Why Cursive Writing is Still Important.

Monday, September 21, 2009 by Marion Wilm
Recently the media (including Time magazine and the Charlotte Observer) has published several articles about the fact that Cursive Handwriting is a dying art.  Schools are barely teaching cursive handwriting anymore since it is not included on end of grade tests.  While students may receive some instruction in Cursive writing in the 3rd grade, without practice it does not become an automatic and proficient skill for many children.   There is also no requirement to use cursive writing in many schools so students revert back to printing, which is easier for them.  There is also the argument that this generation of students will use the computer for much of their writing.  So, why is cursive writing still important?

As an occupational therapist in Charlotte, I am observing a generation of children who are not fully developing their fine motor skills.  This is true for typical children as well as children who are struggling in schools.  The small muscles in the hand develop as we use them for precision skills.  Handwriting is one of those precision skills.  We use different sets of muscles to hold the pen correctly with a tripod grasp than with a less refined grasp.  Cursive writing is usually taught later than printing because we need even more muscle control to guide the pen smoothly across the page as we connect the letters to form words.  The stop and start movements in printing do not encourage those muscles to develop endurance or "flow" as cursive writing teaches.  These same muscles are the ones that help children with manipulating clothing fasteners (Can they button and tie their shoes well?)  If we raise a generation of children that don't fully develop their dexterity then who will take over the jobs later that require fully developed fine motor skills (surgeons, scientists, computer technicians). 

Cursive also teaches spatial skills as we automatically leave spaces between words while writing in cursive.  This helps to develop visual skills in a way that video games cannot reinforce.  Also, if children never learn how to write in cursive, they may also struggle to read cursive writing.  So much of what is written in historical documents will be as a foreign language to them.  

In recent years, I have had great success as an occupational therapist in teaching cursive writing to children that are struggling to develop neat handwriting.  One group of students that has shown the greatest success is middle school age students with Down Syndrome.  These are children who typically struggled in their early years to learn to write due to poor fine motor coordination.  Once we start cursive writing lessons, their overall fine motor dexterity improves significantly.  They also improve their reading skills as they learn to see how letters form to connect words rather than writing individual letters that may not be connected at all by their visual systems.  Most importantly, their self-esteem improves as they are proud of their work that looks "grown-up" in comparison to many of their peers. 

Let's not handicap our students by not allowing them to fully develop their motor and visual coordination skills.  Let's not limit their future career choices because they don't have good fine motor coordination.  Cursive handwriting practice does so much more than take up precious time to learn in the schools, but actually enhances skills in many other areas. 

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