First graders learn correct stokes to form individual letters. Practice with large arm motions, writing in the air, before taking pen in hand. Actually, don’t take pen in hand. Begin with an elephant-sized pencil. I liked Getty & Dubay’s Italic penmanship curriculum. Handwriting Without Tears is also very good.
Regardless of which writing style you choose, it is important not to begin too soon. Starting young and practicing extensively is not what is needed for kids to have good penmanship. A key element is waiting until kids have enough muscle development to sit properly and hold the pencil correctly. Muscle development can be achieved through lots of playing on the monkey bars!
Once letters are easily formed, words and sentences can be copied from favorite books. For continued penmanship in the upper grades, consider A Reason For Writing.
We have tried a variety of writing curricula that didn’t meet our needs. Some, such as English For The Thoughtful Child and Shurley English combine grammar and writing instruction. Others, such as Writing Strands focus more on writing, but still left my kids hating writing and not feeling like they knew what to write or how to do it. A few years ago I found Jump In: A Workbook for Reluctant and Eager Writers; this is an excellent curriculum for giving kids practice in refining and improving their writing, but doesn’t necessarily start at the beginning with “how to write.”
Finally, I found a writing program that works. If you’re familiar with the Suzuki method of teaching violin, you’ll recognize the philosophy used by Institute for Excellence in Writing. My children are Suzuki violinists: they started by listening to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, then learned to play that song. Next they listened to a new piece, and were introduced to a new technique which they used in playing the new piece. IEW works on the same principle: give kids a piece of writing and teach them to emulate it, then give them a new piece of writing and teach them to emulate it. Introduce one new technique at a time. It’s a philosophy that works in music, and it works in writing, too. This curriculum is expensive, but in my opinion is worth every penny.