Thursday, May 20, 2010

Steiner's Notes on Handwriting

France, like China, is a country where your entire future can depend upon your handwriting. I learned of the importance of one's calligraphy when studying Chinese in college with a professor from China. I have experienced it first-hand as well. I walked into a Chinese restaurant one day, looking for work, in my student days. I was told they were not hiring, but to go ahead and write down my name and number. When I handed it to the owner, he took one look at my writing and opened a drawer to slip it into, then paused, scrutinized it and hired me on the spot, saying; "You have very good handwriting." He became a fine friend, too.

My husband looked for his first job for months. He was doing temp work digging tunnels for the metro when the phone call came announcing the results of some technical tests he had taken for a job opportunity that looked promising. He failed. A little while later, the secretary called back. "Monsieur's handwriting analysis results were so outstanding that we'd like him to come in for an interview." He got the job.

I have long been an opponent of the "handwriting doesn't matter in this age of computers." I get the reasoning; the important thing is to be able to communicate clearly, not have beautiful handwriting. After all, some people, doctors, for example, or CEOs with five personal secretaries, have atrocious writing, but they do very important work in the world and (ah, subjective and sticky phrase) "earn a good living." I'm more about back to the basics and to what I can teach my children myself. I can help them improve their handwriting, not their computer skills. I was reading a lecture by Steiner this morning on habits. He spoke of handwriting as a way to form character, or reform character by learning anew to draw out each letter in a new way. He says, (of someone with problems that arise from bad habits): "better still you might also recommend that he try to acquire a different handwriting. Tell him to stop writing automatically and try practicing for fifteen minutes a day to pay attention to the way he forms the letters he writes. Tell him to try to shape his handwriting differently and to cultivate the habit of drawing the letters. The point here is that when a man consciously changes his handwriting, he is obliged to pay attention to, and to bring the innermost core of his being into connection with what he is doing. ... the person is made healthier.

It would not be a bad idea to introduce such exercises systematically into the classroom to strengthen the etheric body even in childhood. will doubtless be a long time before leading educators will consider it anything but foolish. Nevertheless, suppose that children were first taught to write a particular style of penmanship and after a few years were expected to acquire an entirely different character in their handwriting. The change, and the conscious attention it would involve, would result in a remarkable strengthening of the etheric body." *

It must be in the very air here, the need to work on one's handwriting. The last time Aragorn was in France, without me, his grandfather had him practice handwriting an hour every day. I think he actually enjoyed the time with his grandfather AND the writing. His cursive, when he wishes, is beautiful. My little eight-year-old Alienor, like her siblings before her at the same age, has terrible handwriting. I decided to begin an experiment with her, and later transfer it to her older brother if it works. I think in the long run it will help her develop her will to a point that makes life more pleasant for her and for everyone else. We began by writing the letters of her name, one after another, deliberately, in a certain order; italic, top to bottom, forming each letter, repeating the "n" she was having trouble with a few times. Was she happy about this? Hmmm, does a cat like baths? It was not easy to begin. It was really truly awful, to tell the truth. She had been asking for someone to please "do school with her," and Pierre had taken some time to do math with her, she has been writing sentences in French, but it has been a bit sporadic. It isn't because mama woke up all fired up about handwriting that the child is just as enthusiastic. However, as we advanced, she warmed up to the exercise and finished satisfied with herself and the progress she had clearly made in one session.

I made myself a cup of tea and let out my breath. Tomorrow is another day. It will get easier.

Tomorrow I plan to begin my study of botanical drawing and the Latin names of flowers. I am sure I will understand the pain of being precise and picking up a new skill in which I have absolutely no talent today.

* Taken from a lecture by Rudolf Steiner on January 11, 1912 that can be found here:


  1. Handwriting is important and I love the explanation and Steiner s, my Father had a excellent hand, done in the old style,my two sons have poor handwriting but my daughters is good. Cheers Marie

  2. Ah, the old style! I love seeing things written in this calligraphic, beautiful hand. It was an art form. When one left school, one may not have been any better informed than one is today, but at least the handwriting was gorgeous!

    Thanks, Marie!

  3. I am curious about your botanical drawing course. Could you tell us more, please?

  4. Hi Laura,

    I began with "New Eyes for Plants" last year; a Goethe (and Steiner too, I imagine)-inspired study for adults. This year, as my dd and I are studying Latin, my immediate project is to sketch all of the flowers I can find here (my an extensive flower gardener) and learn the names in French and Latin, that's the whole program for now. Next spring I may return to "New Eyes for Plants" and go further with it.

    Do you have plans for a botanical study? I would love to hear about them too!

    Happy Growing Season,


  5. Hello, Angela:

    Please don't take my delay in responding as a lack of appreciation or interest. I am so pleased that you took the time to respond.

    I am interested in botanical study, but have no plans that I am close to putting into action. Unless you count asking you about resources and an search (the book 'Botanical Illustration Course: With the Eden Project' sounded interesting). Perhaps this will be the season.

    Will you be posting about your Family French Program in the future? I'm looking forward to reading it.

    And lastly, thanks for your recent inspirational post regarding education. My daughter just finished a year at a Waldorf preschool and we are looking forward to full-time home learning. I'm excited and nervous.

  6. Hi Laura,

    Thank you for writing! I will look up "The Botanical Illustration Course," it sounds intriguing.

    I will soon post more about our Family French Program, it will be a lot of fun to do together as a family, or just with mom and child.

    All my best wishes as you embark upon the exciting journey of homeschooling!

    More soon,



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