Cursive writing has seen something of a slow demise in recent years. As an educator, and someone who appreciates beautiful penmanship, this trend is alarming. Consider the fact that our nation’s most important documents, including the Declaration of Independence, are handwritten, in cursive. Furthermore, the ability to write was considered a sign of wealth and education. One would find it difficult if not impossible to argue the benefits of modern technology. Word processing programs allow us to create and edit documents with ease. Emails, texts, and voice recognition all have their place. But where does that leave us? Do we stop teaching cursive in the classroom? Common Core standards do not mandate cursive instruction, and many schools across the country have done away with it. Is this a good thing? I don’t think so.
Studies suggest that learning cursive is good for the brain. Fine motor skills, creativity, memory and reading efficiency are all linked to cursive and writing in longhand. These are basic skills needed across the curriculum in school. Improved test scores in reading and spelling are also linked to cursive, possibly due to the fact that it forces children to think of words as wholes instead of parts. Additionally, cursive writing has been shown to stimulate the functioning of both the left and right brain – something that is absent from print and typing. Children with dyslexia are particular benefactors. “Cursive can help with the decoding process because it integrates hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and other brain and memory functions,” says Marilyn Zecher, a former teacher and language specialist at the Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center. Although some dyslexic children benefit from keyboarding, practicing continuous cursive handwriting is recommended at an early age.
Fluency in handwriting is also correlated with the quality of written text. As a matter of fact, MRI results have shown that the brains of those with good handwriting are activated more in the areas of language, cognition, and executive function. Dr. Carol Christensen, a cognitive psychologist, states “There is a strong relationship between creative and well-structured written text and the orthographic-motor ability.” She calls it “language by hand”. One might ask about typing. It is important to be proficient in typing however, research indicates that there is still a huge benefit to handwriting. Printing, cursive writing, and typing are all associated with distinct and separate patterns, according to Dr. Virginia Berninger. Therefore, typing should not replace writing by hand. We should be “multilingual” with our hands.
There are psychological benefits to learning cursive. Attitude and motivation have a great impact on a child’s success in school. When a child believes she is able to do something, her motivation increases to learn and do more. Learning cursive is an easy way for a child to master a task, as well as learning self-discipline.
I must confess that after days of delving into the merits of cursive, I still felt an emptiness. I could find brain research to support what I knew intuitively, but I couldn’t put my finger on why I feel so passionately about handwriting – beautiful handwriting. And then it occurred to me… cursive is an art form, and somewhat of a lost one at that. Fewer and fewer young people can sign their names, let alone write a letter or a thank you note. In my opinion, this is not something we should give up because it’s valuable in and of itself.
A few months ago we were learning about medieval monks and the illuminated manuscript writing for which they are famous. Each child learned how to make a stylized letter using specialized techniques and tools. It was amazing to watch them. They loved it. They worked tirelessly on their letters. And they were proud of their final products. I don’t know of any standardized test that could show the outcome or value of that activity, but I knew. The perseverance and patience it required… the focus… it was a beautiful thing. I say ‘yes’ to teaching cursive.