Put it in writing?

Some say learning cursive is necessary, while others say it’s in the past

John Hancock’s oversized signature on the Declaration of Independence is arguably one of the most famous examples of cursive handwriting in our nation’s history. In school, children are taught the story that Hancock signed his name with such a large flourish so that “King George could read it even without his spectacles on.”

But here’s something that some school kids are not being taught these days, and that’s cursive writing. If John Hancock had grown up in modern times, it’s reasonable to wonder whether he would still be able write his own name in cursive — or even read it.

Cursive writing in the classroom has been on a steep decline since Common Core, a national education initiative that details what K-12 students should know in English language arts and mathematics, was adopted in 2010. Common Core didn’t include cursive writing as an educational standard.

There is a lot to squeeze in to meet the rigorous learning goals of Common Core, and in many school districts in New Hampshire, cursive writing as a subject has largely been sidelined. Instead, the emphasis has shifted to keyboarding and other tech-based communication tools. It’s up to each district in New Hampshire to decide if cursive will be part of its curriculum

Danielle Silva is a mother of three from Nashua who believes that cursive handwriting is about much more than just putting pen to paper.

“What frustrates me about the loss of cursive in my kids’ day-to-day school lives is this view that cursive and keyboarding are basically the same…just one is done by hand and the other by a computer. I don’t agree with this. I think writing on paper lends itself to deeper thought and engagement with what they are learning,” she said.

Silva’s beliefs are backed by science. As neurophysiologists from Norway and France have found, different parts of the brain are stimulated when writing letters on paper, rather than typing them on a keyboard. The tactile practice of handwriting — of thinking of words and then pushing a pen or pencil into a piece of paper to create those words — appears to leave a stronger memory trace in the brain, making it easier to recall that information later.

Other MRI studies back up that the ability to write in cursive better activates areas in the brain involved in thinking, word rendering and language. And there’s more. Learning how to join letters in cursive’s continuous flow may be beneficial for dyslexic students because it integrates hand-eye coordination and turns words into single units instead of individual letters to decode.

Handwriting can also help enhance fine motor dexterity by engaging different muscles in the hand.

Alicia Brown, who started her teaching career in the Pelham School District and now lives and teaches in New York State, sees this research as compelling reasons why carving out time for cursive writing is still needed.

“…Given this amazing research on cursive handwriting, it would so helpful for kids to use it as they work with the deluge of information they are presented with in a typical unit. Plus, when we look at original documents, which are often written in cursive, we need kids to be able to understand them, and that starts with being able to read cursive.”

Kate Maquette, a Seacoast mom, has a different perspective on cursive writing. She’s discovered that emphasizing keyboarding, instead of cursive, has become a source of inclusiveness for her child with a learning disability.

“Keyboarding has leveled the playing field for my child, and I am sure this is true for many other kids with dexterity and fine motor skill issues. Instead of worrying about handwriting, my child can focus on learning.”

Emily Ryder, another Seacoast mom, has other reasons for preferring that her kids learn keyboarding skills in school.

“Cursive writing is pretty, but beyond the elementary years, is it practical? When these kids grow up and get jobs, the boss won’t want a cursive written sales report. Our school only taught cursive in third grade. My kids are now in high school and there’s no need to make them feel guilty about not being handwriting experts.”

Nashua mom Wendy Green agrees that times have changed. But that doesn’t stop her from lamenting her son’s lack of penmanship skills.

“My son had to write his grandma a thank you note recently. I told him to write it in cursive and he just gave me a blank stare. My straight ‘A’ son couldn’t do it. He ended up print writing a very sweet note, but he could barely even sign his name. It was hard to watch.”

“And don’t even get me started on him not knowing where to place the stamp on the envelope,” she added.

Jacqueline Tourville is an award-winning children’s author who lives in southern Maine. Jacqueline has written for ParentingNH for more than 11 years and has won multiple awards from the Parenting Media Association.

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