Until recently, public schools were not required to teach cursive handwriting, but is it too late for the rest of us?

As a pediatric occupational therapist I am often called a “handwriting expert” by parents, teachers, and other professionals. Many of them are looking for help with a child’s handwriting.

Throughout the years, I have seen a drastic decline in the numbers of adults that use or have the ability to write in cursive. I have witnessed parents in a panic because they cannot demonstrate a cursive “f,” and even more so when it involves cursive capital letters.

I have also found that as the millennial generation enters the workforce and as postgraduate occupational therapy students begin their training with me, they have no idea how to write a single cursive letter. The first week of clinicals is often spent teaching them cursive letter formation.

As recent as one and two generations ago, cursive was standard handwriting practice, and was used by everyone. It was so prominent then that we would be able to recognize our parents and grandparents handwriting from a birthday card, thank you note, or recipe card if shown present day.

Almost Forgotten

Cursive is often taught in the third grade, or as early as mid year through second grade in most private and public schools. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. As common core was initiated and the importance of standardized test scores rose, cursive instruction was disregarded and almost forgotten.

Instruction time for handwriting was not crucial and schools were not required to teach cursive handwriting, much less encourage or enforce students to write in cursive. Technology started to take over, and more and more tasks were beginning to be done on computers. Improving test scores hijacked the majority of classroom time.

Lawmakers around the country and in Louisiana pushed for a change. Approved in 2016, but enforced in July 2017, Louisiana mandated that all public and charter schools teach and reinforce cursive handwriting for all students 3rd through 12th.

Unfortunately, students in the 4th grade onward missed those crucial early years that are important to learning cursive letter formation. By the time a student is in 4th grade, writing habits are already strongly developed and it is much harder to achieve permanent motor memory (such as automatically forming cursive letters) with an everyday skill such as writing.

Benefits for Writing in Cursive

Although it can be challenging for students beyond 4th and 5th grades, it is never too late to learn cursive. It may not be the preferred method of written communication, but there are some significant benefits to writing in cursive:

  • Connecting letters with fluid motions to write words is often much quicker. For some, it may be more efficient and faster than print or typing.
  • Students who have difficulty with reversal letters in print handwriting, such as mixing up “b” and “d,” often do not struggle with reversals in cursive.
  • Cursive is an excellent left-right brain exercise and activity. It improves brain development and motor memory skills.
  • Spacing improves -- cursive writing creates spaces between words automatically and naturally.
  • It increases the ability to read different styles and types of writing more fluidly.
  • It can help expand the creativity and artistic abilities of the writer.
  • The development of a signature can enhance a sense of individuality and personality in a student.
  • Cursive writing can be more beneficial and easier for children with dysgraphia and dyslexia than print.

 

Kimberly Bradley is a licensed pediatric occupational therapist who writes the Wiggle Room column.

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