The Benefits of Teaching Cursive First

Dr. Phyllis Rand

Dr. Phyllis Rand’s over 40 years of service in Christian education has ranged from being a sixth grade teacher to graduate and post-graduate faculty, and from elementary administrator to Chair of Education for Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, FL. She has also written language arts textbooks and developed curriculum for A Beka Book.

The Benefits of Teaching Cursive First

Dr. Phyllis Rand (ed.)

Among the myths aimed at traditional education is that activities such as cursive writing are monotonous and that changing times have made them obsolete. The early teaching of cursive writing has gone out of style in favor of manuscript, where penmanship is still taught, or in favor of keyboarding skills exclusively with the result that some students cannot even read anything written in cursive or produce neat, legible penmanship of any kind. USA Today reports that 41 states no longer require handwriting instruction—probably because the Common Core Standards require keyboarding instruction but not handwriting.1

There are, however, educators who still believe that cursive writing in the early grades is valuable and necessary. They would tell you that its neglect, like that of other traditional activities such as diagramming, drilling number facts, and memorization, has weakened the foundation for a solid education. Another seeming myth is that manuscript writing, or printing, has always been taught first when actually this practice is of recent origin in American education. Jane Rodgers Siegel reminds us that, until 1922, all students first learned cursive writing; it was Marjorie Wise who introduced American schools to manuscript writing in the early grades.2 Its introduction “was part of the new progressive reforms of primary education,” according to Samuel Blumenfeld.3 Today, more and more voices are being raised in objection to the elimination of penmanship classes in general and cursive writing in particular.

A Beka Book believes in the value of teaching cursive along with good writing habits and uses this traditional approach to writing, beginning in kindergarten. When the move from manuscript was made in 1993 at Pensacola Christian Academy, many teachers and parents were concerned that kindergartners were too young to learn cursive. The first few weeks proved challenging, but as the children learned to form and connect letters, their handwriting began to improve. After four months of instruction and practice, they were writing neat, legible, cursive script.

The argument that cursive writing is harder for children to learn is not borne out by the facts. Actually, cursive writing coincides with early skills development. Blumenfeld notes that young children struggle to make the “straight lines and perfect circles” manuscript requires.4 While cursive requires skill, it requires curved lines, which children can easily form. In “Top 10 Reasons to Learn Cursive,” handwriting coach Iris Hatfield states that the “frequent stop and start motion” of printing is more difficult for young children than the flow of cursive.5

There are other very positive byproducts that come from learning to write in cursive. For example, writing stimulates the development of fine motor skills and coordination by causing eyes and hands to focus on the same thing, the formation of the letter. In “Is Cursive’s Day in Classroom Done?” Denise Smith Amos confirms that this training “helps small children develop hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and other brain and memory functions.”6 Cursive is not only easier for young children to form but also offers more benefits than manuscript.

Another boost from the traditional exercise of learning cursive script is how it influences a child’s cognitive development and provides long term academic benefits—especially in language development. Cursive actually stimulates the part of the brain that develops language skills. In “Brain Development Could Suffer as Cursive Writing Fades,” Leah McLean reports that “cursive handwriting, more than printing, stimulates intelligence and language fluency.”7 There are reasons to believe that cursive improves students’ reading and spelling skills. When young children learn cursive before manuscript, they are less likely to confuse letters that look similar in print, such as b and d, because cursive letters are more distinct. As Blumenfeld notes in “The Benefits of Cursive Writing,” this distinction “carries over to the reading process.”8 Students who confuse letters less become better readers. Because students confuse letters less, they more easily learn to spell correctly. In “The Importance of Teaching Handwriting,” Louise Spear-Swerling writes that “handwriting in the earliest grades is linked to basic reading and spelling achievement.”9 This link is stronger than parents and teachers may suppose. In “Study: Learning Cursive in the First Grade Helps Students,” Maureen Downey records that education professor Isabelle Montésinos-Gelet has found that children in early elementary grades “‘experience a growth in spelling’” that is hindered “‘if they have to change writing styles [from manuscript to cursive].’”10

The article “Has Neglecting Penmanship Contributed to the Dumbing Down of America?” records that Jeanette Farmer, a handwriting specialist, has found that “‘handwriting has a physiological / psychological link in the brain.’” This link is so strong that “‘nothing else done in the classroom can begin to compare with the powerful impact that repetitively manipulating the thumb and fingers over time has on the young brain.’”11 When young students learn cursive, they are further prepared to learn new skills. In “What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain,” William Klemm adds that “cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.”12

The methods that were once America’s education traditions have another important byproduct—one that is still important in Christian schools—and that is the formation of character. Teachers recognized that learning to be careful, orderly, neat, clean, responsible, thorough, exacting, and persistent could be taught via exacting work and skills teaching. The elimination of this kind of work skill has certainly contributed to the poor results in American education. The author of Teaching with the Brain in Mind put it another way: “Two generations ago, 95% of people in America used handwriting. Today, most use keyboarding. Yet the skills of handwriting remain important. They are memory, focus, prediction, attention, sequencing, estimation, patience, and creativity.”13 Let us not be hasty to eliminate opportunities for students to develop cognition, learn skills, and learn work habits that will benefit them their whole life. Lessons in cursive writing are well worth the few minutes of class time given to them daily.

For Further Reading

“Has Neglecting Penmanship Contributed to the Dumbing Down of America?” PR Web. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2004/08/prweb153015.htm, (accessed February 16, 2005).

Blumenfeld, Sam. “The Benefits of Cursive Writing.” Practical Homeschooling, 2005. http://www.home-school.com/Articles/the-benefits-of-cursive-writing.php.

Blumenfeld, Samuel L. “How Should We Teach Our Children to Write? Cursive First, Print Later!” The Blumenfeld Education Letter, September, 1994.

Downey, Maureen. “Study: Learning Cursive in the First Grade Helps Students.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 16, 2013. http://www.ajc.com/weblogs/get-schooled/ 2013/sep/16/study-learning-cursive-first-grade-helps-students/ (accessed October 2, 2013).

Hatfield, Iris. “Top 10 Reasons to Learn Cursive.” New American. http://www.newamericancursive.com/learncursive (accessed October 10, 2013).

Jensen, Eric. Teaching with the Brain in Mind., 2nd ed., revised. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005. Quoted in “Cursive Handwriting’s Benefits.” Education Reporter, no. 334 (November 2013). http://www.eagleforum.org/publications/educate/ nov13/cursive-handwritings-benefits.html.

Klemm, William. “What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain.” Memory Medic, March 14, 2013. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/what-learning-cursive-does-your-brain.

McLean, Leah. “Brain Development Could Suffer as Cursive Writing Fades.” KSTP, Minneapolis/St. Paul, February 18, 2013.

Siegel, Jane Rodgers. “Teaching Handwriting—The Eighteenth Century, The Nineteenth Century, The Twentieth Century, Manuscript Writing and Other Systems.” http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2027/Handwriting-Teaching.html (accessed December 2, 2013).

Smith Amos, Denise. “Is Cursive’s Day in Classroom Done?” The Cincinnati Enquirer. August 12, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/12/is-cursives-day-in-classroom-done/2642071/ (accessed August 27, 2013).

Spear-Swerling, Louise. “The Importance of Teaching Handwriting,” 2006. http://www.readingrockets.org/article/27888.

Notes

1Denise Smith Amos, “Is Cursive’s Day in Classroom Done?” the Cincinnati Enquirer, August 12, 2013, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/12/is-cursives-day-in-classroom-done/2642071/ (accessed August 27, 2013). 2Jane Rodgers Siegel, “Teaching Handwriting—The Eighteenth Century, The Nineteenth Century, The Twentieth Century, Manuscript Writing and Other Systems”http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2027/Handwriting-Teaching.html (accessed 12/2/13). 3Samuel L. Blumenfeld, “How Should We Teach Our Children to Write? Cursive First, Print Later!” The Blumenfeld Education Letter, September, 1994, 1. 4Blumenfeld, 3. 5Iris Hatfield, “Top 10 Reasons to Learn Cursive,” New American, http://www.newamericancursive.com/learncursive (accessed October10, 2013). 6Amos. 7Leah McLean, “Brain Development Could Suffer as Cursive Writing Fades,” KSTP, Minneapolis/St. Paul, February 18, 2013.8Sam Blumenfeld, “The Benefits of Cursive Writing,” Practical Homeschooling, 2005, http://www.home-school.com/Articles/the-benefits-of-cursive-writing.php. 9Louise Spear-Swerling, “The Importance of Teaching Handwriting,” 2006, http://www.readingrockets.org/article/27888. 10Maureen Downey, “Study: Learning Cursive in the First Grade Helps Students,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 16, 2013, http://www.ajc.com/weblogs/get-schooled/ 2013/sep/16/study-learning-cursive-first-grade-helps-students/ (accessed October 2, 2013). 11“Has Neglecting Penmanship Contributed to the Dumbing Down of America?” PR Web, http://www.prweb.com/releases/2004/08/prweb153015.htm, (accessed February16, 2005). 12William Klemm, “What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain,” Memory Medic, March 14, 2013, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/what-learning-cursive-does-your-brain. 13Eric Jensen, Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2nd ed., revised (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005) quoted in “Cursive Handwriting’s Benefits,” Education Reporter, no. 334 (November 2013), http://www.eagleforum.org/publications/educate/ nov13/cursive-handwritings-benefits.html.