Thinking Outside the Box About Cursive Handwriting

In the ongoing debate about the teaching of handwriting, both those who advocate the teaching of “cursive” and those who are in opposition usually share the following basic assumptions—beliefs that they think simply go without saying:

1. Either we teach cursive writing or keyboarding. We can’t do both.

 Maybe not if we try to teach them at the same time. But do we have to teach keyboarding before the fifth grade? Some experts in child development say fourth or fifth grade is the optimal time to begin keyboard instruction, but many schools start much earlier. This is probably what we should be arguing about. Delayed keyboard instruction would allow time for children to become adept at writing by hand. Teachers would be able to devote concentrated attention then in fifth grade to teaching keyboarding, requiring handwriting for certain assignments.

But what about those standardized tests that require computer skills for third graders? Maybe we should be questioning the need for those tests. Exactly whom do they benefit? I would argue that it’s not the children or teachers.

2. Children have to learn manuscript writing first before they are taught cursive.

 No they don’t. Many European schools typically teach cursive and only cursive . Montessori schools and some other private or public schools in the United States teach only cursive or teach it before printing or “ball and stick” as it is sometimes called.

Ball and stick was introduced in the early 1920s by a British reading specialist, Marjorie Wise. Wise herself subsequently rejected her own technique. But by that time we were stuck with it. Today virtually no one questions the absurd practice of teaching one method of letter formation and a few years later discarding that method after neurological pathways have been formed for the first method.

3. Cursive handwriting links every letter and involves fancy loops.

 There are many forms of cursive and not all require the linking of all letters.

My preference is italic handwriting as taught by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay. I used their workbook, Write Now, to teach myself this cursive hand, though I am an accomplished loopy handwriter. Getty and Dubay teach a printed form of italic first; the cursive version simply involves linking the letters already learned, not starting over from scratch. This is what my italic hand looks like:

Print Italic handwriting
Print Italic
Italic Cursive handwriting
Italic Cursive

Until we get past the simplistic either/or, cursive vs, keyboarding argument, it’s hard to see how we will ever come to an agreement regarding the teaching of cursive in our schools.

Hints and Echoes is about to undergo a transformation. Beginning December 1, Herb will join me as a writing (and drawing) partner. Posts will occur more often, but the overall theme of the blog will remain the same: observations on the journey we have personally made from the past to the present and the continuation of that journey from the present on into the future that we are all taking together. This is a subject to which we believe we bring a pertinent perspective, simply because of our advanced age! We’ll also be commenting on books we’re reading, on books we ourselves have written, and other miscellaneous topics. If you’d like to receive the posts in your email inbox, just sign up on the right where you are invited to follow this blog.


8 thoughts on “Thinking Outside the Box About Cursive Handwriting

    1. Thanks, Ann. We are looking forward to it too. Blogging is fun. The only drawback is that you’re never sure who (if anyone) is reading unless they let you know. So we hope everyone will feel free to join the conversation and voice their opinions.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I don’t comment on all of your blog entries, but I find all of them interesting and fun to read. They remind me why I so enjoyed having you as my English teacher my senior year. You didn’t just teach us English. You helped open up our minds.

    I’m glad Herb will be joining you in this effort. Thank you for sharing your observations and insights.


  2. I LOVE your perspective, perhaps it’s because I have tried to yell the same ideas. Cursive first makes sense; students can easily “disconnect” letters, but the same is not true in reverse.
    I found this blog when I was looking for thoughts about technology. (Odd, I know!)
    In our present day atmosphere, students do need to comfortably type before fifth grade, due to the use of typing on standardized testing. Students need to learn how to type and how to write. We could easily get rid of teaching manuscript. I believe that letter formation is what is important, and students are welcomed to pick their own “style” as long as the letters are joined properly. I am not connected to the company but think that is a great way to teach yourself or students.


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