In 2012, the Common Core Curriculum did away with handwriting instruction in American schools, but just six years later, it is back in the curriculum in at least 15 states. Why? One article suggests that “proponents of penmanship say writing words in an unbroken line of swooshing i’s and three-humped m’s is just a faster, easier way of taking notes. Others point out that students should be able to understand documents written in cursive, especially when getting a letter from grandma.” However, more importantly, handwriting improves academic performance in all subjects, from science to math, reading and social studies, according to Christina Bretz, handwriting expert with Learning Without Tears, and creating solid, life-long learners requires a balance of keyboarding and handwriting in today’s classroom.
“Kids are on computers, and, yes, there is a lot of technology in the classroom today. There also is, however, a lot of paper and pencil work taking place every day in classrooms,” she explained. “Children have to take notes in all subjects; they have to complete assignments in all subjects; and they have to take tests in all subjects. They do all those things through writing. In fact, most of a student’s day is spent using paper and pencil.
“Research has shown that work done by hand increases as student’s progress through school, so children need to be taught writing to be successful in school.”
Other studies have proven that solid handwriting skills affect students’ self-esteem, which can affect their academic performance, create more fluid writers with better critical thinking skills, and create better readers. Bretz also shared that research has shown that when we write, we retain that information much better than when we are typing on a keyboard.
“Cursive writing, in particular, plays an important role in today’s classroom, because it improves brain development in the areas of thinking, language, working memory and literacy,” she shared. “Research through MRI studies have shown that cursive writing stimulates brain synapsis in a way that keyboarding and even printing by hand does not.”
To create successful and solid cursive writers, educators need to teach handwriting on a daily basis. Bretz says there is a developmental sequence that should be undertaken, because that is how children learn best. One way to start in earlier grades is to provide multi-sensory manipulatives to support handwriting instruction and bring the lesson to life. Using these multi-sensory manipulatives also appeals to the different learning styles for children. Whether a child is an auditory, tactile, or kinesthetic learner, multi-sensory activities for 10-15 minutes a day, followed by workbook instruction, will create a solid foundation for success in handwriting.
“Daily handwriting instruction really becomes a time saver for educators, because once children learn the foundational skills of writing, they can produce their work quickly and efficiently,” she explained. “Handwriting becomes an automatic and natural skill, allowing the student to focus on the content of the writing rather than focusing on the mechanics.”
An example of manipulatives is wood pieces that children can use to “build” letters on a mat. Four different wood pieces make up the capital letters of the alphabet – a big line, a little line, a big curve, and a little curve and are used to build all capital letters. They are used to help students understand the correct start and sequence of a letter.
“The best time to introduce cursive handwriting it is at the end of 2nd grade, with simple instruction and the introduction of easy connections between letters,” she explained. “Third grade is when educators should take a dive deep into cursive, and that instruction should continue through the fourth grade and beyond. It takes two years for cursive handwriting to become a motor skill the students can use the rest of their lives.”
Certainly, learning handwriting is important for creating the ability to read historical documents. However – more importantly – it is a foundational skill that influences the ability to read, write, and use language and critical thinking skills effectively.
Want to learn more about effective strategies for teaching handwriting? Here’s a free interactive planner to help you get ready for the new school year resource.