Children are taught to print the first few years of grade school, and depending on the school, either they stay with printing throughout their academic careers, or, as with some school handwriting programs, they are also taught cursive in second or third grade. I tend to side with the latter and recommend cursive handwriting as a strategy to stimulate brain synchronicity — that is, to coordinate the right side of the brain or visual, with the left side or verbal and linear areas of the brain. According to some researchers, the debate is a little like comparing the act of printing versus cursive to dot–to-dot painting by numbers versus the flowing rhythmic brush strokes of a “true artist.”
For example, Rand Nelson of Peterson Directed Handwriting believes when children are exposed to cursive handwriting, changes occur in their brains, which allow a child to overcome motor challenges. He says, “the act of physically gripping a pen or pencil and practicing the swirls, curls and connections of cursive handwriting activates parts of the brain that lead to increased language fluency.”
Moreover, the work of Iris Hatfield, creator of the New American Cursive Program, also believes in the connection between cursive writing and brain development as a powerful tool to stimulate intelligence and language fluency as well as to improve neural connections in the brain, she explains, “the physiological movement of writing cursive letters help build pathways in the brain while improving mental effectiveness. And, this increased effectiveness may continue throughout the child’s academic career.”
Further, Shadmehr and Holcomb of Johns Hopkins University, published a study in Science Magazine showing that their subjects’ brains actually changed in reaction to physical instruction such as cursive handwriting lessons. The researchers provided PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans as evidence of these changes in brain structure. In addition, they also demonstrated that these changes resulted in an “almost immediate improvement in fluency,” which led to later development of neural pathways. As a result of practicing motor skills, the researchers found that knowledge becomes more stable.
Furthermore, there are the psychosocial benefits as well. According to author, Mathew Geiger, “as our brains learn to connect our inner worlds to the external universe, we begin to recognize abstract ideas like awareness of others and perception.” Cursive writing affords us the opportunity to naturally train these fine motor skills by taking advantage of a child’s inability to fully control his fingers. This means cursive writing acts as a building block rather than as a stressor, and provides a less strenuous learning experience.
Again, some schools advocate teaching cursive writing in second grade while others suggest third grade. Whatever direction you choose, the sensory motor act of cursive writing has been proven to be conducive to brain development and language fluency, and with proper training, can be accommodated by parents and teachers at home or in school with their children. For further information, parents can investigate the appropriate age or the pro’s and con’s of cursive writing through the internet or by contacting Dr. David Sortino, a psychologist and current Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, students.