March 29, 2015 – Once considered a fundamental of education, cursive handwriting is disappearing from classrooms across North America to a more contemporary and idiomatic, yet impersonal and truncated form of communication. Educators are preparing their students for a digital future where they believe only legible printing and keyboarding skills are required. Cursive handwriting is considered a non-essential skill and no longer feasible in school budgets.
According to Zaner-Bloser Inc., one of the largest handwriting-curriculum publishers in the United States, the instructional time value in primary schools for cursive handwriting is just over one hour per week.
Since 2010, 45 states adopted the Common Core standards, which denigrates cursive handwriting instruction as an ‘ancient skill’, leaving it up to individual states and districts to decide whether they want to include it in their curricula. Many U.S. states dropped cursive handwriting and opted for keyboarding lessons instead.
Hanover Research in Washington, D.C. concluded that elementary students need at least 15 minutes of handwriting instruction daily for cognitive, writing and motor skills, and reading comprehension improvement.
California, Georgia and Massachusetts have laws mandating cursive instruction, and last month, legislators in Idaho passed a bill instructing the state Board of Education to include cursive in the curriculum.
Parents lodged numerous complaints with teachers and schools when they discovered their children did not know how to sign their names or read and write in cursive. After a unanimous vote, the Toronto Catholic District School Board is now searching for ways to re-introduce cursive handwriting into the classroom.
In Ontario, cursive writing is mentioned in the curriculum starting in Grade 3 but it is not a requirement. Students will only receive cursive handwriting instruction if teachers find the time to include it in their curriculum.
Lauren Ramey, spokesperson for Honourable Liz Sandals, the Minister of Education for Ontario, stated, “School boards are free to increase the emphasis on cursive writing, as long as they are meeting the learning expectations in the curriculum”.
The logical resolution to this quandary is to teach cursive handwriting and incorporate computer technology into educational instruction enabling students to receive an efficient, balanced and relevant academic foundation.
Neuroscientists and psychologists agree that it would be a mistake not to include cursive handwriting in the curriculum because children not only learn to read faster when they first begin to write but they are also better at generating ideas and retaining information.
“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain and it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a Psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris and author of the book, “Reading in the Brain.”
A 2012 study led by Karin Harman James, professor of psychology and neuroscienceat Indiana University, found that children who did not know how to read and write and were asked to reproduce a letter or shape exhibited increased co-activation in three areas of the brain - and children who typed or traced a letter or shape showed no such effect.
Virginia Berninger, a Psychologist at the University of Washington, completed a study consisting of students from grades two to five and found that children who composed text by hand not only produced more words at a faster rate than they did on a keyboard but expressed additional ideas as well. Children with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.
“Cursive writing, compared to printing, should be even more beneficial because the movement tasks are more demanding, the letters are less stereotypical, and the visual recognition requirements create a broader repertoire of letter representation. Cursive is also faster and more likely to engage students by providing a better sense of personal style and ownership,” said William R. Klemm, in an article published by Psychology Today entitled, “Why Writing by Hand Could Make You Smarter.”
In a 2013 article entitled, ‘Memory Medic’ written by William R. Klemm Ph.D., it is suggested that learning to write in cursive can ease symptoms of dyslexia - a functional disconnection in communication between the auditory and language centres of the brain. The connection between letters required in cursive writing may reduce letter reversals. A stronger association for learning and memory is present with the tactile experience of using our hands.
Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles reported that students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. New research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to “process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding”.
High school students are quite adept at taking notes on laptops and tablets but when it comes to completing the essay section of an SAT college or university entrance exam, some students received a ‘0’ because of illegibility. When students were asked to read their responses in the essay section, they could not decipher their own handwriting.
Casualties of Communication
Students who are not capable of reading and writing in cursive are disadvantaged casualties of communication.
Students that do not know how to sign their name cannot complete forms, obtain a passport, open a bank account or endorse a cheque. A signature is not only very personal but an authentic declaration of your existence.
Children that cannot read or write cursive do not know how to respond to a letter from an aunt, uncle, or grandparent. In fact, all communication written in cursive will be a foreign language to them.
"Written language can be acquired more easily by children of four years than by those of six. While children of six usually need at least two years to learn how to write, children of four years learn this second language within a few months."
Dr. Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori Method of Education.
Learning to write in cursive, children develop their own handwriting style and over a period of time, it becomes a true extension of their identity and personality. Handwriting is the equivalent of a fingerprint - it defines who you are and delineates what makes you different from everyone else.
Imaginative expressions that are provoked and stimulated through experience and incidence are uniquely captured through the cursive writing ease of every word.
Without cursive handwriting, children are not adequately prepared academically nor are they given the educational tools that will help them attain a successful career - but unquestionably, they will face ridicule, embarrassment and failure.
If I ask an eight-year-old child to write his name on a piece of paper and he cannot perform this very simple task, what limitations, setbacks, judgements and failures will this child face as an adolescent and as an adult?
Employers openly stated they cannot imagine collaborating with people who are unable to read and write spontaneously, effectively, and efficiently – let alone hire them to be part of a synergistic team.
The Montessori Method
“Handwriting across the curriculum is encouraged in the Montessori classroom. Older children write their own poems, stories, and research reports. One of the best ways for children to learn geography, history, science, and even math, is to work with the materials and write about it (with a pencil!)”
~,excerpt from www.montessoriservices.com written by Irene Baker, MEd, Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services
Observers of Montessori schools are often amazed by the beautiful cursive handwriting of four and five-year-old children. Dr. Maria Montessori believed that the printing of letters was much more difficult for children to achieve than the uninterrupted movements of cursive handwriting.
“We were never born to read. Human beings invented reading only a few thousand years ago. And with this invention, we rearranged the very organization of our brain, which in turn expanded the ways we were able to think, which altered the intellectual evolution of our species. Reading is one of the single most remarkable inventions in history; the ability to record history is one of its consequences. Our ancestors’ invention could come about only because of the human brain’s extraordinary ability to make new connections among its existing structures, a process made possible by the brain’s ability to be shaped by experience. This plasticity at the heart of the brain’s design forms the basis for much of who we are, and who we might become…”~excerpt - opening paragraph from ‘Proust and the Squid’ written by Maryanne Wolf.
Attitude, motivation and an efficient curriculum have the greatest influence on a child’s academic success. When a child takes the initiative to accept challenges, self-confidence and self-respect emerge providing inspiration and integrity to want to learn more.
A Message to all Parents
If your children are not being taught cursive handwriting in class, speak with your teacher, principal and school board. If the Toronto Catholic School Board can re-introduce cursive writing in the classroom, so can your school! Band together. Make a stand. Let your voices be heard far and wide. Your children deserve a great education – and that includes knowing how to read and write in cursive.
I have attached two hyperlinks in the Resource Section below that provide free downloads of different exercises and worksheets for individual letter practice. Don’t rob your children of one of the most fundamental and significant educational skills. Print these pages now!
Cursive Writing for the iGeneration - Washington Parent
What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades? – New York Times
Improve Reading & Hand-eye Coordination by Learning Cursive? – Psychology Today
How handwriting trains the brain – The Wall Street Journal
On Writing and Reading - Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO
K5learning.com – contains free printable handwriting worksheets on writing cursive letters, words and sentences
Printablecursive.com – short lessons written in cursive for reading and writing practice
The Brain Balance Program – for children who are struggling with reading or fine motor skills needed for handwriting proficiency. The assessment process consists of sensory, motor and cognitive testing of more than 900 functionalities.
History of Cursive Handwriting - Wikipedia