If you have kids in school, how much time do they spend learning cursive handwriting? Probably not much, especially if they're beyond first grade. The Common Core standards dominating education these days only call for teaching legible handwriting, and only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, students spend their time learning to use keyboards.
That might seem like a good thing. Mastering computers and technology are the make-or-break skills of the 21st century, after all. But a growing body of scientific evidence seems to show that all the older people lamenting the death of penmanship are on to something. Whether or not they actually do much writing by hand in later life, learning to do it well--in cursive as well as print--has measurable benefits for kids' brains.
Here are just a few:
1. Children who learn to handwrite also learn to read better.
"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," writes psychologist and author Maria Konnikova in an article in the New York Times. And many people, children and adults alike, have experienced the ironic phenomenon where writing something down stores it in your memory, so you no longer need the note you've just written. It works best if you write whatever it is by hand.
2. Writing cursive activates a particular part of your brain.
Recent research has shown that typing, printing letters, and writing them in cursive activate three different portions of the brains. For your children to have fully active brains, they should do all three.
3. It increases creativity.
A study at the University of Washington showed that children who compose text by hand rather than on a keyboard not only wrote more quickly but also had more ideas as a result. And what type of handwriting you use does matter. The College Board found that students who wrote the essay portion of their SAT tests in cursive did slightly better than those who printed their letters.
4. They learn fine motor skills.
Classes that teach children fine motor skills and how to use our incredibly complex and powerful hands will make a big difference to the rest of their lives. In these days when art and craft classes, as well as music, are disappearing from many secondary schools, learning cursive and penmanship still gives children the chance to learn those fine motor skills.
5. It may help prevent dyslexia.
Research shows that writing cursive may help prevent dysgraphia, in which people have trouble correctly writing letters, and that it may prevent common reversals, such as confusing b and d. Dysgraphia is not the same thing as dyslexia, which usually refers to trouble with reading. But the two conditions often appear together. And it's highly likely that what helps one also helps the other.
6. Children with better handwriting have more active brains.
The University of Washington research also showed that children with good handwriting exhibited more neural activity than their peers with bad handwriting. It may not be clear which is cause and which is effect--do children think better because they have better handwriting, or are they writing better because their brains are more active?
Hard to say, but why take chances? The smart move is to help your kids learn to write cursive by hand, and do it well.