Teach your children (to write) well

Just about anyone who has encountered me in person in the last couple of years has been forced to hear me out on the topic of handwriting, particularly cursive handwriting. I stumbled onto this in my reading on cognitive processing. I’ll try not to drag it out, but I feel some urgency to convince anyone with little people in their lives to make sure the schools those children attend continue to teach handwriting, printing and cursive, beginning as early as kindergarten. If your first reaction is, “Aren’t our schools already doing that?”, I need to inform you that many, maybe most, are not, and it does not bode well for our children.

We can blame it on the Common Core educational standards, created by a federal/state task force, that put pressure on public school teachers to focus on standardized testing. Many teachers, given the option, forego teaching cursive–handwriting in which letters are joined within words in a continuous flow–because they don’t think they have time for it. In many cases, those same teachers were not taught how to teach cursive in college. Cursive handwriting is not mentioned in the 2010 Common Core standards; printing is, but research suggests that’s not enough. Why?

The January 25, 2012 issue of Education Week reports on a 2012 educational conference in Washington, D.C. titled: Handwriting in the 21st Century?: An Educational Summit. The newspaper summarizes the input at the conference. Principle findings presented include: Virginia Berninger (University of Washington-Seattle): learning handwriting produces both cognitive and motor skills; Steve Graham (Vanderbilt University): without instruction in handwriting, reading comprehension may suffer; Karin Harman-James (Indiana University) handwriting, not keyboarding, leads to adult-like neural processing in the visual system; Kathleen Simmons-O’Neal (kindergarten teacher, West Carroll Parish, LA): not teaching handwriting will have detrimental effects; “We’re not doing it as a daily practice and it’s causing severe motor problems with children.” What’s Simmons-O’Neal talking about? An article posted on http://www.kjrh.com reports that brain science “indicates the fluid motion employed when writing script enhances hand-eye coordination and develops fine motor skills, in turn promoting reading, writing and cognition skills.”

Some educators are getting the message. The UK had dropped cursive instruction during the 70s and 80s, but reintroduced it in lower grades in the late 90s and may extend it into the upper grades, Finland now teaches it in grades 1 through 12; Massachusetts, Georgia, Indiana and California have added it to the Common Core standards, and several other states are considering it. I am sorry to say Maine, a state still congratulating itself for putting tablet computers into the hands of five year olds, is not one of them.

There’s lots more to be said, and I may include it here later, but I wanted to get the word out so anyone who “gets it” can get busy making sure the children are getting this very important element in their cognitive/educational development. And if you want to make a concrete recommendation to your local school board, you can check out the materials already available from Zaner-Bloser Publishing in Columbus, OH (I do not get a commission for recommending them :–) Do it for the kids!


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