Cursive Writing: A Lost or Just Cause?

Cursive Writing: A Lost or Just Cause?

Education February 12, 2022 / By Joanne Foster, EdD
Cursive Writing: A Lost or Just Cause?

Are you in favor of teaching children cursive writing? Here are some considerations.

Cursive writing: “…the swoopy, diagrammatic, this-connects-to-that mode.”

~ Author Clive Thompson

Throughout the world, parents and teachers are continuously readjusting teaching strategies and programming to keep pace with changes in instructional methods, education funding allocations, children’s preferences, and ever-evolving circumstances. There is far greater emphasis on technology-based learning modalities, resulting in a vast array of online courses, resources, and virtual collaborations. Children of all ages are acquiring knowledge by tapping away on a keyboard, while in front of a screen. Devices are accessible whether you’re at a desk or a kitchen table, on a boat deck or a horse’s back, in a theme park or a meadow, or practically anywhere you can imagine. It is, after all, the digital age! Kids may not even think to pick up a pen or pencil to take notes, write a story, record research material, or send a message. The keyboard has replaced writing instruments and a pad of paper.

Cursive writing has not been a mandatory skill set for quite some time. In the United States, the Common Core State Standards do not require the teaching of cursive writing. It is not deemed obligatory in provincial curricular mandates across Canada. Many schools do not teach it, nor are educators taught to teach it. Some parents couldn’t care less. However, there remains a large group of people who believe that learning to write is important, and that it has lots of benefits.

Might this cursive wobbling to-and-fro have consequences? Will inability to write in cursive bode well for children’s learning, and written creative expression—now and over the long haul? What side of the cursive fence do you sit on? Here are a few thoughts, presented in “NO or YES” mode for purposes of organizational clarity, followed by some culminating thoughts, and an author’s note (with a bit of a revelation).

Forget It—No Cursive, Not Necessary, Thanks Anyhow…

Points to ponder:

  • In the “olden days” students did just fine using fountain pens and ink wells. (My father was an accountant, and he liked to use a fountain pen. I admired his handwriting, and recall his fingers were sometimes flecked with dark blue ink. My mother also had lovely penmanship, and she won handwriting contests when she was in public school.) As time passed, fountain pens morphed into ballpoint pens, erasable pens, multicolored pens, and so on… People wrote with these all the time. Then, laptop computers and assorted technological tablets and portable phones altered the means (and speed and nature) of writing. People transitioned. Nowadays, kids can quickly jot ideas down on devices, and send words, pictures, songs, videos, and drawings off in a flash, and keep them indefinitely in the cloud. Progress evolves, and it cannot be denied. One might say that writing with (fountain) pens or pencils is like listening to vinyl records. There’s a limited market, and there are other and arguably better options.
  • We must be current. There’s no point in going backward toward writing methods of the past. Learning and teaching is increasingly being driven by technology, and long-hand cursive writing serves little or no purpose within that framework. Class time is limited, and it’s more important to teach children to be tech-savvy, and how to navigate large and complex computer landscapes safely and effectively.
  • Cursive writing proponents like to emphasize the “leads to better brain development” argument. Indeed, there is validity to the claim, but technological advancement does not mean that the underlying goals relating to brain-based benefits cannot be met in other meaningful ways. Through keyboarding, and by way of touch screen applications such as mazes, puzzles, and pattern tracing, and also through paper-based activities such as drawing, printing, and game-playing, children can still learn cursive-like skills, have positive cognitive outcomes, and have more fun in the process.

Absolutely—Yes Please, Cursive Is Necessary, Thanks…

Points to ponder:

  • Civilization rests on the ability to communicate. Cursive writing is a skill set that enables and encourages the formulation and conveyance of ideas, in a manner that is thoughtfully generated, structured, and quite efficient. Using tech-based script and channeling words through fonts is impersonal, whereas careful, effortful writing can enhance connectivity among people.
  • The way in which a child forms and joins letters is an expression of their individuality and uniqueness, and this can be an open portal to creativity. (My own writing has artistic flourishes, and I appreciate the pleasure of creative calligraphy.) Letter formations don’t have to be elaborate, but when children don’t learn how to write properly, their penmanship is sloppy, often bordering on illegible. Without lessons, guidance, and encouragement they’ll likely resist trying to improve upon this. There are advantages to the deliberateness of handwriting. For example, children benefit from the discipline involved, and from the focus and dexterity required when learning to write. Instruction, practice, and controlled hand movements build fine motor skills, augment hand-eye co-ordination, and promote thinking. A recent study exploring neuroscience research shows that early handwriting and drawing activities in school help “to establish the neuronal oscillation patterns that are beneficial for learning.” (More on the work of Eva Ose Askvik, F. R. (Ruud) van der Weel, and Audrey L. H. van der Meer here.) Another study, from the perspective of “embodied cognition,” indicates that handwriting practice provides children with opportunities to see exemplars of letters, and can improve sensorimotor functioning, visual recognition, memory, decoding skills, and categorization of letters. (The material by researchers Anne Mangen and Lillian Balsvik is accessible here.) Science and technology writer Clive Thompson writes about “The Joy of Typing” – and especially the benefits of fast typing—but he acknowledges his own attachment to handwriting. He notes that handwriting is “good for absorbing knowledge” and that “handwriting fires up mental modes that are usefully different from typing.” He also states, “When I’m writing, the comparative slowness of handwriting can be a boon—particularly if I’m trying to do big picture thinking.”
  • From a practical perspective, the ability to write fluidly and legibly is enabling. It’s important for some test-taking purposes. Consider the potential jamming up that could occur when a child struggles to form letters and words—exertions that can undermine their confidence and their ability to relay productive or high-level thought. Automaticity in writing can be liberating, and unlock thinking processes and creativity. Writing capability can also have a bearing on note-taking facility, and on job applications and career pursuits. In addition, it’s critical to know how to function on paper if computer systems crash, or the power goes out, or you get lost somewhere without connectivity. Plus, people who have not learned handwriting will have difficulty reading it.

And Finally… Let’s Be Realistic

“The truth, of course, is that the cognitive styles of handwriting and keyboarding are both invaluable. In an ideal world, we should be fluent in both modes, so we can flit between the two…”

~ Clive Thompson

Author Thompson discusses the matter of “transcription fluency” which is “how quickly and fluidly you can get down—‘transcribe’—the stuff that’s in your head.” He observes that “paper is alive and well. As it should be: With young kids, learning is deeply physical. The alphabet and words sink into their minds in part because they’re associated with physical movement.” However, Thompson also argues that it’s vitally important to teach children touch typing skills. In “The Joy of Typing” he writes thoughtfully about keyboard and pencil, and he considers the research alongside the merits of both.

As I see it, typing and cursive writing—and instruction and proficiency in each modality—can exist in harmony. Typing skills are critical but so, too, is the ability to write fluidly. Both have their place in educational offerings for the present and future. Cursive writing isn’t “old school” or superfluous. It’s a tried-and-true, disciplined, and customized way to connect with others, and it should not be marginalized or neglected. Researchers Mangen and Balsvik suggest, “Educators should take care to balance the use of digital technologies with due awareness of how material affordances and sensorimotor contingencies of various writing implements (e.g., pen[cil]s, styluses, keyboards) and substrates (e.g., paper, smartboards, screens), may differently support cognitive outcomes, at different levels and with children of different ages and development.”

Although words are individualized and broadly networked when conveyed via technology so, too, do pen and paper invite that capacity. And when writing flows, anything is possible! The more people learn to communicate, and the more methods by which they’re able to do so, the better off we all are.

Author’s Note:

I first wrote about this topic in an opinion piece for the September 2013 issue of Toronto’s Post City Magazines. My fundamental opinions have not changed—but they have been significantly refreshed and enhanced here, in part by the thought-provoking and informed words of Clive Thompson. (

Within his article, “The Joy of Typing,” he admits that he is “a rabid advocate for superfast typing” but he also writes, “Anything that gets people to use more graphite is fine by me!” In fact, he reveals that he’s working on his own handwriting. I find that particularly interesting because I was his Grade 4 teacher, and thus I taught him cursive writing in elementary school! (Albeit long ago…) I want to thank him for weighing in on this important topic, for responding so graciously to the unexpected email that I sent to him recently in response to his article, and for pointing me in the direction of the research studies cited herein.

About the Author

Dr. Joanne Foster is a gifted education specialist, and the award-winning author of several books, including the 3rdedition of Being SmartBeing Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change (co-authored with Dona Matthews, published by Gifted Unlimited LLC., 2021). For additional resources on creativity, learning, productivity, children’s well-being, and more go to

Being Smart about Gifted Learning provides up-to-date perspectives so that parents, grandparents, and teachers have current knowledge about how to support the development of giftedness, creativity, and talent in the children and teens in their lives. Dr. Dona Matthews and Dr. Joanne Foster address pressing questions and concerns, and share hundreds of resources in this third edition of their award-winning book. The authors focus on helping families find a healthy balance that will nurture children’s exceptional abilities, optimal development, and well-being. Being Smart about Gifted Learning can be ordered here at Gifted Unlimited LLC. (Coming fall, 2021.)

“This tremendous book describes how gifted education resources can be applied to nurturing talent broadly and inclusively across the population. The Optimal Match approach demystifies understandings of giftedness, and brings common sense to conceptions of meaningful learning at home, school, and elsewhere.”

~ Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., Columbia University

This book will prompt re-examination of many long-held beliefs!”

~ Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., Stanford University

“Matthews and Foster highlight the importance of an appropriate education for gifted and talented students with the concept of an optimal match between students and their learning environments…The ideas in this book represent an important conceptual framing that will help gifted and talented programs serve broader and more diverse populations of students.”

~ Frank Worrell, Ph.D., U C Berkeley, American Psychology Association President-Elect, 2022.

“Drs. Matthews and Foster have given us a comprehensive, intelligently designed and brilliantly crafted book written with extraordinary understanding and compassion.

~ Felice Kaufmann, Ph.D., U.S. Presidential Scholar

“Rich with examples, this book highlights the importance of an optimal match between challenging and engaging school and home experiences, and opportunities to develop gifts and talents! A practical, thoughtful contribution by two leading experts!”

~ Sally M. Reis, Ph.D., University of Connecticut

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