Chances are that if you look at any handwritten birthday cards or letters from your grandparents' generation, you'll find that their handwriting was amazing!
So why does handwriting come so hard for modern generations?
Is it because we've become a computer and cell-phone-dependent society, where typing, texting, and now voice-assistants are the norm? Or are there other reasons?
Different Paths Lead to Different Places
It's true that the everyday-use of tech devices has had a great effect on our ability to compose beautiful letters.
It's obvious that the less time we spend writing with pen and paper, the less skilled we are at handwriting. Practice makes perfect, and no practice makes nothin'.
But this is not the only reason why handwriting skills are on the decline.
Did you know that before the 1920's, children were taught cursive first?!
That's right, cursive handwriting was taught before manuscript/print handwriting.
And it so happens that there are many built-in benefits for cursive-first instruction. Including:
- the reenforcement of left-to-right direction in English reading and writing
- natural letter spacing
- less muscle fatigue
- faster writing speed
- higher efficiency
- the inherent artistic qualities of cursive handwriting
But these benefits have been overlooked, either intentionally or ignorantly, by most of the academic world for the past 100 years! Education has become more about giving people what they want- by promoting shortcuts to learning, and showing quick results- instead of giving people what they need: mastery of the foundational skills.
There is the conviction that print letters:
- Look simpler, and easier (it's just sticks and balls)
- More closely resemble book typography
Therefore manuscript is a better option than cursive.
Well, if we want quick progress at the beginning, or think that book typography and handwritten letters need to be identical in order to avoid confusing children, then yes! it might be better to start with manuscript letters.
The problem with this thinking is that it fails to take into consideration all of the other factors involved in writing.
Sadly, taking the shortcuts of print-first handwriting have led countless souls to the kingdom of "Scribble-dee-scratch-dum." Which is filled with citizens who suffer from severe conditions, like "Chicken-scratch-itis," "Floating-letter-lepsis," "Dis-left-right-ia," and "Hand-cramp-athy." All, fake names, describing very real problems.
Why Your Child Needs to Learn to Write in Cursive First
Here are the reasons why you should teach your child to write in cursive first:
- Direction: Cursive re-enforces the correct left-to-right direction for reading and writing. You start at the left and move in an unbroken line to the right.
- Speed and Sustainability: The writing of connected letters creates a rhythm, allowing children to write faster, and continuously, without always having to lift the pencil off of the paper. The decreased lifting up and putting down of the pencil to the paper also means your child can write longer before hand and finger fatigue set in.
- Spacing: Cursive helps beginners learn to evenly space the letters, because they are joined in each word by a connecting line.
- Easier Transition: Cursive, once mastered, will make learning print much easier. It's not so, the other way.
- Elegant: Cursive just looks better (Hello, John Hancock and the Declaration of Independence, Sa-weet!), and it helps increase a child's sense of achievement.
Habits That Make a Difference
It's not enough to just teach your child cursive. There are other things that will really help them to succeed in their handwriting.
They also need to develope proper habits in the following 3 areas:
- Pencil and pen grip- Fingers should be slightly arched, and not tight while holding the pencil. The pencil rests on the thumb, with the index finger on top, and resting on the inside of the last section of middle finger. Pens and pencils should protrude 1 inch from finger tips to allow for visibility on the writing surface.
Paper handling and angle- Paper edge should be parallel to the outside edge of child's writing arm. Gently hold paper at the corner using the non-writing hand.
- Body posture- Back should be straight, with feet flat on the ground, and head slightly tilted toward paper.
If we allow our children to start writing in whatever position they feel comfortable, then we're setting them up for life-long writing fatigue.
If we want to cultivate strong literacy skills, and a love of writing in our children, then it needs to be an enjoyable experience.
That's why we need to teach the simple things like correct body posture, paper angle, and pencil grip from the beginning. This will aid them in their life-long literacy journey.
Skills are Like Cement
The best way to create good habits in each of these areas is to practice a little bit each day. By doing this, your child will develope the long-term muscle memory needed for efficient, accurate, and consistent handwriting.
It cannot be overstressed: It's so important to teach your child to write with the correct form, from the very beginning.
Think of your child's writing skills as cement: it settles fast! Make sure the form is in place before you ask them to "pour out" the letters.
In reality, practice only makes perfect when you practice perfectly. Take your time. Focus on your child's posture, paper handling, and pencil grip. Go slowly at first. And then when they can consistently produce their letters with excellence, they will naturally increase their writing speed.