Evidence continues rolling in on benefits of writing by hand, including cursive

Yes, children learn keyboarding skills early, but research suggests that handwriting continues to help with learning shapes and letters, expressing ideas, paying attention, and boosting fine motor skills. Cursive and/or “longhand,” meaning use of pencil and paper, appears to even boost the performance of college students. Plus, cursive handwriting is almost as one-of-a-kind as a snowflake or fingerprint. Given its long history and many benefits, is it really such a good idea to let it fade away?

An April article in Breitbart by Nate Church cited a study published by the Association of Psychological Science, showing that “While [university] students with laptop computers took much more extensive notes, those wielding a pen took notes that were considerably more valuable.”

Robert Lee Hotz, reporting for the Wall Street Journal in “Can Handwriting Make You Smarter?” discussed the work conducted by Princeton University and University of California at Los Angeles researchers, and further noted that “Students who took handwritten notes generally out performed students who typed their notes via computer.” Hotz suggested, “handwriting appears to focus classroom attention and boost learning in a way that typing notes on a keyboard does not.”

Just last month, a New York Times article by Perri Klass, MD, titled, “Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age,” cited research from both the The Journal of Learning Disabilities and The Journal of Childhood Literacy, offering compelling evidence for the importance of cursive. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington and the lead author on the study in the former journal, told Klass that “evidence from this and other studies suggests that ‘handwriting — forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.’”

Klass reports that in The Journal of Childhood Literacy, Laura Dinehart, an associate professor of early childhood education at Florida International University, “discussed several possible associations between good handwriting and academic achievement.” One possibility she suggested is that “kids with good handwriting get better grades because their work is more pleasant for teachers to read.” She noted that in a population of low-income children, those “who had good early fine-motor writing skills in prekindergarten did better later on in school.” Dinehart urged more research “on handwriting in the preschool years, and on ways to help young children develop the skills they need for ‘a complex task’ that requires the coordination of cognitive, motor and neuromuscular processes.”

Early this year, Julie Prince, in a post for PJ Media titled, “Why Aren’t Schools Teaching Cursive Anymore?” cited Daniel Coupland, associate professor of education at Hillsdale College. In an online class he taught, “A Proper Understanding of K-12 Education: Theory and Practice," he said, “I understand the argument that we are moving much more in a technological direction and we are using handheld devices and computers in order to express those ideas, but I am concerned about the loss of other things connected with handwriting...even of the development of the motor skills that kids develop by actually holding a pencil and actually being able to write.”

Of course, not all handwriting is cursive. Printing—also known as manuscript writing—with its straight lines and lack of letter-to-letter connections has always preceded learning cursive. One workbook to help little hands get ready to printing letters is Tracing Trails Pre-Writing Skills Workbook. Next steps might include the Printing Fun! Write & Reuse Workbook and the Manuscript Writing K-2 Workbook.

Cursive was historically the next big step. Among the “Ten Reasons People Still Need Cursive,” by Jennifer Doverspike, writing for The Federalist, are that it “helps people integrate knowledge,” “leads cognitive development, self-esteem, and academic success,” “reduces distractions and inspires creativity,” “keeps our brains active in old age, we need to be able to read it,” and we “can create something beautiful and unique.”

Clearly, evidence mounts that handwriting in general and cursive specifically, are not things to simply toss out along with the 8-track tapes and floppy disks. Whether cursive is being taught in your local schools, summer might be a great time to either introduce or reinforce it using a workbook such as Cursive Writing 3-4 Deluxe Edition.

The printing of letters by hand does more than recreate symbols on a keyboard, and the scrolls, loops, and curlicues of cursive do more than create signatures. They appear to change the way we process information.