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Cursive Writing: One Line Says It All

by | Mar 31, 2017 | School of ART News

Easily one of the best arguments I have heard for learning cursive in student’s young life: you need a signature! You can’t sign for a driver’s license without a signature, you can’t sign a mortgage without a signature, you can’t legally agree to anything without a uniquely your very own, John Hancock.

But let’s pretend that we live in a society that doesn’t need a signature. So let’s play a game, give yourself a second to think of some reasons why you might need to know how to read or write in cursive. I’m sure some of your first thoughts floated to images of you signing for your dream car or scribbling a signature of an agreement that makes you the sole owner of Disney World. But… is that it? Is the ability to connect the letter of your first and last name in a swirly fashion the only reason for going through cursive writing as a 1st and 2nd grader?

Many of us can’t easily think of a million purposes for reading and writing cursive because most of them are academic and the effects of cursive writing for young children and adults is something studied by professors, psychologists, neuroscientists and other professionals in related fields. All of the studies, tests, observations, and papers written about what cursive does to the brain, how it affects academic ability and if it is something vital to a young student’s education really all boils down to one truth.  The truth is, cursive writing has many profound effects on the brain, many of which we don’t fully understand yet.

The brain is a complicated organ, so let’s go over some things we do know. Children as young as preschool can begin to develop better language, reading and writing skills by practicing letters, numbers and shapes. Children in this age group who demonstrated a better ability to write these symbols of the English language out preformed peers in academic testing by the second grade. In June of 2014, the New York Times ran an article titled What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades” and stated, “Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information.”  Handwriting improves ability to learn language quicker, improves creativity and enhances memory.

And these benefits are not limited to those attempting to master the alphabet; adults have very similar benefits. In a recent study conducted by Princeton University and UCLA researchers in an article entitled “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard”, “students who take notes by hand perform better on conceptual questions than students who take notes on laptops.” The article goes on to state, “Students who take notes by hand actually digest the content and reframe it in their own words—a process that increases both understanding and recall.” Those who chose to write versus type experience very similar benefits as children learning to write, including the better ability to store and recall information, better production of original ideas and improving creativity.

When someone takes the time to write a note, different parts of the brain are active than parts that are used when typing. Paul Bloom, a Yale psychologist and skeptic of the long term effects of handwriting on the brain, stated, “with handwriting, the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what’s important.” Even if he doesn’t agree with colleagues on what exactly handwriting does to the brain, he openly admits the research to be thought-provoking and demands further studying.

“With handwriting, the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what’s important.”

Like many other things we do as human beings, we need continue to study, research and reaffirm findings on the effects handwriting has on the brain. Remember when I asked you to think of some reasons to keep cursive around besides being able to sign on the dotted line? We just covered some profound academic reasons to keep on handwriting on, including indicators that cursive improves academic achievement; but we haven’t even touched on any cultural reasons to continue to hand write, reasons handwriting can be beneficial to those with learning differences or reasons that include reading and understand historical documents written in cursive. This is a topic worthy of continuing study and teaching.

To learn more about School of Art’s philosophy on handwriting and to dive into the subject yourself; check out our the times for a 4 week cursive class.