Is cursive writing dead?

We have been looking into suitable kindergartens for Joshua recently and one question we had was with regard to how reading and writing is taught. While Joshua is not yet at what Montessorians would consider the sensitive period for reading and writing (around the age of 3-5) this is still something we believe requires careful thought.  During our recent tour of a Cycle 1 classroom I noticed a child working with a moveable alphabet and it was in block typeface. However, when I queried the guide she said that cursive is being taught at the pre-writing/writing stages (i.e. sandpaper letters).

So should children be taught block or cursive? Is cursive still relevant to children today?

Cursive writing was originally developed as a method of writing that involved a smooth joining of the letters when people were still writing with quills and ink (what we would consider old writing materials). When newer materials were introduced, calligraphy was introduced as a class a separate subject to retain the beauty of penmanship.

Maria Montessori had this to say about writing:

The development of the hand therefore goes side by side with the development of the intelligence.

After doing some reading on this topic I have listed below some of the benefits of teaching cursive writing first:

  1. Cursive writing is a more natural way of writing. The pencil flows along the paper without frequent stops within words.
  2. The child who can read cursive can also read block letters/manuscript, but the reverse is not necessarily true.
  3. Cursive is a better exercise for strengthening fine motor skills. It takes a reasonable amount of control to push a pencil through cursive letters and form legible, neat words.
  4. Words written in cursive are clearly separated from each other. Run-on words are not as common in cursive as with block print.
  5. Cursive writing “trains the brain” – there are several articles and a lot of research that has been done into the benefits of cursive writing which include helping with learning letters and shapes, and improving idea composition and expression.

Benefits of teaching block writing first:

  1. Block writing is in all educational materials, books, signs and internet and hence is more relevant to what you would read in day to day life.
  2. Cursive can be less legible – think of your doctor’s handwriting on scripts!
  3. Easier for left handers. Left handers tend to drag their hand across their writing (more than right handers) and with cursive this drag is constant and can smudge the print. My husband has adjusted his grip and the paper so that he does not have this drag, many left handers may say they do the same.

This is not an exhaustive list, this is a list of major points that I put together that I felt were the most important to us as parents.  Please note that I did not list cursive writing as being faster than block print as this is debateable. Research was split on whether or not it was faster so I have not put this in as an advantage and I believe that the benefits of either are not based on the speed at which you write. Interestingly, my husband says that by default he writes in cursive, but he uses block print for formal applications such as gift card messages. 

What do you think about learning cursive? Does it matter? Do you have a preference as to what your child learns? I would love to hear from you on your opinion, though please keep this discussion friendly. What works for one family may not work for another and we should respect everyone’s right to have their say.

If you are interested in reading further on this topic these are some articles I read that may be of interest:

http://www.leportschools.com/blog/learning-to-write-right/
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/what-learning-cursive-does-your-brain
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704631504575531932754922518
http://montessori.org.au/questions/cursive.htm
http://homegrownurban.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/cursive-and-art-of-handwriting.html
http://homegrownurban.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/handwriting-importance-of-repetition.html

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Activity of the Day – Pasting activity

Joshua tried pasting at his Montessori class so I thought I would reproduce it at home with a twist to see if he would be interested in it. For flair I decided to see if he would paste some cupcake cases to a piece of paper. We intend on giving some of these for Christmas presents so it was the perfect time to start our decorative efforts.

We did the activity in a tray so I didn’t worry too much about covering the table to protect it. In any case the glue is very easily washed off as it is water based. Joshua pasted until all the cupcake cases were pasted onto the paste and wanted to do some more so he went to his art supplies area and pasted with some off cuts of different coloured paper. He now knows how paste works.

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This is a wonderful activity for children around this age. Pasting, understanding different substances and how they work, and just having some plain old fashioned fun!

Ancora Imparo – I am STILL learning

It is fitting that my Montessori educated husband works for an institution whose motto is Ancora Imparo (Italian for “I am still learning”). Joshua has learned so much in 21 months and there is still so far to go! This got me thinking about what we learn as adults and what we learn as a child. There are so many things that a child learns in the first few years of life, it’s staggering to think of how much they can learn and master. So what is Joshua learning and what can I expect him to learn in the next few years?

My chosen profession is all about order and logic. Therefore as Joshua’s first teacher I am always on the lookout for resources that help me to identify and quantify his milestones and assist with my observations on his progress. Coincidentally, there was a flurry of activity/reposts a few days ago from other Montessori blogs that I follow who were sharing a chart that summarises the things that a Montessori trained teacher would use to quantify these achievements. For a non-trained Montessori follower it looked a little overwhelming and, well, too wordy. After an enquiry to a friend, I was directed to the resources of Voila Montessori who provided me with a chart covering ages 3-6, and also a chart for infant/toddlers aged from birth to age 3 that trained Montessori teachers would use. For me it is far more helpful as it visually shows a child’s progress on a timeline of the skills that they are expected to gain through the first 36 months of life.

psycho_sensory_motor_development Birth to three years

Courtesy of Jeanne-Marie Paynel of Voila Montessori.

This is a chart that is actually used by Montessori trained teachers from 0-3 to observe and capture the progress of a child so as to note and work on any skills that might be lacking at any point in time and prepared by an AMI certified Montessori teacher. A close look at the chart shows a lot of skills developed in just 3 years. No wonder this is such a wondrous time for a child and why it is referred to by Montessorians as “The Absorbent Mind”!

So how does Joshua’s skillset fit in with this chart?

At 21 months he is walking up and down stairs confidently with and without assistance. He is walking and running well. He can sort and identify shapes, colours and animals, and identify familiar family members and friends. He is progressing well with his toilet learning: identifying that he needs to go, letting us know and taking himself to the toilet. He can carry things up and down the stairs. He is hefting heavier items and moving things around the room and across distances. He can feed himself competently with spoon and fork, but needs a bit more work on knife usage. He attempts to pull his pants up and down, to pull his socks on and off, can put his arms into his sleeves of his tops and pull them out again, can pull his tops on and off over his head but still needs assistance here and there to get changed. He can throw a ball or an object. He can match like items and identifies several different types of fruits and vegetables. He climbs up and down equipment and ladders easily. He loves painting, drawing and stamping. He can sweep up a little and is attempting to use a dustpan and brush. He attempts to brush his teeth and can comb his own hair. He waters his veggie patch every day. He is curious about how things open and shut and is easily frustrated if he cannot work it out and is not helped to find a solution. He loves books. LOVES THEM. He will devour book after book and will often be happy just leafing through a book on his own nearby while I am busy with household chores. He puts his dirty laundry into a hamper and can stack blocks of varying sizes up high. His favourite colour is blue and he has a few favourite toys that he keeps with him for sleep time. Developmentally he seems to fit in very well with the Montessori chart. Reflectively I can see that I perhaps offered some things that according to this chart might have been a little early but Joshua achieved those milestones earlier because he was ready to and I followed his interests. Follow the child!

This chart is perfect. It captures Joshua’s milestones and those yet to come. Ancora Imparo of the infant/toddler.

(Would that it were so easy to capture the learning of a new mum!)

So how does Ancora Imparo fit into our lives?
For us we feel that Montessori education is the key to Joshua’s Ancora Imparo. We want him to have a lifelong love of learning. The above chart quantifies the beginning of Joshua’s Ancora Imparo journey which we have commenced with preparing our environment as best as possible to support his development.

For my husband, his line of work reflects his need to continue with the Ancora Imparo experience. His desire for intrinsic motivation comes from his love of learning which was instilled from his early childhood Montessori education. He is a researcher, this is perhaps the best choice of profession for him as he is always curious about how things work. He is ALWAYS learning (and teaching too). He is able to seek out appropriate resources through contacts and attending conferences.

I am an Ancora Imparo parent. I am University and postgraduate qualified in my paid profession and my experiences with Joshua are still taking me to parenting school every day. We don’t just talk about it, we DO it. We are open to new experiences and ideas. The point where we stop learning how to parent well and be open to those new ideas, experiences and the advice of others is the day that we fail as parents as well as atrophying as individuals. It would be arrogant to think that we know everything. As an appropriately trained and qualified person in my chosen profession it also goes without saying that I am always learning. Learning about the changes in my chosen field, how they affect me and how I do my paid job.

I am not a Montessori trained teacher, nor even a trained teacher. What I do have is a passion for Montessori learning and the desire and drive to provide my son with the best early experiences possible to maximise his opportunities to learn. This is not about making him the smartest kid or to somehow imply/make him seem to be more advanced than other children. It is about giving him the opportunities to be the best person that he can be, and I truly believe that he will be a better-adjusted, well-rounded person for having the chance to experience a Montessori education. Ancora Imparo is the greatest gift that we can give Joshua.

Learning never ends. I am Joshua’s first teacher and am cherishing the opportunity I have been given to teach someone else everything that I know. There will be other teachers in Joshua’s life, both people he is related to as well as those he is not. Each one of those people will add to Joshua’s Ancora Imparo experience in life and I hope it is a journey for him that is all the things that learning should be: challenging, to exercise his mind, and frustrating when he cannot find the answer. Confidence-building as he learns to ask for help and ask the right questions and understand what is being asked. Satisfaction when he understands and solves what he previously did not understand. Joyful as the process of learning and understanding is achieved and being able to help others if called upon.

What is the most important thing parenthood has taught you? Do you have a lightbulb Ancora Imparo moment you would like to share? I would love to hear them.

Thanks to Jeanne-Marie Paynel of Voila Montessori for permission to reproduce her beautiful chart for this post. She has also provided one for ages 2.5 to age six.

Activity of the Day – Stamping activity

I noticed recently that Joshua was using a self-inking stamp with vigour when we were out and about. So I decided to set up a stamping activity for Joshua that would be fun but also taking it one step further. I happened to be looking around for arts and crafts materials in a local toy shop and I asked if they had any stamping supplies to which the assistant asked how old Joshua was and I said 20 months. She looked dubious and pointed me toward some stamping sets which she said were suitable for older children however if I wanted to give Joshua a go I could.

So I did. A quick explanation of the process: Inking, stamping, repeat process. These are the results.

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These are rated as ages 4+. Joshua is 21 months old and understood it and loved it. Exercises hand and arm strength, fine motor skills and is well, just plain fun!

Do you think that sometimes the ages listed on some of these activities do our children a disservice? There are quite a few things we have that are graded for older children that Joshua uses. This is why I love Montessori philosophy so much: follow the child (and you can only succeed). He now stamps things at home every few days so this has been left available for him to go back to when he wants to stamp.

Parent-Toddler Montessori Class

Joshua currently attends a parent-toddler Montessori class once a week. I believe that he has benefited immensely from attending as there is no substitute for firsthand experience. I have done a lot of reading on Montessori at home and in the classroom to date and seeing the theory in practice is invaluable.

So why attend a Montessori parent-toddler group? These are our reasons for attending:

  • The materials are prepared and presented for your child. There are a far wider range of things available so your child has a good chance to access and have a go at these. It provides inspiration for home and can give rise to new interests that you can support at home.
  • The teacher is Montessori trained and can answer any question about the different Cycles in the school as well as provide support on Montessori education and for me, a general parenting sounding board.
  • The Montessori trained teacher who you have access to who can engage your child but also observes and transitions them to the environment that they will be in when they attend kindergarten.
  • Meeting like minded parents – The Montessori community here in Melbourne is reasonably small so it is nice to be able to foster some relationships with people who feel the same way about educating their children.
  • This is a great introduction to the Montessori classroom. The only differences are the parents attending (which is good so they can understand a little what environment their child will be educated in) and the fact that there are not the 3 different ages of children you would find in the Cycle 1-3 classrooms. The next stage is the Early Learners program. It is optional to attend (it is highly recommended to transition though), some parents are more comfortable to continue with the parent-toddler program which is also fine however at some stage the separation to the Montessori classroom for longer periods of time is required. The parent-toddler class is once a week for 2 hours. The Early Learners class is 2 x 2 hours per week. Cycle 1 is 5 x 3 hours per week (in keeping with the 3 hour work cycle Montessori advocates).
  • It is a lovely space for him to interact with other children, have access to activities and materials and enjoy a space outside of home that is calm, orderly and filled with beautiful apparatus for him to select to satisfy his curiosity.

We have modelled our work space at home on the same principles as the classroom so that the bridge between home and the classroom is not as vast. This makes reinforcement of expectations and behaviour much easier to reinforce.

I thought I would show you a little of the toddler Montessori classroom and a typical session that Joshua attends.

Joshua comes into the room – he knows it very well – and we put our coats, bags and other items up on a hook. On arrival his teacher will greet him and ask him how he is. Eye contact is made, a little handshake, a wave hello.

I usually offer the toilet when we arrive and then Joshua will walk around the room to take a look around at what is available (remembering that the materials are rotated regularly) and then decide what he wants to work on.

The room is organised with arts and crafts in one corner, food preparation in another (kitchen), apparatus for mat work and tables and chairs where other suitable apparatus to work on are located. Books are located in another area along with a general area for sitting. This order encourages the child to stick to those areas to use certain apparatus as they generally are not as suitable for use in other areas. For example some of the posting activities are better to be attempted at the table which is closer to child height so they can see what they are doing whereas activities such as cylinders or the small pink tower (stacking) are better done on the floor with a mat. Joshua chooses what he would like to work on, this is a child led environment.  There are only a few rules:

  1. No yelling/disruptive behaviour. The classroom is a peaceful place. At this age it is inevitable that there may be some shrieks but this is discouraged.
  2. No interfering with another child’s activity – if another child says no to playing together quietly on an activity they are working on then I will encourage Joshua to find something else to work with.
  3. No physicality (e.g.shoving, pushing, hitting).

Other than this the child is free to pick and choose what activities they would like to work on.

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Today Joshua decided to work with a container of butterflies. He is very interested in butterflies at the moment.  He loves to bring them out of the container and flutter them around and examine the texture and detail of the butterflies in the box. He opens the container, engages with the activity then closes the box and returns it to the shelf.

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There is a coin box that Joshua finds that he posts some coins into. This is an activity suitable for the mat. He carries the coin box over to a mat he gets out and engages with this activity for a while.

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Threading is an activity that Joshua has been engaging with a bit. This one is blocks on a string, he seems to enjoy the worm going through the apple a little more than this one.

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These are the Knobless Cylinders. These are presented in a small wooden box and are there are 10 red cylinders. These particular ones are the same height but different diameter. The size differential is slight so it takes a reasonable ability to discriminate and differentiate these in order to stack and sort successfully. They also only fit back into the box if placed correctly so this is also testing the child’s ability to either recall how or work out how to put these in so that they fit and the lid closes.

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Joshua then chooses the yellow cylinders to work with, these are different height and different diameter. He builds these into a wonky tower before they fall down, this is what happens when you place a small cylinder in the centre of the structure. He packs the activity slowly away, the differing heights and diameters of these cylinders makes it trickier to replace in the box.

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Threading with reels and plastic hose. Joshua concentrates so he threads through not just the middle but the outside holes.

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Fruit cutting exercise. Just a fun way to name fruit, introduce the concept of cutting up fruit. This particular activity engages quite a few of the children each class.

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A snack is taken at the communal snack table. Joshua is expected to get his placemat out, plate, cup and water and place them correctly at the table before helping himself to a snack. We are still working on him using the tongs to get food from the platter, he gets very enthusiastic to eat his snack and hands are faster.

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Joshua manages to fit in some painting. His enthusiasm for painting started here when the setup appealed to him. His lovely teacher saves each one of his artworks and presents them to him to take after they are dried and collected in subsequent weeks.

After this a little bell rings and we sit on the mat for songs and each child is given the opportunity to identify and collect a personal item from a communal basket before heading out to the playground for some physical activity. At the moment there are vegetables in the veggie patch that are growing nicely that are tended to by some of the older children as well as some chickens that have been hatched and are laying eggs each morning. Then back to the classroom, we sing our goodbye song and class finishes for the day.

We love these classes. What I love the most about these is the constructive work that the children undertake. If you decide to enrol in one I would suggest getting your child on the waiting list as soon as possible as demand for the classes is quite high.

Me Do It – Putting on a smock

Joshua loves painting. It is one of his favourite activities at the moment. He seems to find a lot of peace while painting and he loves swirling the paints in the pots, in a bowl, on the paper. The issue we faced was that Joshua flatly refused to wear a smock. Ever. I do not force Joshua to put things on if he is unwilling to so paint was ending up everywhere.

I initially purchased a standard smock from the art shop with plastic sleeves, plastic front and did up at the back. He flatly refused to put this on. After corresponding with Kylie from How We Montessori I decided to give a Montessori smock a try.

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Success! Joshua can get the smock on and off himself and hang it back on the art easel ready for use next time (There is a little loop on the smock to hang it, we tend to hang it on a wooden dowel on the easel itself). It satisfies his need to be able to take things on and off himself, does not restrict his arms and gives him freedom to move.  I highly recommend one of these, they enable the child to put it on themselves unassisted and take it off. They are beautiful, the smock is made from an oiled canvas material and protect clothing from paint. You could also use these for water play activity.

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The Cooperative Child

I recently read an article that got me thinking about eliciting cooperation from a child. The article referred to everyday things that we wish our children would do without complaint (such as wiping noses, cutting finger nails). I have heard and been recommended many ways to get your children to cooperate, from bribes (“if you do this then you get an ice cream”) through to yelling (“do it or else”). I started thinking about our own experiences dealing with this issue and thought I would share successful instances we have had with facilitating a helpful and cooperative attitude from Joshua.

At the park – time to leave

Our little family went down to the park and had a grand old afternoon, Joshua spent lots of time running around the park, climbing, swinging, bouncing and sliding. We wished that the afternoon would never end; it was the perfect day! It was the first time that Joshua had been to an adventure playground and the first time in a very long time that my husband or I had been.

As the time to leave approached, I made sure to remind Joshua at regular intervals that we would be leaving soon so that it would not be a shock when it was time to go. Time came up and we had to go as dinner time was approaching. When it came time to put Joshua in the car he resisted and cried out, clearly wanting to run back to the playground for more fun time. He struggled to get out of his seat and started crying. He did not want to leave. This was looking like it was going to escalate into a tantrum (hooray!), and a wonderful time of the day it was too for a meltdown! We could have demanded Joshua to sit in his seat and endured the storm of tears and tantrums.  Instead I chose to look him in the eye and I said quietly “Joshua I did tell you that we need to go. The reason we need to go is because I need to go home and start making dinner otherwise we will be hungry. Could you please sit back in your seat so that I can buckle you in?” He stopped crying, stopped struggling. Looked at me and sat back in his seat and threaded his arms into the straps. I buckled Joshua up and again looked him in the eyes and said “Thank you for helping Mummy, you are so helpful when you are listening and cooperating. I promise we will go to the park again tomorrow.

There is sense of inner pride for Joshua at being able to make the decision to sit back in his seat rather than being forced to. There is also inner pride from me to see how far he has come in just 21 months.

Nappy changes – a sense of dignity

I often see posts on nappy changes on forums as well as been asked myself several times about this issue. How do we get Joshua to cooperate with us at change time? It became obvious very quickly that Joshua would not let me change his nappy lying down, especially when he started pulling to stand. This quickly became very unpleasant when he decided to start kicking. Hard. Was he being defiant? I don’t believe so. I believe he was telling me “I don’t like it when you do that Mama, I am not a baby”. So we quickly made the decision to start doing nappy changes standing up. Yes, it was harder work for us at that point as he was still in nappies, but ultimately far more engaging for Joshua as he became an active participant. He would help to get wipes and place them and soiled trainers in the bucket for disposal, grabbing fresh trainers to wear, and getting to decide which ones he would prefer to wear (he usually picks the colourful ones rather than the plain white ones!).

This does not mean or imply that we never have any issues with cooperation in our home. As with any approach a parent pursues, it takes time to implement, time to reinforce and time for the appropriate learning to occur. We have had our fair share of situations where sometimes Joshua won’t cooperate and has had a tantrum, just as every parent does. But our experience so far has seen a decrease in the frequency of tantrums, as well as the intensity of Joshua’s reaction to things once I acknowledge his feelings and explain things to him. As with everything this is a slow process of teaching Joshua to understand that he can’t have everything his own way and learning to control his emotions.

What resonates most with me is that this approach allows Joshua to choose to do things himself and not to interrupt a child if they are immersed in an activity (unless absolutely necessary), both core Montessori principles. As with most issues requiring child cooperation such as toilet learning, nappy changes, getting into the car, changes in activities (an exhaustive list), it has remained important to us to remain emotionally detached from the process so that we are able to model the correct behaviour. Our desire to allow Joshua freedom within limits is driven by our love and respect for him. Even though he might not always like it he needs to learn self control, be offered acceptable choices (circumstances permitting) and learn patience. We provide opportunities to practice these things through instances as they arise and by modelling acceptable behaviour.

Another link that I found extremely useful and helpful is an article written by The Full Montessori. It is full of helpful Montessori strategies and tools to use at home that are also in the same vein.

http://thefullmontessori.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/try-this-at-home/

I refer to this article a few times a month since I read it. The steps are simple, do-able and logical and a good reminder for when things get frustrating. We pick our battles and decide what is important. For every family this is different but we draw a line and try to remain consistent.

If you have any other links and resources that you find helpful I would love to read it, please feel free to share them.