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

cursive-handwritng-chart-lower-upper

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3 thoughts on “Is cursive writing dead?

  1. I love your attention to research, Irene! I definitely believe that Maria Montessori would have wanted us to think very seriously about the pros and cons of our teaching methods according to modern convention. The tech revolution in touch screens is making our world with little ones so tricky! In our family, we teach print first. I do believe that cursive, while beneficial, is culturally dying and that typing (and touch screens) are replacing handwriting as a whole. My six year old son has suddenly had a spike of interest in cursive, though. I’m sure it’s due to all of the modeling I’ve been doing unintentionally, so I think it will remain a part of our family’s education.

    • Thanks for your reply Aubrey. I agree that touch screens have brought a new challenge in determining the “rightness” of education and how to go about the process. For us – and personal preferences are clearly what drive our decisions – we have decided to stick with cursive to start and see how Joshua goes. The school we intend to send Joshua to has the same philosophy and we feel that there are ample opportunities to remain in touch with technology that present themselves each day so do not fear that Joshua will somehow not be able to keep up. I still feel that there are benefits to cursive writing in helping with not only dexterity of the hand but of the mind. I was reading some of those articles I listed and it struck me that there is a lot of talk about how cursive (or writing in general actually) helps with manual dexterity but only one or 2 of the articles mentioned the direct effect it has on thought/logic. Harder to prove of course but I am always interested to remain informed and am open to an education without cursive should advocates be able to prove that it doesn’t matter/no effect. On another note I do take pleasure in seeing beautiful writing from young children. Writing their names for the first time. Writing my name – Mama – and seeing that script flowing along between the dotted and solid lines. Perhaps these memories of my own childhood influence my own decision to want to see the same from my son!

  2. Thank you so much for linking to my posts. I really appreciate the support for handwriting. Just yesterday I had to do an evaluation for a child that is transferring to public school Kindergarten program. The requirements were “can he print his first name, last name, know capitals and lowercase”. I had to be honest and say that those are not relevant at his age since we work on cursive and that this particular child was not at that point.
    So many children write in print even if we work on cursive at school. Even my own daughter is now lured by the print phenomenon since all the other kids are writing in print when they can. But, I’m reminded and grateful for my own cursive habits when the children see me writing and then go “wow” or “how do you do that?”. It makes it appealing and magical and hopefully the more they are exposed to it, the more the interest will grow.
    Thanks again.
    CE

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