Sunday, November 9, 2014

Is Cursive Vanishing Forever?

Cursive writing is fast becoming a lost art. It is no longer taught, or given very little time in the public school system. In fact, all forms of handwriting are receiving less and less instruction in favor of teaching keyboarding skills. Historically, the written form of English and many other languages originated with cursive script. Print arose as a simplified, abbreviated form of writing after the printing press was invented to allow for easy, mass produced text to be manufactured and distributed. With the advent of word processing on computers, both print and cursive forms are available. However, print is the dominant form for writing, whether by hand or electronically, today.

In the Montessori community, cursive writing is still a valued skill. Most Montessori teachers teach cursive writing from the very beginning for both reading and writing. Cursive writing is easier on the muscles of the hand, with continuous and flowing movement, and a consistent way to form the letters. Each lower case letter starts in the lower left hand corner and ends in the lower right hand corner, flowing left to right in the same direction as reading. Print letters lack this consistency. Further, each letter in cursive is unique with no mirror images, making it easier for dyslexic people to distinguish between “b” and “d”, for example.

Current developments in neuroscience support the development of all handwriting skills. The finger movements required for handwriting activate large areas of the brain involved in thinking, memory and language. Handwriting is closely tied to not only learning fine motor skills but in learning the shapes of letters. This is why in Montessori classrooms young children learn a new letter by tracing it with their index finger, mimicking the motion of writing long before they are ready to put pencil to paper. Typing letters on a keyboard, on the other hand, does not provide the same stimulus to learning letters the way writing does.

Besides improving the recognition and recall of letters, handwriting also contributes to the development of ideas while writing compositions.  Brain scans have shown that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information. One recent study by Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington demonstrated that elementary school children wrote more words, wrote them faster, and expressed more diverse ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.
Handwriting is not a skill which can be developed overnight. It requires practice. Small daily handwriting practice sessions could dramatically improve your child’s comfort and ability to write. Children in Montessori classrooms often enjoy copying poems, jokes or small stories. Practicing with your child could not only improve both of your handwriting but provide a calming, meditative practice that you can share together. Interestingly, technology has now come to the aid of handwriting improvement with apps on devices like the iPad and smartphones. So just write it!

Marla Nargundkar is an AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta, GA