Should kids learn cursive?

Should schools require children to learn cursive? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate blog. The new common standards don’t call for cursive. Many think the keyboard has made penmanship obsolete.

Handwriting matters, but not cursive, writes Kate Gladstone, founder of Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works.

The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree.

I do that! I didn’t know it was the in thing.

Children should learn to read cursive, but that “can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes,” once kids learn to read print, Gladstone writes.

At a 2012 conference hosted by a publisher of cursive textbooks, only 37 percent of  handwriting teachers wrote in cursive, writes Gladstone. Eight percent printed. A majority — 55 percent — combined print and cursive in an efficient hybrid style.

“Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring,” she concludes.

Writing in cursive stimulates the brain, argues Suzanne Baruch Asherson, an occupational therapist in Beverly Hills schools and a national presenter for Handwriting Without Tears, an early childhood education company.

. . . learning to write in cursive is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing.

Let cursive die out, responds Morgan Polikoff, a USC education professor. “There is little compelling research to suggest the teaching of cursive positively affects other student skills enough to merit its teaching.”

About Joanne


  1. I’m one of those fast, clear handwriters as well. Thing things is, even though it doesn’t look like cursive, I only came up with that style after learning cursive and the elements of cursive that I learned underpin my handwriting.

    The ability to improvise and adapt generally comes with mastery. I cook and bake with recipes but it was year of working with recipes that got me to that point. Cartoon and comic book artists often have a style that looks simple or easy to some but open their sketchbooks and they are often full of realistic drawings of objects and people around them.

    You have to learn the form because you can start changing it to suit your needs. It’s a lesson too many people forget after they reach adulthood.

    I’ll add that a couple of years ago I worked through some of my daughter’s cursive materials to get rid of some of the breaks I had in my handwriting. Guess what? My handwriting is now even faster and cleaner. Funny that.

    • OMG. My typing, however, is horrible. I’d say it was my smartphone but I moved to my desktop to type that reply. My apologies to everyone that has to read it!

  2. Sigivald says:

    […] learning to write in cursive is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing.

    Source, please.

    With confidence intervals and amount of difference.

  3. I think there is a place for cursive. My 7th grade son was taking some notes on a video his class was watching and missed many parts because he couldn’t take notes fast enough. He also can’t sign his name very well. More practical applications.

    • Practical applications are best served by using the most practical style: the quickest and most legible. There is good evidence (citations on request) showing that cursive is not that style.

  4. The Calvert School (Baltimore) has been a source of curriculum materials for missionaries, either home-schooling their own kids or running a school, for over 100 years, IIRC. It teaches a print-cursive style that is both fast and stylish. If you google Calvert cursive, you should find examples.

    I don’t see any need for the old-fashioned cursive, beyond a signature, but I don’t know anyone who can print at the same speed as someone fluent in cursive or semi-cursive.

    • Even signatures do not legally require cursive. According to the law Federally and in all states (yes, I have had this checked out), one’ssignsture isWHATEVER one produces for the purposes if a signature, irrespective of its writing style. (This msy be hard to believe, if your parents or schoolteachers had heard otherwise from their schoolteachers — who perhaps found it convenient to make such a statement, irrespective of its basis in fact — but it is nevertheless true, in my opinion, a form of handwriting that is customarily supported in the classroom by a false-to-fact statement must be placed under close scrutiny for that reason, if not for any other.)

    • I attended Calvert School. It is a fine school and I am forever grateful for its education, but NOT for its handwriting method. It is a misfit for the natural movement of hands, thus it does not last beyond the years within elementary school. I have noted this in the handwriting of classmates.
      My own career in handwriting began when the Headmistress and one of the founders of an elementary school asked me to “do something about the handwriting.” She too was a Calvert graduate. I suggested the italic method and she agreed.
      Since that time I have tried to convince the school to try my program, but so far the school sticks to the method devised by its founder in the 19th century. Now a new Headmaster has been hired. I’ll try again to give those children a method that will last into adulthood.

  5. I should add that I’m almost at the point that any recommendation or prohibition from an ed school professor should result in an opposite course of action.

  6. Foobarista says:

    I learned to type in the eighth grade, and used early computers shortly thereafter to type papers, so my cursive is pretty much gone. If I can’t type (usually on whiteboards or when taking notes), I use a rather ugly printing style that is still legible, but I’m certainly not proud of it.

    I’m not sure about the importance of cursive writing; I always got my worst marks on it at school, and I otherwise got good grades.

    The only penalty for my not having decent cursive is a once-per-year scolding from octogenarian relatives for sending typed notes with Christmas cards instead of more “personal” handwritten letters in the card 🙂

  7. cranberry says:

    As a minimum, schools should teach students to write legibly by hand. They aren’t doing that at present.

    Students should be able to take notes by hand for a standard lecture. Handwriting is not going away, as it’s a fine method of data entry. Check out all the note taking apps for tablets which reproduce handwriting.

    I think boys’ falling behind could be ascribed in part to a flagrant failure to teach basic academic skills to mastery, including handwriting.

    Some schools which specialize in teaching dyslexic students make a point of working on their students’ handwriting. It falls under the category of multi-sensory methods.

  8. Roger Sweeny says:

    Since most elementary students have mastered the other parts of school, and since most classes suffer from “too much time and not enough to do,” learning cursive would be a good way to fill that time.

  9. SuperSub says:

    Cursive teaches attention to detail, focus, and fine motor skills. Can’t think any reason why a student would need any of those in their lives. Just let them poke virtual buttons on an iPad…maybe we’ll give them a chunk of cheese occasionally if they hit the right one.

    Cursive, using scissors and glue, creating outlines…all skills that will benefit students that aren’t taught anymore. I almost had a fit watching freshmen attempt to cut out paper pieces for a DNA transcription activity…they had about the same skill level as my three year old.

    • Cursive is not the only handwriting style that either demands, or develops, “attention to detail, focus, and fine motor skills.” These desirable attributes are strongly present in the handwriting of those today who have adopted (or have been trained as children in) the italic style, which is a semi-joined method with print-like forms. Examples of italic handwriting, demonstrating this point, can be seen at — and
      At the third site, note that one of the sets of samples was produced by public school children. Samples in this set — as elsewhere on that site and at the other links — are conspicuous for an attention to detail, focus, and control which is superior to that seen in the handwriting of most adults, whether cursive-trained or not.

      • momof4 says:

        Whether accurate or not, I think that many people use the term “cursive” for any form of joined – or even semi-joined – writing. In other words, not-printing.

  10. Would Ms. Asherson be prepared to provide research evidence for her statements on cursive affecting our brains?Because space limitations in the NY TIMES feature prevented either of us from citing research sources for our facts, the research source citations I used are available on request — [email protected] .
    It woukdbe interesting, and maybe important, to see Ms. Asherson’s sources similarly available.

  11. Dawn may wish to keep in mind that there are handwriting programs where a hybrid style IS the rom: where this is simply taught from the get-go, rather than being left to emerge (or not) from the collision of two other styles.

    In fact, the earliest handwriting textbooks published in our alphabet (these were printed during the Renaissance era) used a style that we, today, would call hybrid: semi-joined (as only the easiest joins were made) and decidedly print-like in letter formation. It was not until a century or more thereafter — as the Renaissance swirled into the Baroque — that the expectations gradually evolved, or devolved, into ceaseless joining (along with the loops and letter-changes that were needed to make that possible). In other words, what I’ve been calling a “hybrid” is actually the ancestor of later styles, and existed before today’s cursive existed: Mixhelangelo’s handwriting, fir instance, is of what we’d call the “hybrid” type — since he was taught that unified style (under another name), just as children of Dawn’s generation and mine were taught two disparate styles (print-writing and cursive) that are remote descendants of the style that he learned (often called “italic” from its origins in Renaissance Italy).

    Dawn and others may wish to ponder the possibility that — although a fast, clear writing can certainly be created from the collision of two other ways to write — a more practical way to have fast, clear handwriting from the get-go is to _teach_ such fast, clear handwriting from the get-go.

  12. You have to learn the form because you can start changing it to suit your needs. It’s a lesson too many people forget after they reach adulthood.

    So true and so often forgotten.

    Funny thing is, the best don’t forget this. Pro baseball players will still hit off a tee when things are out of whack and professional musicians will use their tried and true technical exercises to work out build the foundation for new skills.

    Might the same be true for handwriting? I don’t know. Thinking through the mechanics of writing suggests there might be a very practical reason to learn cursive: Continuous, fluid motion of the pen/pencil. Printing is fraught with direction changes and pen lifts that slow things down. Cursive, while not eliminating such movements, greatly minimizes them.

    It may be today that very few people use textbook cursive (perhaps, even, no one), but that the concepts taught by it are an underpinning of fluid handwriting. Both Asherson (the occupational therapist) and Gladstone (the handwriting expert) hint in this direction, albeit arguing from opposite sides.

    My worry about Gladstone’s argument is that it uses the destination to justify the journey. How does one end up writing fluidly and quickly with “some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive”? Learning fine motor skills is often not a straight line. One has to isolate concepts, learn them individually, then put them together in an effective way to execute the higher-level skill. That seems to be an unanswered question for the teaching and learning of handwriting, and an unfortunate missing piece as the fate of cursive is debated.

    • I agree with the great importance of form. I disagree that the best form is cursive or (for that matter) print-writing. Re how one ends up writing fluently and quickly in a form that has some elements in common with other forms: this is certainly possible when the elements in common with other forms are the _best_ elements of those forms. Fluency and quickness may be deduced from the body of research (citations on request) comparing the speeds attained in cursive and/or print-writing systems with the speeds attained in italic handwriting (a semi-joined, print-like system) by persons of the same age and the same degree of training in their respective systems.
      At age 50, as it happens, I have been writing italic for 26 years, and have found far greater fluency speed (and appreciably greater legibility) possible to me therein than in cursive or in print-writing. (It is, or course, possible thst this result has something to do with my lifelong history of neurological disabilities including a degree of dyslexia and severe dysgraphia. If so, perhaps that points to italic handwriting as a practical, accident-resistant was for dyslexics — and others at risk for poor handwriting — to learn this skill thoroughly and to use it fluently and effectively.).

      • Quincy says:

        Fluency and quickness may be deduced from the body of research (citations on request) comparing the speeds attained in cursive and/or print-writing systems with the speeds attained in italic handwriting (a semi-joined, print-like system) by persons of the same age and the same degree of training in their respective systems.

        Kate, thanks for the offer. However, that data wouldn’t answer the question of whether cursive is a useful learning form. What I would be interested in seeing, to answer the question of what teaching results in the best final outcome, is data comparing how students learned to write (print only, cursive only, print and cursive, or italics only) with their adult proficiency and speed, regardless of form.

  13. Gazing into the crystal ball … I forsee:

    1) An increase in cursive handwriting materials to anxious parents who want their kids to succeed.
    2) Kumon begins to offer cursive, Sylvan et. al. follow quickly, more stores open to meet the demand.
    3) Academics note a continuing growth in the achievement gap.
    4) The edocracy wrings its collective hands trying to figure out how to close it. While telling us to ignore the smell of failure.

  14. There is a subset of boys that need cursive in order to be legible and fast enough to keep up with class. Alphasmarts aren’t good enough and the tech isn’t there for speech-to-notes in the stuffed to the gills honors classrooms.

    • How do the known problems of Alphasmarts (and other “tech”) indicate that the handwriting which must be used intros of these handy devices is cursive? Given that italic handwritings regularly outperform equally legible cursive handwritings on speed tests (documentation on request), what would be the reason for that “subgroup of boys” (or any other) to required cursive handwriting instead of a style that allows greater speed?

      • momof4 says:

        As I said above, I think the word “cursive” is commonly used (apparently sloppily and inaccurately to some ) to describe any form of joined handwriting, as opposed to non-joined printing. Looking at the Calvert Cursive examples, it does seem to be an italic form, and I believe it was – at least originally – taught as the only form of writing. I think many of us are talking about essentially the same writing format, but are using different terminology; using the term cursive to include italic forms as well as the traditional Palmer style and copperplate.

  15. momof4 says:

    Roger: While I understand your point about the finite nature of time, I am sure room can be made for cursive. The removal of discovery learning and group work, both huge time sinks of highly questionable effectiveness, would leave time for handwriting plus something else useful; grammar, perhaps. Removal of multi-culti nonsense would leave room for teaching civics etc. There’s enough time, but it’s often used poorly.