Educators don't agree about the value of teaching cursive writing to children. While the research is clear that writing by hand activates different parts of the brain than typing does, aids memory, promotes the development of fine motor skills, and possibly helps in learning to read, it is less clear about whether children should learn manuscript versus cursive writing, or both. Instruction in cursive writing is not part of the Common Core State Standards, and many states no longer require it in the curriculum.
While we're on the subject of handwriting, I want to say that I reject the argument that in this digital age children don't need to write by hand period and that the less time spent on handwriting instruction the better. I disagree with that idea in the same way that I disagree with the premise that children don't need to learn basic mathematical operations because calculators can do it for them. I truly LOVE my computer and my smartphone, but the reality is that keyboards, smartphones, and calculators are not always available. Nor should they always be available. If I'm baking cookies and want to make one-and-a-half times the amount in the recipe, I should be able to compute that without grabbing a calculator! If I'm making a shopping list or writing a short note to my postal carrier, I should also be able to do that without a keyboard and printer! Anyway, that small rant aside, the focus of this blog post is cursive writing and not handwriting per se.
Those who disagree with teaching cursive believe that the instructional time can be better used, to teach computer skills, for example. I believe that it's essential to teach computer skills, but there are also several arguments that support the teaching of cursive writing. Many people think that cursive is faster than manuscript writing because the pencil stays on the page between letters. This is important during certain tasks--for instance, taking notes during a lecture or completing an essay exam. Another argument in favor of cursive is that we need it to read historical documents in their original form, such as the Declaration of Independence or diaries of famous people. Is this an everyday occurrence? No, of course it's not, and yet, the reading of original sources enlivens and enriches content area lessons. Still another argument is that without cursive we would have no way to provide a signature when required to both sign and print our names, such as when receiving a registered letter at the post office, applying for a loan, or signing a will. Moreover, it seems to be easier to forge a printed signature.
I support the teaching of cursive. It does require precious instructional time to teach it and then to practice it, but I believe that it's worth the time. It's part of what marks an educated person. And as the hand, eye, and brain coordinate the effort of forming cursive letters and connecting them into words, the process requires concentration, attention to detail, and planning--all of which are essential to learning in general. Furthermore, when taught well, with an emphasis on correct posture, the position of the paper, and an appropriate pencil grip, and when letters with similar forms, or families, are taught at the same time, most children enjoy the process. To children, writing in cursive is part of being grown up, and they are proud of their accomplishments. Some 21 states now require this instruction, and I hope that others follow suit soon. What are your thoughts?
Dr. Andrea Winokur Kotula is an educational consultant for families, advocates, attorneys, schools, and hospitals. She has conducted hundreds of comprehensive educational evaluations for children, adolescents, and adults.