Who knew a debate raged over when children should learn to write in cursive? Cursive, incidentally, is defined as the flowing writing style that connects letters to one another, rather than keeping them separate, as in printing. For many years in the United States, beginning in the 19th century and continuing through the mid-20th century, children were taught to write in this way as soon as they started school. In the 1960s, new education theories taught that first-graders really didn’t have the necessary fine motor skills to handle this type of writing. With that, the fat pencils and ball-and-stick method of printing appeared in classrooms nationwide.
As computers have become increasingly popular, and with them, the prevalence of communicating via e-mail, there is some question of whether a child even needs to learn cursive. From some educators, the answer is an unqualified “yes,” and the sooner the child gets started, the better. Some educators argue that teaching connected writing before printing solves many more problems than it creates. They contend that writing in cursive teaches children to read more quickly, since they must write words in a connected form, rather than as discrete letters.
These educators also say that dyslexic students have an easier time with cursive, since the letters are unique in shape. There’s no confusion between “d” and “b” as there may be when writing in print, for instance. Enthusiasts also say the writing style is easier, since it only involves three strokes: the over-curve, the under-curve and an up-and-down stroke. They contend this is the reason our grandparents’ handwriting is so clear and legible: they learned it from first grade, and cursive is inherently easier to learn.
On the opposing side, some educators believe that children will never really need cursive writing, and can make do with printing and a rudimentary knowledge of connected writing. They base this on the prevalence of computer use for much correspondence. Many people use computers for letter-writing anyway, since they feel they do not write very legibly by hand.
In essence, many of these arguments are more cultural than practical. Most children will learn some cursive in school. However, a parent can start a child writing this way whenever the child expresses a desire to do so, even if the student has not yet started school. Handwriting books and practice materials are available at all teaching supply stores. Children might be more willing to learn joined writing if they do not feel pressured to do so in class, but can do it at home in a more relaxed environment.
Even if a child does not want to learn cursive, parents should insist that their child write neatly, however he or she writes. Children will inevitably be required to fill out a form, do worksheets and take composition essay tests in higher grades, for which neat handwriting is required.