I’m a stickler for neat handwriting. I often ask my kids to correct their written homework to make it more legible or consistent as it travels across the page. I point out when an “a” looks too much like a “u” because my 6-year-old hasn’t taken the time to properly close the top. I sit with her as she practices her letters, both in print and in her own fancy variation of cursive.
As a first grader, she hasn’t formally tackled standard cursive writing – and according to the Common Core Standards for writing and language, she might never have to. That’s because it’s no longer a curriculum requirement.
According to this country’s education gurus, our kids do not need to learn cursive handwriting. Um, okay, but how are my kids supposed to read original historical documents like, you know, the Constitution? How will my darling daughters decipher my endlessly entertaining journal entries on marriage and motherhood once I’m gone if they can’t decode my looping longhand?
Apparently, being able to read my innermost thoughts isn’t considered a priority for my school-aged children. In an interview with Education Week, Sue Pimentel, one of the lead writers of the Common Core’s English/language arts standards, said, “We thought that more and more of student communications and adult communications are via technology. And knowing how to use technology to communicate and to write was most critical for students.”
I will concede that it’s not exactly necessary in this digital age to spend time perfecting the graceful loops and curves of legible cursive writing, but it just seems plain weird to me that my kids will grow up not knowing how to do it.
I vividly remember spending a good chunk of time working on my cursive as a kid, filling up those blue and red lined workbooks with pleasing curlicues and sloping letters. Plenty of my schoolmates hated handwriting time, but I loved it. I loved the way the room quieted down as we all leaned over our paper. I loved the way the word “cat” looked so neat and pretty after I’d written it for the twelfth time compared to my first wobbly attempt at the top of the page.
Watching my 6-year-old copy my meticulous example to write her name in cursive, I am struck by her focus and determination. This is a kid who can’t stay in her seat for more than two minutes at a time, who constantly jiggles and wiggles during story time and always has something to say even if the subject is dirt. But when she’s sitting at the kitchen table, pencil in hand, brow creased, carefully drawing the first loop of the letter “L,” she is completely, quietly absorbed in writing.
Even more wonderful than her unusual level of concentration is her effort. She practices her name over and over again striving toward her own version of perfection before moving on to a different word. She doesn’t get frustrated or bored. She doesn’t mind that her cursive doesn’t look exactly like mine. Writing in cursive is a form of artistic expression that thrills and calms my daughter. The best part is, she sees her own progress right in front of her on the page — and that boosts her confidence in a big way.
There’s nothing better than seeing your child who struggles to finish her homework feel proud and accomplished at her own effort. For her, it’s the process that matters. Even if this were the only benefit to learning cursive, I would say the process of learning overrides the question of whether or not it’s a useful skill to have. In a world that moves at lightening speed, it’s okay for our kiddos to slow down and focus on one task, especially one that can be so rewarding.
In case that’s not enough to make you march into your elementary school and demand they bring back cursive writing, consider the research. Different areas of the brain activate when we write in print, in cursive or use a keyboard. Virginia Beringer, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, observed that brain scans of kids engaged in handwriting also lit up in the areas of memory, thinking and language. She’s also shown that in some cases, students who struggle with print may do better with cursive.
Other benefits of learning cursive include better hand-eye coordination, honing fine motor skills and forcing the brain to slow down which allows for deeper thinking and more creativity. A 2014 New York Times article noted that some researchers argue that cursive “may even be a path to treating dyslexia.” Let’s also keep in mind that some tests, like the SAT, require students to handwrite. Recent data on that portion of the test indicate that those who wrote their essay in cursive did slightly better than those who didn’t. Fourteen states have taken the research seriously and reinstated cursive as part of the school curriculum.
In my house, learning cursive isn’t about doing well on a college entrance exam or being able to handwrite pretty thank you notes. It’s a way for my daughter to feel proud about what she can do rather than worry about what she struggles with. She’s even created her very own signature, complete with loop-de-loops and a heart dotting the “i.” When I tell her it looks beautiful she says, “Thanks, Mom. I’m still practicing.”