Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Should We Still Teach Handwriting in the Montessori Classroom?

NAMC should we still teach handwriting in the Montessori classroom boy writing

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.”
— Anne Trubek, Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Composition, Oberlin College

NAMC should we still teach handwriting in the Montessori classroom toddler with pencil
The most common argument for keeping cursive instruction usually begins with “back in the day…” or “when I was a kid…” For me, this conjures up an image of Tevya from Fiddler on the Roof, dancing and singing “Tradition!” Tevya had a valid point: our traditions define us. And when our traditions are challenged, we become “as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.” Our identity is challenged by the unknown. Never mind that for some the traditions are painful, as can be demonstrated by the ever-popular handwriting program called Handwriting Without Tears. No one wants to think of children crying over learning to write, yet it happens more often than we might think.

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 should we still teach handwriting in the Montessori classroom girl writing

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.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, April 16, 2013.


  1. I think that cursive should absolutely come first based on the neurobiological implications. However the modern world is mainly a print-based world, so it is unrealistic not to acknowledge this. I think there also has to be a balance between the method an the responses of the child. If it becomes forced or a source of stress, then how is it helping the child? I have seen teachers force cursive to the point that the child is in total frustration and tears. This is completely wrong. Sometimes the teaching agendas of teachers and administrators needs to step out of the way and remember the essence of Montessori; Follow the child. That is the key.

  2. I find this whole topic very interesting and perfectly timed, as my autistic son's developmental pediatrician just yesterday recommended Writing Without Tears. Being new to the Montessori Method, I did not know cursive came first. My son learned print first. All of my kids have learned print first, just by nature because that's what they see everywhere else and that was what they were taught at their non Montessori preschools. Yet, they all struggle SO MUCH, and now I wonder, if I should just stick to the cursive since it will be easier for them, but then, how do I teach them a whole new set of letters with their special needs? I can picture them being VERY confused. I guess in all of this, my biggest fear, for my special needs kiddos, in this ever changing world, is that if the can't write by a certain age, educators seem to give up and just give them a computer. There are still countless forms they will have to fill out over the span of their life time that require not only print but their signature. I fill them out almost every day it seems. Check books require cursive. It will be interesting to see how this all turns out.

  3. I think we need to take a serious look at the impact or lack of what will happen longterm to the developing brain if we do not teach cursive writing/There are critical pathways that are set up in the brain by writing.The contribution to the development of fine motor skills cannot be overlooked.We need to look long and hard at what the longterm impact will be to our future children.Elaine McLeskey Prof of Child Dev Belmont College and Montessori class students of 2013.As Montessori said "The hand is the instrument of the Mind".

  4. Dear Mommy of Many Hats,

    I sense your frustration and your wanting to do what's best for all your children. The best advice any Montessorian would tell you is to observe and follow your child. When they write or draw, do they naturally use big, looping strokes? If so, cursive might be a natural progression. If they are printing, I would stick with that. The second piece of advice I have for you is to remain consistent. Pick a method and stick with it. I don't think teaching cursive will confuse them; certainly preschool children who are introduced to cursive in the Montessori environment transfer to print without an issue. However, trying to teach both, either at the same time, or switching back and forth, will cause confusion.

  5. Children write "from themselves", that is, they begin their letters at the bottom and move up. Print letters go against this natural tendency, whereas cursive goes along with it. Cursive letters also aren't as easily confused as print letters, so there are fewer reversalsof letters such as p,d, b and q. Consider the effect on dyslexics.


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