The following article was published in our local newspaper, The Press Democrat, on October 1, 2011. We thought that it was worth sharing.
Intelligence and the Lost Art of Cursive Writing
Most children are taught to print the first few years of grade school and, depending on the school, either they stay with printing throughout their school careers or they are also taught cursive, usually in second or third grade.
Is learning cursive still important in an age of texting and email? Most definitely, yes. I particularly side with those who recommend teaching cursive handwriting as a strategy to stimulate brain synchronicity. That is, cursive handwriting helps coordinate the right side of the brain, or visual side, with the left side, otherwise known as the verbal side, of the brain. According to some researchers, the debate is a little like comparing the act of painting by numbers versus the flowing rhythmic brush strokes of a true artist.
For example, Rand Nelson of Peterson Directed Handwriting believes when children are exposed to cursive handwriting, changes occur in their brains that allows a child to overcome motor challenges. He says “the act of physically gripping a pen or pencil and practicing the swirls, curls and connections of cursive handwriting activates parts of the brain that lead to increased language fluency.”
Moreover, the work of Iris Hatfield, creator of the New American Cursive Program, also points to the connection between cursive writing and brain development as a powerful tool in stimulating intelligence and language fluency. “The movement of writing cursive letters helps build pathways in the brain while improving mental effectiveness,” she said. “And, this increased effectiveness may continue throughout the child’s academic career.”
Further, Reza Shadmehr and Henry Holcomb of Johns Hopkins University published a study in Science magazine showing that their subjects’ brains actually changed in reaction to physical instruction such as cursive handwriting lessons. The researchers provided PET (positron emission tomography) scans as evidence of these changes in brain structure.
In addition, they demonstrated that these changes resulted in an “almost immediate improvement in fluency,” which led to later development of neural pathways. In addition, as a result of practicing these handwriting motor skills, the researchers found that acquired knowledge becomes more stable.
Cursive writing affords us the opportunity to naturally train these fine motor skills by taking advantage of a child’s inability to fully control his fingers. This means cursive writing acts as a building block rather than as a stressor and provides a less strenuous learning experience.
Parents can be the final deciders as to whether to use cursive writing. You have the research; you have the child. I encourage you to give it a try. Go to any school supply store and purchase a wide-lined paper pad, appropriate pencils, a white board to copy the alphabet, etc. And then merely support them in writing those thank- you notes in cursive or sit down with them and practice together. Buy them a journal and suggest they practice in a daily diary. It could be quite a learning experience for them and a sharing experience for you.
Dr. David Sortino, a Graton, CA resident, is a psychologist and retired teacher.
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