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Do we Still Need to Teach Children Cursive Handwriting?

Posted on 05.03.2018

What was once an educational standard is now increasingly becoming an unknown. Cursive handwriting is being pushed further and further down many a teacher’s lesson plan of importance, but is this good – or bad – for our children?
The practice of teaching primary school-aged children the art of cursive (often called ‘joined-up’) handwriting has been a standard part of the UK’s curriculum for decades. But as we march further into the digital age, teachers, parents, and governing bodies are asking “do we still need to teach children cursive handwriting?”.
Educational boards across the globe are asking the same question, with some countries going even further and taking action. From 2016, Finnish schoolchildren have learnt how to touch-type and text message rather than traditional handwriting. Last year, the US state of Illinois took the opposite stance and passed a law requiring school students to learn cursive handwriting, overriding the governor’s veto. This will come into effect from the 2018-2019 school year.
A disappearing artform?
A 2012 survey of 2,000 adults by UK mailing firm Docmail found that on average, it had been 41 days since respondents wrote - and that two-thirds of us only write short notes like shopping lists. The survey also showed that half of the people quizzed admitted their handwriting has become worse over time. There is a real danger that if educators and society don’t place more importance on handwriting (cursive or otherwise), younger generations run the risk of losing the ability to write by hand altogether.
Sue Crowley, a former teacher and former chair at The Institute of Learning believes it’s time to scrap what she feels is an outdated practice. Speaking to TES, Sue said, “I find it so hard to understand why children should be taught to write with a joined-up style as soon as they can form letters securely with the correct orientation.
“Thanks to the dominance of technology, most of us rarely write extensively with a pen or pencil.” So, with this in mind, do the children of today really need to develop cursive writing skills? It’s true that you don’t often see joined-up writing anywhere near as much as you would, say 50, or even 30, years ago. Personal signatures aside, many people no longer scrawl shopping lists or Christmas cards in elegantly sweeping fonts, with perfectly conjoined letters that flow into each other, as do waves on the sea.
More than just aesthetics
Whilst it may no longer be an educational necessity, most will agree that cursive handwriting is impressive. Jane Connolly, member of Peannairi, the Irish Association of Calligraphers, says handwriting is an art. “It’s something nice to look at,” she says, “it shows personality.”
Michael Sull, master penman, author and teacher believes teaching cursive handwriting is so much more. He says, “Handwriting develops the cognitive sense in children, as well as motor skill development. Handwriting helps people remember more of what they've written instead of just pressing keys that they have no more thought of after they press it."
A school in the state of New York is fully behind teaching children handwriting that is both pleasing to the eye, as well as legible. St. Agnes School encourages excellence in all educational endeavours, and good penmanship is a part of the course of study at the school. At St. Agnes children are taught to practice cursive handwriting at the end of the second grade (7 to 8 years of age), with further mastery taught in third grade (8 to 9 years of age). By the time children enter the fourth grade (9 to 10 years of age), students are expected to complete all of their written work in cursive handwriting. The school’s dedication to the artform recently culminated in their participation in the 2018 Zaner-Bloser 27th Annual National Handwriting Contest. The competition attracts over 300,000 participants from both public and private schools, and all abilities are welcome. Students who enter are judged according to the Zaner-Bloser Keys to Legibility: Shape, Size, Spacing, and Slant.
Speaking on behalf of St. Agnes School, Principal Elizabeth Jensen says, “Cursive writing is more than just a ‘lost art form’. Cursive writing allows students an additional means to process language, improve fine motor skills, connect with older generations and engage with historical documents.”
Whatever side of the handwriting fence you personally sit on, one would find it hard to say it wouldn’t be a shame if cursive were to disappear from society.
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