Recent research published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly confirms the need for preschool children to learn to write with a pencil. Researchers claim that children learn the sounds associated with letters as they practice their handwriting skills. Despite the research, many schools no longer teach cursive handwriting. They claim they do not have time to teach it given the demands to meet achievement in core subjects as well as the common opinion that cursive is obsolete. I have advocated in the past for continuing to teach handwriting (both manuscript and cursive). The end goal should be efficient, legible handwriting. I primarily work with older students and have noticed through the years that a greater percentage of these students do not write legibly and can no longer read cursive. Many say we no longer need to teach it because we should be teaching 21st century skills—which do not include handwriting.
Admittedly, when I go through the list of reasons we should teach it that I have cited before, for every example where people use cursive handwriting to communicate, I can think of an electronic way to do the same thing. It is unlikely that students will ever write checks now that online banking is free and easy to use; only a small percentage of students actually use cursive on the SAT even though instructed to do so; and there are apps on our phones for everything we used to write by hand.
But if we totally quit teaching cursive, will we lose other important benefits? One concern I have relates to developing fine motor control in the hands. The ability to control the small muscles in the fingers and hands is developed when children learn to write legibly first in manuscript and later in cursive. These same skills are used for other important tasks. Using scissors, cutting up food, picking up tiny objects, catching a ball, buttoning a shirt, or screwing on a tiny cap require the ability to adjust pressure applied by the fingers and respond to feedback from the brain to the fingers and back. If we no longer teach handwriting skills, this fine motor training needs to be replaced with other activities that develop the same motor control.
Another concern is the potential inability to read letters, diaries, and historical documents written in cursive. One of my favorite activities is to read letters my mother and grandmother wrote. The most moving exhibits in the museums I visit are the journals and documents written by hand. I can imagine the person sitting down to write their thoughts on the page. It is true that we will have historians who can tell us what these documents say, and they can post them online; but when I see these documents and read them myself, I feel connected to that historical figure.
Educators and parents should watch for research on cursive handwriting. It is possibly related to the development of language skills as cited in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly. It is definitely linked to the normal development of fine motor skills. We may lose an important link to our historical past. Perhaps having legible cursive handwriting is indeed a 21st-century skill that we need to prioritize in our curriculum. Only time will tell.