The Handwriting Debate

Is America honestly considering raising a generation of children who cannot even sign their own names?

Since 2009, 44 states, including Wisconsin, have adopted the new Common Core State Standards, which do not require instruction in cursive. Now that so much of our written communication happens electronically, the thought is that valuable teaching time is no longer well-spent on cursive handwriting, when time could be better spent teaching the keyboarding and word processing skills children will absolutely use. And to that point, these new national standards require instruction with digital tools — such as keyboards or tablet computers. 

At a high-level, this seems to make sense. Cursive has become a somewhat antiquated writing style that our younger generations quickly abandon when it is no longer required. Most of us communicate in a virtual environment almost entirely once beyond our primary school years. 

However, besides the obvious need to be able to sign one’s name on formal documents, research has consistently shown that writing by hand increases memory, helps students learn to pronounce words when learning to read, and sharpens fine motor skills. Furthermore, technology now allows us to speak to our computers or hand write directly onto a tablet screen, instead of typing. So, it could be that keyboarding is more on its way out than handwriting and the new Common Core Standards are way off base about what is important in primary education. 

According to the article in the Chicago Tribune, The National Association of Elementary School Principals' President, Rob Monson, says cursive is the most difficult skill taught in elementary grades “because cursive is actually an art form.” “There are some people who are good in art and some who aren't." 

MMS Montessorian, Mrs. Catherine Brys, responds that, “Cursive writing appeals to a sense of beauty that Montessori students are especially attuned to. It is beautiful work that they are proud to create. It certainly is an art, but one with a defined style that every student can learn and refine.” 

Mr. Monson seems to be correct, when referring to a student taught cursive in the third-grade, after first mastering block-print. The primary way you are taught to do something is absolutely the format you will revert to when given the opportunity. Wouldn’t the true solution then be to just make cursive the writing style that students fall back on? If the end goal of writing education is cursive writing, then why not start with it? 

Dr. Montessori maintained that the hand is the tool of the mind, guiding it through learning and exploration. It is for this reason that our students’ first lessons in recognizing letters and writing letters are via the cursive style. “The work of the hand is so important to refining small motor movement and making a physical connection to the material. Writing in cursive is a more sensorial experience than printing, with its start-stop-style,” explains Brys.

According to

Children who learn to read print first may encounter some difficulties with letter recognition. Children who are introduced to cursive lower case have almost no instances of letter reversals. With printed script it is quite easy to mix up b and d and p and q. 

When writing in cursive the act of connecting the letters that form a word help the child’s mind to see those letters as a word. The letters of each separate word are connected and then there is a space distinguishing it from the word that follows. This will make it easier for someone else reading the child's writing to be able to distinguish each separate word. 

The most compelling reason for using the cursive script is that the children who learn to read cursive words first make a very quick transition to reading print. 

So, it would seem that cursive is the most difficult elementary skill to teach only in a curriculum where students first learn block letters and then attempt to transform to cursive. The solution is not to eliminate cursive, but to start with it.




Milwaukee Montessori School
345 North 95th St, Milwaukee, WI 53226
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