to teaching.
Good amount of review and lots of practice
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting includes dedicated review lessons that allow students to go over and practice groups of letters that they’ve learned, as well as an entire unit dedicated to providing students with opportunities to apply their handwriting to different, longer form writing exercises.
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting encourages students to critically analyze their work, teaching them to pay attention to the Four Keys of Legibility (shape, size, spacing and slant) and pick out best examples of their writing themselves, rather than relying on their parents to do so for them.
In this way it can help students develop key self-editing skills that will serve them well in their academic career.
Can support independent learning
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Student Editions are clearly written, concise and relatively intuitive, which should allow more capable readers to work more independently, freeing parents to deal with the many other tasks that homeschools often require.
Lots of interesting and cross-curricular activities
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting doesn’t just work on handwriting, but through its Apply exercises it can touch on and reinforce other subjects students are learning, such as history, science, geography, grammar and reading/comprehension.
Teacher’s Guides provide a lot of practical and helpful tips
While Teacher’s Guides offering tips for teaching is nothing new, Zaner-Bloser goes far beyond the usual advice for introducing topics and provides helpful and actionable advice and focused activities from fields such as Occupational Therapy to help students become better and more legible writers.
Complete set isn’t the cheapest out there
Although the Student Editions are fairly inexpensive, once parents factor in the Practice Masters and/or Teacher’s Guides, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting can cost a bit more than some other handwriting programs out there.
Written and designed for a school setting
While parents can adapt it easily enough to their own needs, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting is written specifically for teachers in a school setting and often makes references to situations and resources that aren’t applicable to most homeschoolers, which some parents can find annoying.
Who is Zane-Bloser Handwriting Ideal For?
Those looking for a high-quality Zane-Bloser handwriting course
The Zaner-Bloser style of handwriting remains quite popular and the official Zaner-Bloser Handwriting course is one of the best and most effective programs out there, with short multisensory lessons, clear and explicit instruction and lots of helpful supporting activities.
Those looking for a simple and easy to use handwriting course
Not every parent can or is willing to spend a lot of time figuring out how to use a complex curriculum, particularly when it comes to something like handwriting.
Books in the Zaner-Bloser Handwriting series are well-structured and written in a clear, well-scripted and concise manner, so parents don’t have to spend much time preparing lessons or reading up on the methodology.
Those who enjoy activity-rich learning
In addition to its letter formation and practice exercises, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting contains a lot of different activities.
From the multisensory demonstrations in its Teacher’s Guide to the fun activities in Practice Masters to the cross-curricular writing exercises in its application unit, there is a lot that parents can add into lessons to enrich learning.
Students who benefit from lots of review
Some students pick up handwriting pretty quickly and without the need for a lot of review and drill, while others will develop significant skill gaps over time if strokes and letter formation aren’t frequently reviewed and practiced.
By adding dedicated review lessons, Zaner-Bloser can give these latter students more frequent opportunities to refresh their knowledge of certain letter formations, which will help their learning in the long run.
Who Is It Not Ideal For?
Parents looking for more fanciful print writing
Although perhaps easier to learn than some others, and perhaps better represented in media and the real world, some parents may not feel the Zaner-Bloser style of print lettering to be as fancy or distinctive as some others, such as the “monkey-tailed” letters found in the D’Nealian alphabet.
Parents looking for a comprehensive language arts program
While it certainly can help students practice different skills and subjects, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting is largely focused on helping students develop their handwriting and doesn’t really provide much instruction in other aspects of ELA, such as reading, writing, grammar and comprehension.
As such, it may not be the best solution for those looking for handwriting instruction that is also part of a more comprehensive, all-in-one language arts curriculum.
Note: Prices correct as of writing. All prices in USD.
As noted, a complete set of Zaner-Bloser for each grade contains a Teacher’s Guide, a Student Edition and a Practice Masters book.
Generally speaking, a complete bundle for a grade ( all three books) will cost around $75.89.
Student Editions and Teacher’s Guides for each level can cost around $64.39, while a set of a Student Edition and its Practice Masters will cost about $52.89.
Finally, parents can pick up a copy of the Student Edition alone for about $13.
As always, it is important that parents check current pricing and any specials, deals or sales that might be on offer.
Is It Worth the Price
For those interested in teaching their students to write with a Zaner-Bloser style, the Zaner-Bloser Handwriting series can be highly effective and provide a lot of value for money.
Books in the series are colorful and well-illustrated, with Teacher’s Guides and student workbooks that break the process of learning legible handwriting down into simpler, step-by-step lessons that are very easy to follow and learn from.
The program also offers a lot of opportunities for multisensory learning, including dialogues, arts and crafts and whole body movements, which can make lessons more entertaining and engaging, particularly to students with different learning styles.
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting also provides students with a lot of opportunity for applied practice and skill-revision, with each book containing a number of dedicated review lessons and providing students with ample opportunity to put their handwriting skills to the test with practical writing exercises.
Finally, the program offers a lot of opportunities for students to engage in cross-curricular learning, going beyond simple copywork with quite a number of exercises that touch on history, geography, science and other areas of English language arts.
As a result, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting can not only be a little more interesting and challenging for students at times, but can help reinforce student learning in other areas of study as well.
With its structured lessons, multisensory learning, clear and intuitively laid out workbooks, frequent review and cross-curricular writing exercises, Zaner-Bloser Handwriting can be a straightforward, easy to learn and engaging way of learning to write by hand.
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.