In this age of keyboards and screens, many people are wondering if kids should still learn cursive writing. As with most things, there are two sides to every story. The camp in favour of banishing cursive writing says it is an antiquated tool of little use in the digital era.
However, others who are for the skill say it can promote a better grasp of reading and writing. In this article we’ll examine some of the main arguments coming from both sides. So should kids still learn cursive writing? Let’s take a look.
Does learning cursive writing improve literacy?
Some research suggests cursive writing helps children read and write better. One study found children who learned cursive were better at spelling and reading than children who only learned how to write print. The researchers said this difference remained even though the groups were similar in most other ways. While the authors of the study weren’t sure what the cause was, they suggested cursive forces children to look at words as a whole. Cursive letters are literally joined together to make words but the printed alphabet is not.
Time magazine has also reported on its blog that cursive writing activates different parts of the brain where printed letters don’t. For example, the magazine says learning cursive improves children’s fine motor skills and generally helps students retain more information and generate more ideas.
But critics call into question some of the research suggesting cursive makes children smarter. For instance, handwriting troubleshooter Kate Gladstone wrote in the Stamford Advocate that most proponents of cursive misquote a study which found hand printed — not cursive — writing provided some developmental benefits over keyboarding.
Some people are questioning if children should learn cursive writing
Many people are wondering if kids should learn cursive writing in the digital age because services that used to depend on it appear to be phasing it out.
Take these two examples where cursive writing used to be the standard: signing cheques and signing forms.
In the former example, cursive was the norm. That’s because most money was transferred via a signed cheque. But cheques are becoming less common now. Many businesses use direct deposit to pay their employees, and that number is growing. Add to the fact debit and credit cards with pin codes or ‘tapping’ abilities have become more common and the argument becomes clearer. All you need to do is ask yourself when you last used a cheque to pay for something at a store or restaurant.
What about the cases where debit or credit don’t apply? Does the cheque still have a use?
Possibly, but given the growing availability of e-transfers, which allow you to deposit money directly and securely into another person’s account, it’s questionable if cheques will be needed at all in the near future.
What about filling forms? Shouldn’t cursive apply there? After all, we all need to sign our names on the dotted line, don’t we?
For now, that seems to be the case, but more and more organizations are using online forms. These forms can be signed with a digital signature rather than a stroke of pen, securing the document with cryptography. Some places such as the United States give these signatures the same legal weight as a traditional signature.
Given that cursive appears to be less applicable in daily life, some people are saying cursive is a waste of school time. Some say that time would be better spent on keyboarding and other computer-related skills, which are more relevant in today’s age.
For example Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, wrote in the New York Times preserving cursive would be akin to resurrecting the abacus and the slide rule.
Another fun fact — handwriting troubleshooter Kate Gladstone says in a 2012 teachers’ conference held by Zaner-Bloser, a company that publishes cursive writing textbooks, only 37 per cent of the educators surveyed at the event wrote in cursive. If even cursive writing teachers don’t use cursive, why should we?
The bottom line – benefits of writing in cursive are still hazy
It’s still unclear whether writing in cursive is useful for children. Conflicting research and opinions on the skill make it very difficult to determine whether this is a tradition worth preserving. However, most research appears to agree that students must learn some form of penmanship.
A reasonable middle-ground would be to teach children how to read cursive but not to force them to write in it. According to the Stamford Advocate column of Kate Gladstone that we mentioned earlier, teaching the skill takes only one 30 to 60 minute session in the span of the child’s lifetime, so it won’t be diverting time from other pressing activities. Keep in mind this applies only if the student has already learned the printed word. If the child expresses a desire to learn more, teach them cursive and give them a few activities to start them off. We’ve suggested some ideas on our blog such as journaling. But if they don’t feel a need to learn how to write in cursive, there is little to suggest much harm will come of it.