Is cursive writing still important?
Wilton Library recently finished a three-part cursive writing program and Wilton Historical Society will be offering a penmanship workshop for children on Saturday, March 18, which may have some wondering: How important is writing by hand in the 21st Century?
According to Jane Manners, children’s library assistant at Wilton Library and instructor of its cursive writing program, it depends on whom you ask.
“People feel differently about the importance of cursive writing,” she said.
“Some people believe that technology has destroyed handwriting — a skill that is fundamental to the development of reading and writing.”
During the library’s cursive writing sessions, children 9 years old and older practiced reading and writing in script.
Since most of the children had some experience with cursive, Manners said, the program was an opportunity for them to practice.
Manners said she ran the program “as a one-off” last December, and there was “quite a buzz around the library about it — even the staff was curious.”
Since the children “really enjoyed it,” said Manners, she decided to run another cursive writing program — this time in three sessions.
“The first part is devoted to reading script, the second section is practicing cursive letters and words,” she said, “and then finishing up with a craft that incorporates our newly acquired or newly improved cursive writing skills.”
Manners said a colleague recently sent her an article about the resurgence of cursive instruction in schools across the country.
“In the article, they talk about the current generation being familiar with only typing on a keyboard and texting,” she said.
“The Common Core curriculum did not require handwriting and so it was dropped in a lot of schools. They don’t see the value, which is too bad.”
However, Manners said, “The New York Times ran a piece a few years back about the benefits of cursive writing — that it connects the right and the left hemispheres of the brain in ways that printing does not.”
“It claims that cursive writing helps in areas of language development and working memory,” she said, “and apparently can even help a student’s SAT scores.”
In one of the cursive writing sessions, Manners said, “one of the kids commented that her father wanted her to have a signature when signing her name.”
“There are all sorts of reasons to learn cursive, but I think the kids just have fun with it,” she said. “It’s kind of like drawing and writing simultaneously.”
Cursive in schools
In the Wilton public school system, cursive reading and writing is still taught.
“Students are introduced to cursive primarily in third grade,” K-8 humanities coordinator Gina Dignon told The Bulletin, “and then it is reviewed in fourth and fifth grade.”
Cursive writing is “a very small part” of Cider Mill’s comprehensive literacy program, said Dignon.
“More widely, we teach children in grades K-5 letter formation, including cursive,” she said, “so they have choices in how they process their own ideas as they grow as thoughtful readers, writers and thinkers.”
Dignon said part of Cider Mill’s philosophy for English language arts is “grounded in giving students choice of expression,” and cursive writing “gives students choice in how they would like to express their thoughts and ideas in writing.”
Part of the school’s social studies curriculum involves “looking at and interpreting primary source documents,” said Dignon — many of which are written in cursive — so “students need to be able to read and understand these types of documents.”
While some people may see technology as having a damaging effect on penmanship, Dignon shared another perspective.
“The increased use of technology increases access to texts, as well as giving choice in expression of ideas. Technology also helps with different ways to represent content to students,” she said.
“Cursive writing provides another option to students for expression, access and representation of content and ideas.”
Last year, Cider Mill adopted a multisensory approach to writing called Handwriting Without Tears, and now, Principal Jennifer Mitchell told The Bulletin, “all of our teachers teach cursive.”
As part of Wilton’s curriculum review process, Dignon said, a committee reviewed the district’s K-12 English language arts curriculum and “recommended that we adopt a unified approach to teaching letter formation, printing and cursive.”
After reviewing different programs, Dignon said, the committee chose Handwriting Without Tears, which “draws from years of innovation and research to provide developmentally appropriate, multisensory tools and strategies for [the] classroom.”
For cursive, as well as with print, Dignon said, “pencil grip can be a struggle for some students.”
“One reason that Handwriting Without Tears was chosen is that our occupational therapists also use the program,” she said.
“For students who have the most struggle with fine motor movements, having the same program in place in both the classroom and with their [occupational therapists], is extremely beneficial.”
According to a Wilton Bulletin poll, 50% of readers said they write in cursive "all the time," while 31% write in "a mix of cursive and print," 12% “never” write in cursive, and 8% said they only write in cursive when signing their names.
Historical society workshop
Wilton Historical Society will offer a Quills, Inks and Penmanship Workshop for Kids on Saturday, March 18, from 11 to 12:30.
During the workshop, museum educator Lola Chen will teach children ages 6-12 how to make goose-feather pens and use them to write with walnut shell ink.
There is a $10-per-child fee for historical society members, with a maximum of $25 per family, and a $15-per-child fee for non-members, with a $35 family maximum.
Information and registration: firstname.lastname@example.org, 203-762-7257.