Cursive Benefits Go Beyond Writing

Cursive Benefits Go Beyond Writing

Suzanne Baruch Asherson

Suzanne Baruch Asherson is a occupational therapist at the Beverly Hills Unified School District in California and a national presenter for Handwriting Without Tears, an early childhood education company.

Putting pen to paper stimulates the brain like nothing else, even in this age of e-mails, texts and tweets. In fact, learning to write in cursive is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing.

The College Board found that students who wrote in cursive for the essay portion of the SAT scored slightly higher than those who printed.

As a result, the physical act of writing in cursive leads to increased comprehension and participation. Interestingly, a few years ago, the College Board found that students who wrote in cursive for the essay portion of the SAT scored slightly higher than those who printed, which experts believe is because the speed and efficiency of writing in cursive allowed the students to focus on the content of their essays.

Some argue that cursive is no longer relevant because it isn’t included in the Common Core State Standards. But these standards only include those skills that are testable and measurable in the classroom; they don’t address basic foundation skills, like handwriting or even spelling. That said, the Common Core emphasizes the importance of expository writing to demonstrate understanding of key concepts, and fast, legible handwriting is the technology universally available to students to facilitate content development. Cursive, therefore, is vital to helping students master the standards of written expression and critical thinking, life skills that go well beyond the classroom.

With all this said, does cursive need to be fancy with slants, loops and curls? Absolutely not! The emphasis should be on simplicity and function when teaching children cursive.

Regardless of the age we are in or the technological resources at one’s disposal, success is measured by thought formation, and the speed and efficiency in which it is communicated. Because of this, students need a variety of technologies, including cursive handwriting, to succeed.

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1 Comment

  1. Nick
    LA, CA

    NYT Pick

    I’m dubious about there being hard evidence showing that cursive provides some significant benefits in brain development, and would want to see some real studies and numbers on that, not just claims that could be mere correlation. Moreover, if the relevant activity is putting pen to paper, why should cursive be any better than simple neat printing.

    Beyond all that, however, I don’t think it’s simply a question of whether cursive has some tangible educational value — the really important question is whether it has MORE value than something else that could be taught in the same time. There are many subjects to cover in class — what will be omitted to make room for cursive , and what is the argument for that omitted subject being less valuable than cursive?

    This is anecdoctal, but I look back on the time I spent learning cursive in grade school and find it was completely wasted — I never write in cursive and instances where I am called on to read it are vanishingly few. I would have got significantly more benefit had that time been used on foreign languages or math, for example.

    If time was no object, and schools could instruct on all subjects equally, then sure, why not teach cursive? But time is a scarce resource, and if you’re teaching cursive at the exclusion of some other subject, there better be a good reason to favor it beyond appeal to nostalgia or aesthetics, or the vauge invocation of educational benefits over printing. I’m not seeing that good reason.

    May 1, 2013 at 4:28 a.m.


    NYT Pick

    I agree completely. It has been my observation that those (sadly fewer, these days) students who have mastered cursive can write so much faster than those who print, and what’s more, the text seems to flow without the effort that is seen in printing.

    May 1, 2013 at 5:12 a.m.

    Stan Risdon
    Atlanta, GA

    NYT Pick

    Speaking as a teacher, “handwriting” is to the left brain, what pictures are to the right brain. There is something about engaging the brain through the hand that forces critical thinking.

    May 1, 2013 at 5:13 a.m.

    Plymouth MA

    NYT Pick

    Having spent over 35 years in the business community, I can tell you poor penmanship can count heavily against someone entering the business world. You should poll executives at large organizations for important feedback.

    As a management consultant, I seen young staff, with unreadable notes, called to task at meetings.


    NYT Pick

    Our son has learning disabilities, including ADD. Teaching him cursive at a young age proved to be a successful intervention for him, because his pen — and his thought — did not stop moving and “get lost” in the space between letters. Cursive writing definitely improved his concentration and attention.

    May 1, 2013 at 6:07 a.m.

    South Carolina

    NYT Pick

    My wake-up call about the endangered status of cursive writing came when a student asked me to explain the comments I had written on his draft of an essay in my English class at a 2-year college. As I started to expand on the recommendations I’d made he stopped me and said “No, I don’t mean explain it. I mean — I can’t read this.

    Read it out to me.” That’s when I realized that the latest generation is coming to college with yet another skill deficit. While cursive writing may not be as important as learning to construct sentences or add and subtract, it is critical to success in most core English classes in college, where students are required to do some writing in class — no laptops allowed — and where the student who learned the ‘hands-on’ method of composition (your hand, on the pencil, moving across the paper) has a clear advantage over his keyboard-chained classmate,

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