a peek inside the fishbowl

27 Oct, 2008

Power of the pen

Posted by andrea tomkins in: parenting|Yaktivism

cursive

At what age did you learn how to write cursive? Why (or why not) do you think it’s an important skill to learn?

I think I was in second or third grade when we learned how to write in cursive. I’m willing to bet, once upon a time, kids learned even younger than that.

My eldest daughter is in fourth grade, my youngest in second, and neither of them know how to write in cursive. Emma’s teacher in third grade introduced it, but then the school hired a new teacher and Emma moved into a different class. The new teacher didn’t teach cursive.

It appears to be up to individual teachers whether or not they’re going to introduce cursive writing. I wonder, when did this become optional? 

I was looking into this topic and found the following message on a parenting board:

“I have had this discussion with friends before. I think the kids should know how to print and type. Forget cursive penmanship. To me it is a waste of time. I never write in cursive, always print. My kids all print neatly and it is always legible. I have an aunt whose writing I can never read in her cards to us. Her strokes are so long and flowing that words stretch up to an inch when they only have 4-5 letters. Rarely do people these days write. Its all print or type. Besides your signature, why take valuable school time to teach a dying form? Even Doctor’s don’t write prescriptions much anymore. Its all done electronically because of how easy it was to forge or for a pharmacist to missread a prescription.”

Do people really believe that learning how to write in cursive isn’t necessary, and is becoming a dated skill… like learning Latin or how to kill a chicken?  Good penmanship used to be highly valued in our society, but our ability to write neatly, beautifully, is rapidly becoming a lost art. Is it because we’ve entered a digital age?

I’ve taken it upon myself to teach the girls how to do it (write in cursive, not kill chickens). I found a good website with free handwriting lessons. They come in the form of printable cursive sheets which kids use to practice their letters through tracing. Hopefully, all this repetition will lead to good handwriting.

There is an interesting article here, which looks at the importance of teaching handwriting skills to kids, especially as it pertains to children with learning disabilities.

There is something to be said for beautiful penmanship, isn’t there? I love a beautifully handwritten note or card, don’t you? But it’s more than that. Learning to write cursive takes a lot of work. Think of what’s involved: fine motor skills, co-ordination of hand-eye-brain (lor’ knows how many neural pathways are being defined in their little plastic brains while they’re writing), dexterity, and above all, patience and time. I think these are all things worth developing.

Emma has a spelling test every week. The other night I wrote out, in cursive, the ten words she needed to know for her test. As she slowly, carefully, copied them out (in cursive!), I realized that by taking extra time to write out the words she was also taking extra time to learn how to spell them. I think I’m going to start doing this every week.

I am lucky that she seems to be enjoying it so far.  

Perhaps we can ask Santa to bring us a really good calligraphy set. And maybe I should pick up some handwriting lessons as well. My penmanship could use some help. ;)

I’d love to hear what you think. Do your kids know how to write in cursive? Are they learning it in school? If not, will you be the one to teach them? Is cursive dead?

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18 Responses to "Power of the pen"

1 | Suzanne

October 27th, 2008 at 12:13 pm

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Long live cursive! I love it and think it’s an important part of penmanship learning. the Montessori school near us ONLY teaches cursive and no printing.

2 | Natalie

October 27th, 2008 at 12:53 pm

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Cursive rocks! I love beautifully written notes in cursive. I think it’s more important than ever to learn and preserve with the advent of the digital age. My mum receives a ton of christmas cards ever year and I always look forward to one, written in beautiful calligraphy. So lovely.

3 | carrie

October 27th, 2008 at 12:56 pm

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I loved learning cursive in school! That being said, my own handwriting has become a hybrid print/cursive style. I want my daughter to know how to do both – there is something sweet and charming about a child’s first attempts at both printing and writing. My grandfather had beautiful penmanship, even into his 80’s. It’s a lost art that needs to be taught to the generations to come.

4 | Chantal

October 27th, 2008 at 1:36 pm

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My son is in grade 2 and even though I don’t think he is learning cursive, he is obsessed with it. He is always asking me to show him how to write certain letters cursive. I am going to print off some of those sheets you linked to. He will love them.

I heard a news article on CBC about the “dying art” of cursive. They had a few high school students read out a passage and it was shameful. They just couldn’t understand the writing. Shameful.

5 | Renee

October 27th, 2008 at 2:48 pm

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My daughter is 4 years old and attends a Montessori school and in her Casa class they only teach cursive since the thought is the curls and loops are easier for children to form than the straight lines and stops and starts required for printing. Next year in what will be her Sk year she will already be writing in cursive!

6 | LO

October 27th, 2008 at 7:27 pm

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Same as REnee
My daughter goes to Montessori school and they only teach cursive and it starts very young. Just like they don’t teach that the letter ‘A’ as a long a sound, rather it is aaaaa. They teach the sound the letter makes versus the letter itself. Montessori also spends a lot of time on fine motor skill development and pincher graps with different didactic equipment. It is truly amazing-how they just learn it naturally. My daughter is now in 3rd year elementary aka grade 3 and is still loving the cursive. And then there is my older son who did not have the opportunity for Montessori. He has never had a ‘good’ pencil grasp and his cursive suffers for it. But then again, he wants to be a doctor and says he is supposed to have messy writing….:)

7 | Marla

October 27th, 2008 at 8:01 pm

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Oh, you know I love the cursive…

It’s important to learn fine handwriting for so many reasons. For example, it’s a fine motor skill, and it must be so good for the brain to let the thoughts flow as the pen moves smoothly…

As well, as long as exams are written and timed, the ability to write clearly and quickly is important: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/handwriting-standards-blamed-as-pupils-ask-for-exam-scribes-920810.html

But, the pleasure! Of the side of your hand moving against paper! Ink flowing!

As well – the world so lacks for people with fine handwriting that last year, a company paid me $40/hr to write a few lines over and over for an ad campaign for a major department store whose name rhymes with Bolt Benfrew – no “handwriting” font could give the impression of a smart secretary letting a valued customer know “You have an appointment with (a particular sale).

Josephine loves the look of cursive, and will be learning it too, likely from me. It seems like the years of starting a fresh paper if I didn’t like the way I started paid off for me – and I still love getting compliments on my handwriting. As well, I can type like crazy, since I was one of the last generations to have typing in school too, it seems. The thing with knowing how to do so these things is that you can put down thoughts as fast as you can think. Uninterrupted thought is lovely.

I can’t text for shit though.

8 | Alison in Ottawa

October 27th, 2008 at 8:05 pm

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If my daughters’ school doesn’t teach cursive they will absolutely learn it at home with me. Hopefully it will stick with them. I think it very interesting that my sister and I went through the same school with the exact same teachers all the way through the elementary grades and exact curriculum yet I have very legible, nice and attractive handwriting (this opinion is not just mine) and my sister’s writing is barely legible and I am very familar with it :) Also funny – my Dad and I have VERY similar handwriting. Maybe cursive is a recessive genetic trait !

9 | Amy

October 27th, 2008 at 10:34 pm

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I teach electrical and electronics at a public high school in Saskatchewan. I noticed that only about 5% of the students in my classes write instead of print. I asked them about it, they said that they learned cursive in grade 2 and hadn’t used it since. I was horrified. I have lovely writing (when I take the time) and value a beautifully handwritten note. Unfortunately, now I find myself printing for my students – since they don’t use cursive, they can’t read it either. It’s a shame.

10 | Shannon

October 27th, 2008 at 10:43 pm

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Learning cursive was a nightmare for me as a child. The teacher insisted that we all needed erasable pens (anyone remember what that looked like in the early 80s?), and I’m left-handed. Even if someone could have read my messy curlicues, the inevitable smudging destroyed any evidence of actual work under the big blue blob.

My third-grader is learning a bit of cursive, and he’s gotten his first-grade sister interested in learning as well. As others have already stated, the Montessori method starts with cursive and moves on to block lettering. My sister’s experience as a Montessori teacher has been that it’s a very positive element of the approach.

Erasable pens. I blame them entirely.

11 | Karen of Virtually There

October 28th, 2008 at 5:44 am

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I also love cursive and use it all the time when writing notes etc. I specifically remember learning it in grade 3. It was hard but I also loved learning to write like my mummy did. If my kids don’t learn in school, I’ll definitely teach them. I think it is a mistake for this to be taken out of the schools. There are still enough of us out there using it that these kids will have a reading handicap as they get older.

Especially if, like my husband, they end up as historians reading old documents in archives. Everyone used to write very elaborate cursive.

12 | Julie

October 28th, 2008 at 7:01 am

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If you really sit and think about it, most of the things children learn in elementary school are not transferable to “real life” for most people. The same argument could be made about math, for example. Why take the time to calculate anything long hand, when most of us use calculators. Why learn to spell, when we can use a spell check….
I think that elementary school is more about learning to learn than anything else, and the more you are exposed to, the more you will discover your strengths and weeknesses. Maybe you’ll never write anything in cursive, but maybe you’ll find joy in it and make a career of it somehow.

13 | porter

October 28th, 2008 at 9:20 am

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I didn’t realize that kids aren’t learning to ‘write’?????? I am surprised. I would like to say that yes I will teach my children cursive if they don’t learn it in school but my handwriting is horrible. I don’t set a very good example now as I rarely ever write anything I either print or type it up on the computer.

14 | Holli Seitz

October 28th, 2008 at 12:02 pm

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I enjoy reading your blog and thought you might be interested in an upcoming invitation-only webinar for bloggers being held by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will focus on ways you and your family can protect yourself against the flu, and will be held on December 2 from 2-3 p.m. EST. Please save the date and watch for your official invitation e-mail from hseitz at cdc dot gov.

15 | Lynn

October 28th, 2008 at 12:58 pm

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I must admit I hadn’t given this any thought at all. I used to be a very fast writer, but now I hardly ever write anything except grocery lists. I gave up handwriting my Christmas newsletter a few years ago and that was the major part of my correspondence.

I’m a firm believer that people should learn to touch-type but before your post here I don’t think I would have said that I cared much if they learned to write. I only ever print myself, and that’s on a rare occasion. I don’t really value a lovely handwritten note — messy printing is fine, and a typed up email is even better.

However, your commenters really make a good point about being about to *read* cursive. I definitely think that, in the course of doing research at the library or reading old family papers, my kids will see some cursive someday. So that seems worthwhile.

And I do think it’s good to practice some fine motor control — my five-year-old son’s printing is TERRIBLE, he definitely needs some repetition in this area!

So, you’ve converted me. I’ll add “teach them cursive” to our Grade 2ish homework list!

16 | Sheila D

October 28th, 2008 at 5:54 pm

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I would agree with so many of the points raised by your astute readers (especially Marla): fine motor control, flowing thoughts, artistic appreciation, reading of historical documents, etc. My handwriting used to be admired but has deteriorated with lack of practice. Professors (like my hubby) may produce nearly everything on computers now but they still make hand-written remarks on the stuff they mark for students. Cursive is much faster than printing for a student writing an exam and then the prof has to be able to read it. Warning to students: don’t p.o. your prof with illegible handwriting. And if our doctors could write legibly, perhaps there would be fewer prescription errors.

17 | Scattered Mom

November 1st, 2008 at 12:51 pm

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I learned cursive in elementary school; however, I never use it. I print instead because in my job, having perfectly neat, legible writing is very important (I support LD kids in a high school) I don’t find cursive faster or easier, and instead use what words best for ME.

The article that you referred to regarding the learning disability side of it is interesting, although I have to make some points (being mom of an LD child and working with kids with LD).

In my experience, schools/teachers that really demand that LD kids MUST handwrite well only serve to discourage and frustrate them. It’s really hard for a child who has fantastic ideas to be constantly held back and forced to re-write things because they simply cannot write at the same level as the other children.

I specifically remember a child telling me recently that he was constantly kept in at recess because his handwriting wasn’t up to par for his teacher. The teacher would erase ALL his work and make him re-do it over lunch time. This only produces anxiety and frustration for kids in such a situation, which makes them view school and handwriting in a very negative light.

Sometimes difficulty with handwriting is developmental, sometimes, as in Jake’s case, it’s an actual motor disability. It’s not just “perceived as slow and arduous”, it actually IS slow and arduous. Jake will NEVER learn handwriting, and to be perfectly honest, I won’t even bother teaching him. He is almost 13 and at this point, his writing resembles that of a kindergarten child. He types-not touch type, but in his own way.

I believe that cursive should be taught, but in doing so teachers need to be aware that some kids simply do not have the fine motor ability. Those children should then be given intensive, fun, writing programs (the sensible pencil is a good one), lots of encouragement and a gentle approach, or the adaptations that they need.

The adaptations are especially as they advance into higher grades, so that their LD doesn’t hold them back since LD kids typically have average to above average intelligence. I do believe that exposure to handwriting is important, as many kids with LD who don’t hand write also have difficulty reading handwriting.

I find it interesting that while people readily accept that people can have an LD in reading, when it comes to writing, many (including teachers) assume that there is no such thing as a writing LD and the person is just lazy.

We fight this assumption almost every single day.

18 | Vicki

December 17th, 2009 at 10:49 am

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I came across this great article today, and remembered that you had written some time ago about children learning cursive handwriting. Thought you might find this interesting:

http://miller-mccune.com/culture_society/handwriting-is-history-1647?article_page=2

I think the article makes interesting points on both sides of the argument about the value of handwriting. I appreciate the importance of cognitive automaticity, but I also love the idea of a “slow writing” movement.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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