Do you remember learning to write in cursive? Along with memorizing my multiplication tables, the constant drills of handwriting practice haunt me to this day. I will never forget the humiliation of my teacher handing my parents worksheets for “extra practice” at home and how I tried to finagle my way out of them each night. It seemed no matter how hard or long I practiced, I never got any better.
There has been some debate lately over whether or not we should continue to teach children to write in cursive. In fact, the new US Common Core State Standards does not require instruction in cursive and, according to the Fayetteville Observer, 48 out of 50 states have adopted this framework (April 2, 2013). Instead, the emphasis is on 21st century skills and keyboarding proficiency.
Teaching Cursive in the Montessori Classroom: Handwriting for Motor Skills
“We have these larger cultural connections to handwriting as a sense of identify and self-expression. It has to be put into the context of nostalgia and history and separated from educational goals.”
To say that we should teach cursive because we have always done it this way is not infallible. How many of us write in the flowing and flowery script that once decorated medieval prayer books? And yet, at one time, that too was tradition.
Some Montessori environments present cursive writing before print. Cursive is thought to be a natural way to learn to write because the connected, flowing letters give a definite beginning and ending to each word. Cursive also helps develop and strengthen a child’s fine motor skills by using smooth rather than choppy strokes. Neurophysiologist Carla Hannaford’s research confirms “that cursive writing activates both hemispheres of the brain — and that carpal bone development in the hand is very slow. Printing and typing take much more carpal bone development than does cursive writing.” However, learning to write in cursive is not the only way for children to develop fine motor skills and the pincer grasp necessary for writing and for caring for themselves. The Montessori environment is full of opportunities, from tweezing and tonging, to working with the Dressing Frames, to manipulating small knobs on the Geometry, Botany, and Geography Cabinets.
NAMC's Montessori Early Childhood Curriculum focuses on presenting print before cursive. Cursive writing is said to lead the child to writing, but focusing on print is more beneficial to reading. Print is the form used in books — which makes print essential for a child learning to read. Presenting print first builds on the child’s indirect knowledge of print letters and helps her move efficiently from writing to reading. From the child’s perspective, the Montessori language materials can be easier to use and to read when in print. Cursive activities are presented later in the Lower Elementary program, showing students how to correctly form each letter and join them together. Cursive writing skills are further developed in NAMC's Upper Elementary curriculum with activities that give students the opportunity to learn and practice calligraphy.
Cursive or print? Dr. Montessori believed that the hand was the tool of the mind. What is important is that we continue to give children the chance to sensorially explore language using Montessori’s Sandpaper Letters and Movable Alphabet and that we give them the opportunity to write, emphasizing the ability to comprehend and communicate clearly, no matter what style is taught. Maybe then we will truly be writing without tears.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, April 16, 2013.