Thursday, November 19, 2015

Montessori Education Keeps Cursive Writing Alive

          During the middle of September, as school was starting, a NJ radio station posed a question about writing in cursive.  The question was, “Is it a good thing that cursive writing is no longer taught in our public schools and should cursive writing continue to be a dying art?”  Of course I heard some unintelligent and unsubstantiated answers.  Then I heard answers one might expect from both sides of the argument.  Some callers said things like, “What is the point of cursive, writing is dying out, computers will completely take over by the time our children are grown up, and the only thing we need cursive anymore for is our signature.”  On the other side of the argument callers said, “Cursive is a beautiful art, I think it is sad that they don’t teach it in school anymore, and cursive was the stepping stone for me to become an artist and one other person said cursive started when our country started.  Regardless, whether there is a right answer or a wrong answer, I feel very fortunate to teach in a system where cursive is revered.  When will enough be enough?  When will families stop letting people who are not trained in education decide what is best for their children?  There are clear benefits to writing in cursive and we should not let it become a “dying art.”  It is not an art form, but a beautiful form of communication that has benefits to the brain.  Learning cursive creates the opportunity in the brain to subconsciously be able to make connections during interactions in life.  Furthermore, I strongly suggest that this would not even be a topic of conversation if it was not for computers and unlimited fonts. 
          Like any Montessori teacher might do, first, let’s start with a brief history of cursive.  January 23rd is National Handwriting Day, which is a time to acknowledge the history and penmanship that our nation was founded on.  Yet, non-educators are trying to do away with it, to push more typing and screen time on us whether it be directly or indirectly.  Why is penmanship, cursive, celebrated on this day?  According to, it is because it is John Hancock’s birthday.  This day is in remembrance of his iconic signature on the Declaration of Independence.  This information alone is a lot of history to preserve, educate each other and our children.  We shouldn’t let the fast paced age of computers push our civilization’s history of writing out.  Computers should be left to be used as a tool for information and communication.
Originally, the Romans borrowed a form of cursive from the Etruscans and were the first to develop lower case script, which, flowed into modern day cursive.  By the late eighth century, Charlegmagne assigned a monk to produce a standardized craft.  From the influence of Roman characters, Carolingian Miniscule was created to feature lowercase and uppercase letters for maximum legibility.  From there the history continues to a form of cursive which became known as the Spencerian Method and then Austin Norman Palmer replaced that method during the turn of the century with a slightly different approach in American classrooms.  This form of cursive evolved and changed from there up until the present.  So, for centuries, cursive has been an integral part of our history’s way of communication.
            We are on the brink of losing the ability to write in cursive and yet now we have research to validate it to those who are becoming successful in taking it away from our children and our future.  So, the benefits of cursive handwriting based on an article entitled What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades by science writer Maria Konnikova.  She states, “Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information.  In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters – but how.” This has been proven by measured brain activity during writing, tracing and typing activities.  So, writing in cursive creates more brain activity than typing and it generates more words and ideas. It is a form of self-expression.  Furthermore, the science of graphology or the analysis of handwriting tells us that one’s personality traits are linked to the way one writes. To eliminate cursive is to make everyone the same.  Since the start of our Industrial Revolution and standardized public education, the government and politics has done a great job at pushing children through the system like factory workers.  Yet, Montessori preserves the individual and equips him/her to express themselves in their own unique way according to his/her own talents, characteristics and tendencies.
If you do further research you can find what our future generations will be missing in other school settings and why it matters. 
And so, I leave you with that.  Hopefully, your curiosity has been tapped and you look to do more, or say more or write more and please let it be in cursive.  Give yourself the opportunity to hold on to what is quickly becoming our past.  Learn for yourself and see that teaching and practicing cursive will help you and our children to better make other connections in life just as we are meant to connect our letters with a pencil or pen.



Eiry Rees Thomas said...

Thank you for highlighting this crucial issue.

Melanie Harwood said...

Being able to write, makes you, well, YOU! We created Start-Bee for that very same reason when our own daughter struggled to learn to write her own name. She is now joining up and has her Pen License (she is eight years old) and the difference that cursive (joined-up) handwriting has brought into her world is immeasurable. Being able to write well is the key to the kingdom of education. It unlocks that door and positively affects everything in a chid's educational trajectory. We often see very bright and capable young children who are struggling with handwriting and the effect on their self esteem and attainments are immense. The ability to write legibly and fluently can be the difference between an A* and a C in GCSE's but many parents realise this too late in the day and try to "fix" it when their child is already in secondary school. For deeper cognitive thinking and understanding, look no further than to the learners who are confident handwriters. Handwriting it not something to dismiss as "old fashioned" and "passe", it is what separates those who can access ALL of the curriculum from those who simply struggle to get their own thoughts down clearly on paper. The United Kingdom's Department of Education have ensured that handwriting is IN the curriculum: A child must be able to write their own name by the time they leave pre-school, must be an emergent handwriter by the time the leave Reception and they must be joining-up (writing in cursive) by the time they leave Year 1. OFSTED are now checking "book work" and a school can lose their Outstanding Status or, worse, be deemed Unsatisfactory if they cannot show "adequate Handwriting Provision".

Melanie Harwood said...

Fans of cursive handwriting are so few on the ground, yet we allow cursive to die out at our peril. The Start-Bee Method teaches handwriting to children who are falling behind their peers because they are struggling with their handwriting. Statistics put this as 1 child in 3, that’s a whole third of every class in every school unable to write properly - from experience, I think the statistic is higher. The point is that those children who can’t write are held back from accessing the rest of the curriculum. Whilst exams and notes in class have to be handwritten - being unable to write properly, legibly, fluently, painlessly and quickly will mean that notes are taken badly, teachers can’t read submitted work and children get worse marks. The research supports this ( I see children’s confidence suffer and their behaviour in class worsen because of their frustration at not being able to write and keep up. I recently wrote a blog on the power of handwriting here ( Bottom line - even in a digital age, children need to be able to write and continue to write if they are ever to achieve their potential in life.

Matthew Simberg said...

Eiry Rees Thomas,

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment :o)

Matthew Simberg said...

Melanie Harwood,

Thank you so much for your input and further information. It is very much appreciated and I hope helpful to all others that also see it!

Unknown said...

Hi Matthew ~ I was delighted to read your blog on cursive writing. I too am a Montessori teacher. When in Junior School, we learned to write with a dipping pen and an inkwell, and blue and pink lined paper. We wrote slowly and with care, because if an error was made, we had to start the whole exercise again. Sometimes, when people hear how I learned to write, they look at me as if I've crawled from the Dark Ages! However, I learned to concentrate, take care, and take pride in my work. I am an enthusiastic letter writer, and I know from my friends, especially those abroad, that when an envelope, with my handwriting, lands on the mat, they tell me they put on the kettle, make a pot of tea ~ a little ceremony ~ and then open the envelope to spend some time in another world, possibly far away. As soon as I could write, I wrote my "thank you" letters to all who sent birthday or Christmas presents. I still send "thank you" letters. If someone has taken the trouble and time to choose a present for me, I believe a text or email message of thanks is just not good enough. When I started studying Montessori, it was a second career, having been a secretary, and later office manager, for over twenty-five years. I could have been grandmother to some of my classmates! When it came to the little Pink Books and the little Blue Books, and all the alphabet lists, I alone was comfortable with pen and ink. When I started work experience, one of the greatest joys was watching the deep concentration of very young children writing Christmas / Mother's Day / Father's Day / Hallowe'en / St Patrick's Day / messages to family and friends. Their faces glowed with delight at their job well done. Children lucky enough to attend Montessori schools, are blessed to be learning the skill of cursive writing. It teaches discipline, concentration, self-confidence, and self-reliance, and the payback for the children is pride and pleasure in their work. The very act of writing is an experience in expression, and communication. Mobiles, iPhones, Tablets, and laptops, will not always be available. Young children, and older students, need to be able communicate in a form other than just with a keyboard, where downloading information from other sources and incorporating it into one's work, blurs the line between one's own work and real composition based on research, duly referenced. The thought of losing, in the course of a couple of generations, a skill originating thousands of years ago in the region of the Euphrates, is appalling and symptomatic of an attitude, in some circles, that all is disposable, without consideration for intrinsic value. Up with Cursive! Up with hand-writing! Iseult C O'Brien.

Matthew Simberg said...

Iseult Catherine O Brien

Thank you very much for your input and sharing your experience. It is beautiful. I appreciate your conviction about writing!

hamsa said...

cursive writing is encouragesd in children with learning difficulties , in order to avoid b,d,p confusions

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