Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cursive handwriting — the big controversy

Cursive handwriting — the big controversy
   There is much discussion today about the value of learning and practicing cursive handwriting, or, rather, the lack thereof.  In a technological age, it seems we have forgotten the amazing gift writing is!  Small motor skills, the hand-brain connection, literacy and an aid to spelling correctly ... the benefits are immeasurable.  How can anyone consider it passé ?  From notes to myself to shopping lists ... I use handwriting everyday. 
   People argue that it’s tedious, and keyboarding skills replace the usefulness of cursive.  Often the same ones who argue that the calculator replaces the need to do sums by hand, and yet I am always reminded of the times I’ve been turned away from stores whose power outage rendered their computerized cash registers inoperable.  The clerks in these cases could not even figure tax due with their handheld calculators.  Maybe knowing the process is worth the tedium and trouble.  No less for writing cursive.
   Whenever we try something new, there will be some degree of awkwardness or difficulty.  Moreover, anything we don’t do consistently, we tend to lose some degree of our competency in doing easily.  There is a time honored truism, “The only difference between you and a Master is practice.”
   Cursive writing need not be tedious.  It can be both enjoyable and rewarding.  In fact, prior to the 1940-s and 50’s children learned cursive first!  A little practice every day.  Manuscript or print was imposed on children when the powers-that-be decided that because it resembles the fonts used in books and other literature, it would coordinate with children’s reading skills.  There were no studies or research done to prove this was a better way to learn.  It was simply reasoned and imposed.  In hindsight, recent studies now show just the opposite is true, cursive is the most supportive form of writing, enhancing all learning skills.  In fact, many high school kids who have been taught to print cannot read cursive!  Yet, those who learn cursive first have no difficulty reading print or fonts in books and literature.  
   Learning to write is one of the most important skills anyone can master.  It takes patience and practice.  “By the yard it’s hard, but inch by inch, it’s a cinch.”  An adage that says it all when it comes to acquiring new skills.  Handwriting should be fun.  Play music.  Relax.  And, practice.  Practice daily — just ten to fifteen minutes a day for young children.  The idea is not about perfect penmanship, rather it’s training the small motor muscles to direct the pen to form the letter shapes and coordinate the eye with spatial concepts.  Cursive flows with its ovals and curves.  Over, under and up and down strokes that easily join letters that form words (and ideas!).  Manuscript (print writing) is much stiffer with lines and circle shapes that must be made with starts and stops.
   Take the test yourself.  In a quiet space, with full attention, print out a couple sentences.  Next, write out a couple more in cursive.  Handwriting is visceral — you can “feel” a difference.  Printing is much more angular and mechanical.  Cursive flows.  Studies show that it engages the creative centers in our brains.  Be patient.  Get in touch with the flow ... not with your judgment about what it looks like.  Simply put your pen to paper and write a few spontaneous lines.  It isn’t about perfection, it’s about the process.   
   There are many clinical studies that show the benefits of cursive writing.  You can find links to some of them on my website at: