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February 15, 2014
by Theravive

Saving Script - The Benefits of Teaching Children to Read and Write Cursive

February 15, 2014 02:55 by Theravive

Her testimony sent a shockwave through the courtroom. The defense attorney for George Zimmerman, recently the subject of a high-profile trial, asked the star witness to read a handwritten letter, which was an important piece of evidence. She stumbled, only able to read her name. “Are you able to read that at all?” the attorney asked. “Some but not all”, she replied. “I don’t read cursive.”

In today’s technology-charged world of computers, cell phones and iPads, the need for handwriting is slowly fading. Most people find that typing is their preferred method for recording information simply because most work and communication is done at a keypad.  If confronted with having to write at all, printing rather than cursive is the preferred method of writing. Long gone are the days of the art of the handwritten letter. In fact, most states no longer even require cursive at all in the school curriculum.

Common Core Standards

The Common Core Initiative is a state-led effort backed by the National Governor’s Association that sets the educational standards in Mathematics and English for children in Kindergarten through Grade 12. It’s purpose is to teach students common skills that will realistically prepare them for the real world. Common Core Standards favor keyboard skills over writing because of the prevalence of the use of computers in schools and the future vision of a script-less world. With the emphasis in today’s education system on competitive standardized testing, teachers are giving preference to teaching skills that are deemed necessary to excel in these tests. There is pressure to drop cursive altogether from the curriculum because it is seen as a waste of precious educational time. [1]

The benefits of handwriting

Handwriting is a necessary part of the development of a child’s brain and their ability to learn. Studies have repeatedly shown that handwriting, whether it be manuscript or cursive, is excellent for promoting brain activity, as it requires different parts of the brain that specialize in separate functions to engage simultaneously. Writing letters activates the areas of the brain that  involve thinking, movement and the sense of touch. [2]  So far there is no evidence that cursive writing promotes brain activity any more than printing, [1] [2] but studies do demonstrate that typing does not engage these brain circuits simultaneously in the brains of 7 year olds. In addition, handwriting in general promotes dexterity, which is the ability to use your hands skillfully, and motor control over the fingers. [3]

It is clear, then, why children should not rely solely on typing as a means of writing, but why continue to teach cursive? What is the advantage of cursive writing over printing?

Cursive is easier than printing

Cursive offers the additional advantage of actually being easier to master physically than printing. Cursive simply involves three movements - the undercurve, the overcurve and up and down movement, whereas printing requires six motions. There is a fluid, counterclockwise motion to the strokes and the formation of the letters, rather than the irregular, clockwise motion of print. Children go through a phase between the ages of five and seven of preferring the counterclockwise motion that is necessary for cursive, therefore it is beneficial to start children on cursive writing while they are young. [3]

Fluency in reading and cursive writing

Fluency in writing and reading is the ability to read and comprehend without having to stop and think about forming letters or to sound out words. [4] The connectivity of cursive letters allows for faster writing, therefore there is less time spent on thinking about the process of writing, and critical thoughts are free to flow. [5] In fact, children actually express more thoughts when writing cursive. [5] Fluency in writing has been related to fluency in reading because they involve the same regions of the brain. [3] 

Level playing field

Not everyone has access to technology at home or in schools, especially in lower income areas. Learning cursive gives those who can not afford technology a fair chance to compete in today’s world.

Dyslexia and dysgraphia

Studies have shown that children diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, which is a learning disability that affects writing, benefit from learning cursive writing, especially at young ages. Dyslexic children tend to confuse the directionality of letters, and cursive letters are clearer in their sense of directionality than are manuscript letters. They are therefore less likely to flip the direction of letters. Learning cursive has also been shown to benefit the left-handed. [6]

Lost connection to history

Cursive writing was the standard for recording important information long before the invention of typewriters and computers. Important historical documents, such as the US Constitution, were recorded in cursive. If children are no longer taught to write and read cursive, a connection to history, whether it be through old manuscripts or grandma’s letters in the attic, is lost. There is a real danger that a whole generation of children will be disconnected from the past. [1]

Currently, some 41 states do not require reading or writing cursive. Some states, however, like North Carolina, have added cursive writing to the school curriculum as part of a “Back to Basics” bill to save cursive writing from a slow demise. Several other states are considering similar legislation. [4] Hopefully cursive will be seen as an important tool for learning and retaining knowledge, and not just a way to test knowledge.


[1] [“Learning cursive writing: Is it worthwhile or a waste of time?”, Jacoba Urist. 2013]

[2] ["What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain - Cursive Writing Makes Kids Smarter," William R. Klemm, D.V.M, Ph.D, 2013]]

[3] [“The Case for Cursive”, Katie Zezima. 2011.]

[4] [“Teaching Cursive Handwriting First Leads to Fluency in Reading and Writing”, Elizabeth Seton, p. 8-11. 2012 to Reading.pdf]

[5] [“Technology may script and end to cursive writing”, Amy Perrette, NBC News. 2013] 

[6] [“ How Should We teach Our Children to Write? Cursive First Print Later”, Samuel L. Blumenfeld] 

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