Why Do We Still Teach Cursive?

Primary guide Katherine Parker vividly remembers the day she discovered a cherished family heirloom while working with a group of children studying shells.

“We opened up the shell book, and out dropped a postcard written by my aunt who had recently died suddenly. As I was working with the children, I could see her handwriting, and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.”

Seeing the way her aunt’s memory was preserved through her beautiful penmanship, Katherine says this discovery made her especially appreciative of cursive writing, an art form practiced in her classroom every day.  

“She’s no longer here, but her handwriting is a representation of who she was,” she said. “In a way, it was as though she were there with the children and I, looking at the shells.  Strange, but the feeling was real.” 

Preserving historical ties and expressing individual style are some of the many cultural and educational benefits of learning cursive writing. While traditional schools nationwide are removing cursive from the Common Core curriculum, Montessorians continue to embrace it as part of an intricate system preparing young children to write first, then read.

Helping children appreciate their place in human history is a core focus of Montessori classrooms, and reading cursive helps connect children with living relatives, along with centuries of historical artifacts. Also, in Montessori classrooms, children’s drive to read and write comes from within, and introducing them to a style of handwriting that is beautiful and personal attracts their natural interest.

On a more practical note, for the Primary-age child, cursive is actually easier to learn than printing for several reasons:

·   Cursive words are visible as cohesive units. They have definite beginnings and endings and require attention to spacing between letters.

·   Each lowercase letter begins with an upstroke, eliminating the reversals and inversions often seen in early print letters like b, d, p and q.

·   Because letters are connected, cursive words reinforce the blending of sounds produced by multiple letters in tandem.  

·    Writing cursive words and sentences demands a more continuous flow of thinking. Children must plan ahead while writing.

·    Cursive involves systematic movement from left to right, an organized process repeated with many of the Primary classroom materials and in life.

·    Compared to print letters, which demand the precision of making straight lines and perfect circles, cursive lettering allows for more manageable strokes.

Learning to write and read in cursive first also helps children make a quick transition to reading print, allowing them to have both kinds of handwriting in their skill set.

“There’s a jump from cursive to print that’s so much easier than the reverse,” Katherine said. “It is a culture, so it has to be the adult saying it is possible, it’s not too much. But these first 6 years are golden. It’s a time period when there are no limits—the sky is the limit. The children can do it—it’s the adults that need to be the positive models and voice for them.”

By providing a long series of preparatory work encouraging concentration, the proper pincer grip, and familiarity with words and sounds, the Primary classroom supports the move into cursive long before children actually begin writing with the Sandpaper Letters and Moveable Alphabet.

“Some of us remember learning cursive at a later age, and then it wasn’t a positive experience,” Katherine said. “But this is such a positive experience for these children. We just have to go in knowing they’re having a great experience.”

To encourage your child’s cursive writing, there’s no need to repeat Montessori lessons at home. Simply utilizing cursive in your daily life provides support for your child. You might try writing shopping lists or exchanging handwritten notes in cursive, and including your child in the process. It’s also helpful to stress the sounds of letters at home as opposed to the names of letters, which children will eventually learn at school. Emphasizing the names of letters too early makes phonetic learning more difficult for new writers and readers.