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Cursive vs. Manuscript Handwriting

My eldest child is now 4 years old and learning to write. He has hypermobility, aka double-jointedness which makes it more difficult for him to hold a pen. Nevertheless, he is very interested in handwriting, and likes to do writing practice in a few books he has for this purpose.

Reading Cursive

I'm unsatisfied with a few of the models he is tracing, in particular the number 1, which ends up looking like a 7, and some of the other printed letters of the alphabet.

When we taught him the alphabet, I would vary the handwriting style, sometimes lowercase, sometimes uppercase, sometimes cursive. This did not seem to have any negative effect and he is able to recongize letters very easily, regardless of the typeface. He could recognize all these variants by the age of 18 months (no kidding).

The Demise of Cursive

I've been reading up on cursive (and its apparent demise in schools). It is important to me to understand what research there is out there regarding the merits of cursive, manuscript, and both forms taught in series.

The Demise of Handwriting

Apparently handwriting is atrocious in students (I can agree with that from my experience teaching over 700 students over 7 years at the university level). And so it is not only cursive that is threatened but decent handwriting altogether.

Research on Cursive Handwriting

It is important to put to one side all the enthusiasts both promoters and detractors, with an opinion, but who don't cite actual research. Also, it should be noted that handwriting is important in general, and the keyboard and mobile swiping have not supplanted the pen just yet. Something, some kind of handwriting, must be taught and learned. It also seems that manuscript (aka block printing) is what is expected at his earliest schools, so that must be mastered, and so we really come down to two choices:

  • Learn cursive first, then manuscript
  • Learn manuscript first, then cursive

The Argument for Cursive

Cursive writing does have some advantages:

  • It is easier to write;
  • In at least as, if not faster than, manuscript handwriting;
    • A hybrid personal cursive + manuscript format is generally faster, though one still needs to learn cursive (as well as manuscript) to be able to create this format.
  • Writing cursive helps make one a better reader of cursive (and manuscript, apparently);
  • Writing cursive increases automaticity of both writing and spelling, which increases the ability of and amount of time spent on higher-level writing activities such as planning and editing; and
  • Writing cursive increases spelling ability (in studies comparing manuscript-only and manuscript + cursive writers).

Cursory Cursive Conclusions by a Father

So far I'm not convinced to abandon cursive. I like it and the research shows that it is actually important. At the same time I'm not convinced to abandon manuscript (printed characters) since that is what most people recognize as English (seeing that cursive is under siege). It does seem that we can start with cursive, or simply start with both. Some research shows slower handwriting under the burden of two systems, at the second grade level. We've got to learn two. So my sense is we'll start with cursive.

Cursive Resources

  • The Case for Cursive - NYTimes
  • Five Reasons Kids should still Learn Cursive - Time
  • What's Lost as Handwriting Fades - NYTimes
  • The Case for Cursive: Connected Letters, Connected Thinking - Medium
  • Cursive Logic - Kickstarter
  • The Case for Cursive Writing - George H. Early
  • Cursive Writing Made Easy & Fun by Kama Einhorn
  • Cursive Writing - Instruction, Practice, and Reinforcement by Schyrlet Cameron and Carolyn Craig
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