In these digital days, knowing how to write in cursive may seem a bit of an anachronism. People can sign legal documents online just by typing in their name, and whether a student can properly swoop their Y’s correctly doesn’t impact their ability to pass an SAT exam or even get their high school diploma.
Yet, Megan Kreitlein spends every year, as she has for the past 12, teaching her 4th grade students at Eden Elementary School in Pell City, AL, how to write in cursive. Fifteen minutes a day, her class learns each letter — both lower case and uppercase — until they’re capable of turning in their assignments in cursive.
“Students also do an art project where they write their name in cursive, and turn it into a "cursive critter" that we display in the hall all year,” says Kreitlein. “They also write thank you notes for our funded Donors Choose projects in their neatest cursive, and I've had some donors very pleased to see the cursive handwriting.”
While not as heavy a focus in school curriculum as reading, mathematics and science, cursive is undergoing a bit a renaissance in 14 states, including Alabama and Louisiana, which now make cursive proficiency mandatory. North Carolina is the most recent, with state lawmakers passing a bill in March requiring the same.
The new rules may have some backing from science. A 2014 study, “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard” found that students who take notes by hand may retain more information than those who type notes into a computer.
“The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing,” write the researchers. “In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.”
Ciro Scardina, who has been teaching cursive on and off since 2002, says he’s never been at a school where the writing style has been part of the curriculum. Nevertheless he sees the ability to write in cursive as an important ability, and started a weekly club for 3rd through 5th grade students two years ago at Public School 18 in Staten Island, NY. He now has about 15 students who meet to learn how to write in the flowing style.
Scardina admits he finds the look of cursive beautiful, but he also thinks that in today’s electronic age, having a connection to so-called old-fashioned skills is helpful.
“The historical documents that frame our country’s history were written in cursive and I think in order to truly appreciate them, it helps to read them in the style in which they were written,” says Scardina. “We live in a digital world but I find it vital to keep sacred some analog parts of life.”
He does this by having students copy poems in cursive, and has even created a short video of some people writing in cursive so they can keep studying independently. During the club meetings, students spend 90 minutes talking, practicing and even doing hand exercises to build up their muscle strength, he says.
Kreitlein forgoes hand exercises for plates of shaving cream, letting kids write cursive words in the fluffy foam. Ultimately, she finds that students who don’t print clearly can sometimes have beautiful cursive handwriting, which she says she finds easier to read. And to keep her students practicing, she sends a workbook home, sometimes hearing from grandparents and parents who are happy that children are still learning how to write in the curls and loops that they remember from their own childhood.
“I found that the parents also enjoyed working with their child,” she says. “And one parent even said they were able to learn from it as well!”