Should students continue to learn the discipline of handwriting, especially cursive, in our digital age? Some think handwriting is as outdated for composition as the slide rule is for math. Others are eager to keep the art of handwriting alive.
As a homeschooling parent, with all the things you could teach your child during the day, why spend time on handwriting?
In honor of National Handwriting Day1 (yes, that is today), here are a few thoughts on handwriting…
The Case Against Handwriting
Cursive instruction has been slowly declining nationwide since the 70s 2. Common Core Standards have now excluded cursive handwriting from the curriculum altogether.3
Those against the inclusion of handwriting say…
- It takes up valuable time. Classroom teachers and homeschoolers alike often feel the pressure of having too much to teach in too little time. Drop the penmanship lessons and save on time.
- Computers and tablets are used for everything. Why not teach typing instead? Typing is increasingly more important for online classes and online testing. Plus, when learned properly, keyboarding is quicker than writing.
- Desiring to keep cursive around is nothing more than nostalgia. Why cling to an archaic method of writing? Sure it looks pretty, but the desire to keep it around is nothing more than a desire to cling to the past.
- The decline of cursive is simply a natural progression of our culture. Handwriting has changed over the centuries due to changes in culture. There’s no need to be afraid of the loss of this art.
- It is a relief not to teach cursive to children with developmental difficulties. When you have limited resources, needing to teach cursive to those struggling with other basic skills is tedious.
The Case For Handwriting
Federal education standards may have dropped cursive, but several states are adding cursive back to the curriculum (states like Alabama, California, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, and Massachusetts have moved to keep cursive despite Common Core standards).4
Those for the inclusion of handwriting say…
- Brain science has confirmed that the discipline of handwriting helps a child with both verbalization and creative thought.5 Through magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, researchers now know that handwriting can improve idea composition and expression. Functional MRIs also reveal that students who practice printing by hand have more advanced and “adult-like” brain activity during letter-learning instructions.6
- The discipline of handwriting is linked to reading skills.7 Handwriting promotes a child’s visual memory, and poor visual memory is the most common reason students have difficulty reading. Mastering handwriting helps children recognize different letters quickly, thus helping them to become good readers.
- Handwriting promotes manipulation and finger isolation skills that are useful for other fine-motor activities (including use of technology).5
- Learning a skill that takes patience, perseverance, and diligence to master is good for children6 . Yes, typing may be faster, but faster is not always better.
- Good handwriting is still necessary in learning.Many students still don’t have access to a computer and printer. Until students are in an environment where it is possible (and desirable) to only use computers and touch screens, learning to write legibly is essential.
- People still judge the quality of written ideas by penmanship6. According to a number of studies, good penmanship can take a classroom test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile, while bad handwriting can lower it to the 16th. Dr. Steve Graham of Vanderbilt University says, “There is a reader effect that is insidious. People judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting.”
- Cursive actually requires less carpal bone development than printing or even typing. This means children can learn it easier and sooner than using a keyboard.
- Handwritten personal cards, letters, and notes are still preferred over e-cards, e-mails, and Facebook messages.5
- Cursive handwriting is deeply embedded into our culture and history. When students look at historical documents like The Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, they should be able to at least be able to read them.
- Children still need to learn how to sign their first and last name for receipts and official documents.
3 Tips for Teaching Handwriting
Here are a few tips to help you teach handwriting at home:
- Experts recommend spending 60 minutes a week, or 15 minutes a day, on teaching cursive.8
- Focus initially on learning the motion and motor pattern rather than perfect legibility or size.
- Integrate your subjects. If your child has spelling words, use them for handwriting practice as well. If your child is memorizing a Bible verse, have them write out the verse. (This is exactly why we developed our Write Through the Bible curriculum: to help homeschoolers integrate their handwriting, vocabulary, dictation, and Bible memory into one daily activity.)