Does it matter how our children communicate? And, what about us?
Jessica Brashear is a Momaha blogger and former high-school counselor who recently wrote about an unsettling discovery she’d made: high-schoolers’ unfamiliarity with cursive writing.
An especially astute Facebook commenter asked, perhaps somewhat plaintively, “Does reading or writing in cursive make a kid smarter?….how is cursive going to affect his life in real world?”
I love questions to which I have answers!
The short answer: cursive is extremely helpful to the development of the nervous system and thus to our overall level of function with ease. Printing is also helpful, though less so; keyboarding comes in a distant third for productivity, thinking, and development. However, we live in an increasingly digital world, so the discussion continues.
How can we tell?
Let’s begin with studies on pencil (or pen)-and-paper writing vs typing. There are numerous studies out there, but I like these..
++++The Association for Psychological Science has a study showing that taking notes by hand results in better comprehension than those who keyboarded. The researchers feel that those who took notes by hand may have been processing more. Here’s a nice story about it. http://tinyurl.com/prwfn6q
+++A study of 2nd, 4th and 6th graders by Dr. Virginia Berninger in 2012 showed that those who wrote by hand wrote more words and expressed more ideas than those who keyboarded – in less time. http://tinyurl.com/onmzfg4
++++ Dr. Karin James from Indiana University studied the brains of two groups of second-graders: a keyboarding group, vs pen-and-paper group (she didn’t separate out printers from those who wrote in cursive.) She found that the brains of those who keyboarded had fewer connections than those who had to even subconsciously or unconsciously form each letter rather than push the proper buttons.
The more connections there are within the brain, and the stronger they are, correlate with both rapid and accurate thinking, creativity, and functioning within our daily life. What makes connections? In short, movement, especially intentional movement.
Cursive vs printing
Because cursive writing can sometimes be easier than printing; some schools advocate for teaching it first. Educator and psychologist Dr. David Sortino found that “cursive writing was an excellent kinesthetic exercise which grounded my students’ energies.”
People who write in cursive get better grades on the SAT.
Cursive helps the brain learn how to be more efficient, weaving together sensory input, movement control, and thinking.
Programs that advocate teaching cursive before printing, Montessori among them, maintain that it reduces dyslexia and helps long-term penmanship in general. Despite being more complex, some maintain that cursive is actually easier to learn. The areas of the brain activated during reading also activates during handwriting, but not keyboarding. This effect is boosted with cursive’s increased complexity and tying in gestalt-brain function.
Right-brain/left-brain – the controversy, and why it matters here
Because writing in cursive requires that we use both parts – individual letters – and connects them, it uses both left-brain and right-brain functions. The part of our brain (usually the left) that tends to dominate when it comes to details — the pieces and parts — is used with printing. But when each letter in a word connects with another, it brings in the right brain, the part that tends to lead with the whole picture. We all value both our left-brain function as well as right-brain function, but of tremendously more value is whole-brain function.
This can link to a left-brain/right-brain discussion (which I will address later), one steeped in new research. Lack of thorough understanding can make this controversial. In short, there is a duplication of function – the gestalt (big picture) part of the brain has counterparts on the logic side, and vice versa. Also, some people use their right brain for logic functions, and vice versa.
Fundamentally, it is imperative for learning, emotional, physical, and mental health function that the right and left halves of our brain have strong connections to one another. Cursive writing assists in that.
In a way, we can see cursive writing a little like that. We use it because it builds and strengthens pathways between right and left halves of our brain, which we in turn use for just about everything in life.
Cursive exercises and strengthens our entire brain
Using our whole brain means we see not only the details, but make sense of them as well. “Fast” can mean going quickly, or affixed firmly in place — or even not eating! What a writer means needs to be deciphered by the right brain. It’s part of why robots do so poorly as substitute-humans. They can calculate (left brain) but are clueless as to how to sell a pen or tie a shoe (whole brained functioning).
Athletes don’t just practice a narrow skill over and over. They lift weights, cross train, even go to ballet class to optimize small muscle strength and control. These ancillary exercises contribute to their ability to perform at their best ability.
Whole-brained functioning leads to all sorts of good things — decision-making, physical grace, optimum learning, social skills, emotional maturity. Physical dexterity is part of this.
So if you’re sold on the worth of handwriting, check next month for more information on some of what goes into handwriting that is both legible and written fairly quickly.