Why cursive writing?

By Rep. Heidi H. Sampson

Why has cursive writing been relegated to the trash heap of outdated, insignificant and inconsequential practices? Could we have tossed out a critical link to effective and productive learning for our children? Have we been duped into eliminating a practice whereby our children would be allowed to fully develop their brains? Can cursive writing be a key component to charting a thoughtful path forward?

By learning cursive through a consistent, repetitive practice, a child taps into a multi-sensory experience. This requires the integration of fine motor skills and dexterity through movement control. Along with visual and tactile abilities, cursive improves brain activity and thus, thinking. Writing by hand improves letter recognition, which has shown to be the primary predictor of reading ability by age 5. The region of the brain responsible for reading ability is not stimulated during typing or visual practice. “The brain’s “reading circuit” of linked regions that are activated during reading was activated during hand writing, but not during typing.”

Research has indicated a unique relationship between hand writing with the brain as it related to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor at the University of Washington, reported children were able to “write more words, faster and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.”

William R. Klemm, Ph.D., in Psychology Today, challenges states that have been driven by ill-informed ideologues, which has forced us in Maine, for example, to become increasingly obsessed with “testing knowledge at the expense of training kids to develop better capacity for acquiring knowledge.”

Klemm continues, “The benefits to brain development are similar to what you get with learning to play a musical instrument. Not everybody can afford music lessons, but everybody has access to pencil and paper. Not everybody can afford a computer for their kids — but maybe such kids are not as deprived as we would think.”

Benefits of cursive over printing and/or typing:

Improves fine motor skills. “Builds the neural foundation of sensory skills needed for a myriad of everyday tasks such as buttoning, fastening, tying shoes, picking up objects, copying words from blackboards and, most importantly, reading.”

  • Increased hand-eye coordination. Glancing back and forth from the example letter and where they are writing.
  • Sharpens mental effectiveness. The right and left cerebral hemispheres are simulated through cursive in ways typing or printing does not.
  • Increases retention of information. College students remembered information better when they transcribed in cursive than when they printed it or used a keyboard.
  • Ease of learning. Students with learning challenges such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADD, etc. have discovered great success when learning cursive.
  • Better spelling. Practicing cursive has been shown to foster higher level of spelling memory.
  • Better social and communication skills; Increasing self-respect. “The ability to master the skill of writing clearly and fluidly improves the students’ confidence to communicate freely with the written word. Handwriting is a vital life skill.”
  • Unique, legible signature — proof of identity on employment forms, contracts, mortgages, wills, etc.
  • Individualized expression. Tone, emotions, feeling are effectively conveyed.
  • Deciphering old documents — reading diaries, journals, letters of their loved ones and original historical documents.

“Cursive handwriting dynamically engages widespread areas of both cerebral hemispheres,” Klemm goes on to state in a 2013 Psychology Today article. “Because cursive letters are more distinct than printed letters, children may learn to read more easily, especially dyslexics.” He claims cursive builds self-confidence, self-discipline, attention to details and memory skills.

Rep. Heidi Sampson (R-Alfred) has introduced LD 387, An Act to Require Cursive Handwriting Instruction in Grade 3 to Grade 5, in the state Legislature. A hearing on the bill was scheduled for Feb. 14 before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

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