“It’s in the best interest of children” is often declared by those promoting progressive new education reforms, but why does that frequently include a dismissive attitude toward traditional practices? In our technological era, is every age-old practice now obsolete? Why?

Could cursive writing still be relevant? Could there be a strong developmental and learning connection? Researchers have said “yes” to both – which is why I’ve sponsored L.D. 387, “An Act To Require Cursive Handwriting Instruction in Grade 3 to Grade 5.”

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s much more to cursive than just a signature. Effective cursive learning requires consistent, repetitive practice. A child needs to use it to become efficient with it. As a result, a child will have a multi-sensory experience.

Naysayers may not realize that fine motor skills and dexterity are integrated through its precise movement control, resulting in improvement to visual and tactile abilities, according to William R. Klemm, a neuroscientist at Texas A&M University. Brain activity is increased. Writing by hand improves letter recognition, a primary predictor of reading ability. The brain’s “reading circuit” is only activated during writing by hand, especially cursive, not by typing or visual practice.

Composing thoughts and ideas has a unique relationship with handwriting and the brain. University of Washington educational psychology professor Virginia Berninger found that children were able to “write more words, faster and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.”

Writing in Psychology Today, Klemm challenged states that have been driven by ill-informed ideologues, such as Maine, and have become increasingly obsessed with “testing knowledge at the expense of training kids to develop better capacity for acquiring knowledge.”

He continued, “The benefits to brain development are similar to what you get with learning to play a musical instrument. Not everybody can afford music lessons, but everybody has access to pencil and paper. Not everybody can afford a computer for their kids — but maybe such kids are not as deprived as we would think.”

Benefits of cursive over printing and/or typing:

• Improved fine motor skills: Cursive “builds the neural foundation of sensory skills needed for a myriad of everyday tasks such as buttoning, fastening, tying shoes, picking up objects, copying words from blackboards and, most importantly, reading,” according to Candace Meyer, CEO of Minds-in-Motion, Inc.

• Increased hand-eye coordination: Cursive writers glance back and forth from the example letter and where they are writing, Klemm said.

• Sharpened mental effectiveness: The right and left cerebral hemispheres are stimulated through cursive in ways typing or printing does not, research indicates.

• Increased retention of information: College students remembered information better when they transcribed in cursive than when they printed it or used a keyboard.

• Greater ease of learning: Students with learning challenges such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADD, etc., have discovered great success when learning cursive.

• Better spelling: Practicing cursive has been shown to foster higher level of spelling memory.

• Better social and communication skills and increased self-respect: “The ability to master the skill of writing clearly and fluidly improves the students’ confidence to communicate freely with the written word. Handwriting is a vital life skill,” concluded Iris Hatfield in “New American Cursive.”

• Unique, legible signature: Proof of identity on employment forms, contracts, mortgages, etc.

• Individualized expression: Tone, emotions and feeling are effectively conveyed.

• Ability to decipher old documents: Loved ones’ diaries, journals and letters, as well as original historical records.

“Cursive handwriting dynamically engages widespread areas of both cerebral hemispheres. … Because cursive letters are more distinct than printed letters, children may learn to read more easily, especially dyslexics,” said Klemm, who also claims that cursive builds self-confidence, self-discipline, attention to details and memory skills.

Although some schools teach cursive, are those students getting plenty of opportunity to use it? Are they able to become fluent in the use of it? If not, could we have tossed out a critical link to effective and productive learning for our children? Cursive writing may be a key component to charting a thoughtful path forward.

 

Heidi H. Sampson of Alfred is a state representative and ranking Republican member of the Education and
Cultural Affairs Committee.

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