Do elementary kids need cursive – or smaller keyboards?

Should schools just give up the penmanship battle and focus on keyboarding? That’s the question explored in a recent story from the Christian Science Monitor — Is This the End of Cursive Writing?

Former teacher Janie Cravens, now vice president of the International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting [no joke – here’s the website], told the Monitor that “Despite what many people seem to think these days, there’s still demand for calligraphers and people who can write in cursive beautifully.”

But special ed prof Steven Graham of Vanderbilt University says the issue isn’t what kind of handwriting is taught, but that children learn to be fluent in some type of transcription. The most efficient way for anyone, including children, to record their thoughts, Graham says, is at a keyboard. He recommends more elementary schools buy computers with keyboards designed for children’s hands. Typing should be a key way that children communicate. 

“Your hands aren’t fast enough to keep up with your mind,” Graham says, “especially for a first grader who can write between nine and 18 letters a minute. Typing uses a different, slightly easier motor skill. If they spend less time thinking about their handwriting and more time writing,… they will have longer compositions and better grammar and planning.”

Others are not quite prepared to abandon handwriting instruction. Handwriting “repair” expert Kate Gladstone promotes italic cursive, which she believes is the fastest, most natural, and most easily readable form of handwriting — and the easiest and quickest to teach children. Elementary principal Robert Martin has introduced Handwriting Without Tears in his school. (See samples of these and other kinds of cursive here.)

If this issue really excites you, here’s some conversation about the demise of cursive writing captured from a Teacher Leaders Network discussion last fall. Be sure to read the visitors’ comments, which include a note from Gladstone about the myth that a “legal signature” must be in cursive.

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