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In an age when students can easily type 60 words per minute on their touchscreen devices, you would think that the art of handwriting would be a distant memory in today's classroom. Don't tell that to educators in California.
While the debate over whether cursive is needed is still a hot topic, California took a stance by joining a handful of other states that value the traditional cursive curriculum.
Benefits Beyond Penmanship
Computer-based skills may be taking the forefront, but more traditional methods are still part of classrooms in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Ann-Mari Howard, a third grade teacher at Reseda Elementary School, says there are a number of sound reasons why the skill of handwriting is and should remain a valuable part of the California curriculum.
"First and foremost, a significant amount of the research on this issue has demonstrated the cognitive benefits both of learning cursive, and the continued use of cursive," said Howard. "That in and of itself should persuade both educators and the public-at-large that cursive needs to be taught."
For Howard's third-graders, learning cursive is a rite of passage that comes with several benefits as well.
"Their parents, their teachers, their older siblings write in cursive, and now it is their turn. It makes them feel more grown up and they have a sense of accomplishment in having mastered this skill. For some it is a real boost in self-esteem," said Howard.
With years behind the pen, Howard has discovered that practicing handwriting for young children naturally improves penmanship, and also benefits learning habits in other subjects.
Howard explains that because it takes several movements to create just one letter, more of the brain is engaged in the activity than when one makes a single strike at a keyboard.
In an instant, thinking, language and short-term memory are all activated.
"So when children write things rather than type them they are engaging synapses and placing the information in short-term memory, which, if everything works the way it should, will be moved to long-term memory through continued exposure to the information and that all-important human necessity of sleep," Howard explains. "Writing builds neural pathways in the brain that typing does not, meaning that writing assists the individual in retaining the information they are recording in a way that typing cannot."
Howard also points out cursive writing has a unique benefit that print does not. It requires one to connect each letter in a unique way to the next letter.
"This is a more demanding task for the brain as it converts the symbol sequences into motor movements in the hand, which brings us to the benefits of cursive writing in the development of fine motor skills or skills that students use in a myriad of activities, not just in writing."
From her own classroom experiences, Howard finds that practicing cursive benefits retention of learned material and promotes kinesthetic learning among energetic third graders.
"The mind-body connection is powerful. So, rather than typing a word or a sentence where no real kinesthetic connection is being made, young children need to actually put pencil to paper and form the letters, words and sentences themselves to assist in the retention and internalization of correct spelling," said Howard.
As a final thought, Howard offers that writing in cursive is faster and it's an important connection to the past.
"How about being able to communicate with older relatives who still tend to write in cursive? Some might have a desire to look into family history, and those records are likely to be written in cursive."
So while some people will argue that one of the most important skills a child can have is typing, Ann-Mari Howard joins those educators who disagree. She and others will continue to debate that handwriting has a clear place in California's curriculum and one that's not likely to be erased any time soon.
Nicole Bailey-Covin is a public school education writer for Examiner.com.
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