Back when cursive was taught to every 3rd-grader, I was teaching it to a student who had NO desire to learn it. This was unusual — many K-2 students before that time admired the kids who knew cursive and were dying to learn it themselves, though many pronounced it incorrectly: “curfus” and “curlesy” are two examples that I remember.
Anyway, sweet Stephanie, who objected to being made to learn a whole new way to write after finally mastering printing, said, “Why do they make us learn this? When you grow up, everything you write on says ‘PLEASE PRINT!’”
I love teaching cursive. I was one of those many people who learned and wrote in cursive until 8th grade, when I returned to printing, incorporating “cool” ways of writing some letters. I also adopted e.e. cummings’ rejection of capital letters except in assigned work from school. I fancied myself a rebel, distinguishing myself from the pack, not noticing that probably 50% of my peers were doing the same thing.
Then I started teaching, and had to relearn cursive in order to teach it. I even went so far as to regularize my pencil grip in order to model it correctly. I learned to break the skill down into patterns, and to make it fun. For the past 10+ years, though, very few students are even being introduced to it at school, so I rarely get a chance to teach it anymore. Clearly, there are still way more than enough other skills to teach, and it would be hard to find time in tutoring sessions to work it in, but my belief is that there is some real value in learning it.
Here are my top five reasons for learning cursive. Many are echoed in the article links below.
- Improved neural connections and fine-motor skills. Watching a child concentrate when learning any motor skill is fascinating, but because cursive letters are linked to each other within each word, as I watch, I can envision so many visual-motor connections being made.
- Fewer reversals. In manuscript writing, several letters (b, d, p, q) are very alike except in the way they face and where they sit on the line. I believe there is a right way to form letters when printing to avoid these confusions, but SO many kindergartners are left to their own devices when they try to reproduce letters. They start from the bottom, go from right to left and develop very inefficient patterns that are hard to break. Starting out with good letter formation in print (the subject of a future impassioned blog) leads to much more ease with cursive, but in the absence of adequate instruction in that, learning cursive can eliminate some reversals in writing (which leads to corrections in reading as well).
- Increased writing speed once learned. Developing fluidity in the curved lines of cursive leads to a rhythmic movement, and there is a clear ending of one word and the beginning of the next without having to remember spacing.
- Increased ease in learning spelling words. Learning a word by printing it, even many times, involves a lot of stop-and-start motion because the letters don’t connect. Writing the same words in cursive, the smooth, rhythmic process adds the motor experience of producing that word to the visual and auditory.
- Improved ability to read cursive. There remain situations in which someone who cannot decipher cursive is at a disadvantage. In the New York Times article below is the example of a father who was determined to write “real letters” to his daughter when she was at camp, even though an email option was available. Turned out she needed help to read them!
There are reasons to learn cursive beyond these five that you can read about at the link below. They include increased attention to and retention of subject matter when taking notes in cursive, increased self-discipline, a higher quality signature and increased self-respect, the last of which is something I observe when any child becomes a master at something that started out as a challenge.
Update on “sweet Stephanie”: She came to visit me several years ago as a twenty-something professional who remembered our time together fondly, despite my joining with her teacher and parents in insisting that she learn cursive. I reminded her of her “please print” comment, and she (somewhat abashedly) admitted that she couldn’t imagine NOT using cursive, especially when taking notes. Glad I didn’t put her through all that for nothing!
I will soon write a blog about the crucial importance of learning correct letter formation in printing and in cursive as well. What I’m wondering about now is whether proper keyboarding technique, which few kids seems to know or employ, is similarly superior to random methods kids devise in its absence. Hmmm … will think on that and do some research.
Links in this blog:
Top 10 reasons to learn cursive
The Lost Virtue of Cursive
Podcast: Your Brain on Cursive (first 8.5 minutes — very sciency! With Maria Konnakova)