When I was a kid my family moved a few times. Once, I had just started the third grade, and my class was beginning the cursive writing unit. When I arrived at my new school, that lesson was already done. So I was left to teach the skill to myself, by following the letter charts above the blackboard.
To this day, my handwriting is atrocious. But does it really matter? Do kids even need to learn cursive in school anymore? Almost all communication is digital these days, and schoolwork and note-taking are largely done on laptops after the early grades. Because federal common core standards don’t include cursive writing, and because test prep is taking up an increasing chunk of classroom time, many states have let it fall off the curriculum.
But personally, I’d rather see a little less test prep and a little more of the nearly lost art of good handwriting. Cursive is still taught at my kids’ elementary school, and I was delighted when my third grader came home with his newfound ability to write his name in script. Here’s why:
If you can’t write cursive, you may not be able to read it either.
My husband recently came upon a stack of letters his dad wrote to his mom when they were first courting, about fifty years ago. They were good old-fashioned love letters, and each was written in the nicest penmanship I’d ever seen. I want to save these and pass them on to our kids one day. I’d like them to be able to decipher them. Same goes for letters from grandparents and other older relatives and pen pals, as well as old documents that have historical value. For kids who have never been introduced to script, some of these may as well be in a foreign language.
Writing longhand still happens in the adult world.
I was famous around my old office for my chicken-scratch on editorial proofs and other documents that required handwritten comments. It’s not a good thing to be famous for. It’s also a great way to ensure mistakes get made. And while neat printing solves that problem, when you’re in a rush, neat printing can fall by the wayside. Clear cursive is faster to write and easier to read than printed chicken-scratch.
Writing by hand can help with learning.
Some studies in the last few years have found that when students take notes by hand rather than typing on a laptop, they retain more information. What’s more, an article earlier this year in Psychology Today pointed out that writing in script can help with cognitive development, fine motor skills, and hand-eye coordination—much like learning to play a musical instrument does. That seems worth the time spent on handwriting lessons to me.
It’s worth taking the time to make things beautiful.
This one is harder to argue when it comes to scarce classroom time, but there is something very beautiful in a hand-written letter, in a unique and ornate signature, in a place card made out by hand. My kids are proud of their ability to write sophisticated cursive letters, and it’s a skill that, even now, so many years after elementary school, I wish I’d had the chance to master.
Laura Wallis is a freelance writer and editor specializing in all things family, home, food, and health. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and dog—none of whom take grammar as seriously as they should. She writes for The Stir by CafeMom.