Researchers are confirming what educators have known since the dawn of time; handwritten work increases retention, comprehension, and higher brain function.
On some levels this sounds counter-intuitive, even “archaic,” in an age where we are surrounded by digital devices. Many are arguing children need to have more keyboarding skills and less handwriting skills in order to navigate in a technology-rich society. However, numerous studies are being produced which suggest otherwise.
It all goes back to Common Core:
According to the CCSS [Common Core State Standards], handwriting instruction is no longer mandatory when students progress
beyond Grade 1. After that time, states can choose to teach manuscript handwriting, cursive handwriting,
or a combination of both by invoking the right to augment the standards with an additional 15% of content
that they deem appropriate.
So, basically, children in most public schools are not even receiving handwriting instruction past the ball-and-stick scribblings of first grade. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that this lack of handwriting competency is working to decrease working literacy.
In a recent study entitled “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard,” researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer found that students who take notes by hand perform better on conceptual questions than students who take notes on laptops. They concluded that students who type their notes tend to transcribe the lecture and to process the lecture only on a shallow level. Student who take notes by hand actually digest the content and reframe it in their own words—a process that increases both understanding and recall.
Research findings suggest that self-generated
action, in the form of handwriting, is a crucial component in setting up brain systems for reading
According to Dr. Karin Harman James, associate professor of psychological and brain
sciences at Indiana University, handwriting appears to contribute to reading fluency by activating
visual perception of letters and improving children’s accuracy and speed for recognizing letters.6
Still further (from same source as above):
Without consistent exposure to handwriting, research indicates that students can
experience difficulty in certain processes required for success in reading and writing, including
• retrieving letters from memory.
• reproducing letters on paper.
• spelling accurately.
• extracting meaning from text or lecture.
• interpreting the context of words and phrases.
There is also ample evidence that simple “printing” does not go far enough. In order to receive the greatest benefit a child needs to learn cursive. Here are some reasons why:
- Fine motor skills. In cursive writing, the strokes used are continually changing according to the word being written. These movements are more demanding and cause the child to actually think about what they are writing.
- Brainpower. Cursive writing causes different parts of the brain to be used in order to complete each letter. Combined with repetition, this increases both cognitive development and function.
- Treatment for Dyslexia and ADD/ADHD. Did you know there is an actual treatment for dyslexia involving cursive handwriting?Children who have trouble with memory and focus find that writing in cursive helps them to stay on track and keeps their thoughts connected (see this PBS story).
This is more than just interesting information. It is vital to the education of our children.
Even with all of our increasing technology, the literacy rate in America has continually declined for the past 100 years.
According to John Taylor Gatto, draftees during WWI were tested and showed a 98% literacy rate, while draftees for the Viet Nam War only had a 73% literacy. There really is no telling how low our “working” literacy rate is today, but we do know universities are seeing an increase in entrants requiring remedial classes.
About half of first-year college students discover that, despite excellent GPAs and getting into college, they are not ready for continued studies after high school, according to The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Taking college-prep courses, earning high school diplomas, and passing state high-school exit exams — none of it is sufficient to ensure that these students are actually ready for college work.
In all of the education literature from the time of almost complete literacy, there is rarely a mention of the learning woes we complain about today. Could it be we have lost some vital keys to helping children learn? What were the secrets our predecessors knew that we have lost sight of?
The recent research sited above suggests there is a connection between the emphasis on handwritten work and a competent knowledge of the English language. Educators of the past, without any scientific studies or massive educrat-style papers to back them up, knew this intuitively.
To them it was simply common-sense.
Children of the past actually learned to write in cursive before they learned to “print” their words (I was shocked when I first discovered this, but I have read first-hand accounts that confirmed it). This practice kept their minds focused and kept them engaged. They had better retention and knowledge of written material because they were intimately acquainted with it.
It seems this is why a country teacher in a one-room schoolhouse could manage so well. Her students were not trapped into lower-level comprehension and cognitive ordering skills; they could sit and concentrate because they were naturally connecting one thought with another as they copied quality language materials.
This is great news for those of us who homeschool our children.
We are not hampered by Common Core or any of its predecessors. We can connect with our children on the highest levels using the same, simple methods that insured competency a century ago.
And the great thing about it is that it is so very, very inexpensive! (I think this is what scares educrats more than anything). Teaching children well doesn’t require a lot of money. It doesn’t even require a degree in anything. It simply requires an adult who understands a few basic methods and a child who is eager to learn.
And this (finally) brings us to the practical side of this post.
With just a few modifications, you can teach your child to write in cursive with the same method used by the wise teachers of long ago.
Besides being simple enough for a young child, it is also easy for mom, and it’s cheap to boot. I’ve been using it for years, with wonderful results!
Here is a photo of the way I compile the program:
On the right I have a print-out of the entire script on a page, including numbers, which I have put into a protector sheet so the child can take it out and refer to it often. There are then three sets of pages I have stapled together.
- Set “A” includes the basic letters and forms.
- Set “B” is a collection of pages with practice lines, paragraphs, and a poem or two I found by culling the revised McGuffey readers.
- The third set, “C”, was created by taking various scriptures and writing them out with lines in-between for extra practice.
I know, there are probably a hundred programs out there, even free ones that are ready to be printed out, and they are so cute! However, none have stood the test of time quite like this one. There is no slant, and the lines are easier to follow than the modern versions. Even the capitals are simplified and easy to produce.
It also fits in with the rest of our language arts program, which is almost exclusively comprised of vintage learning materials.
(Think about this: Back in the day the McGuffey readers were first being published, copybooks with lines did not exist, and yet children from that time grew up with great penmanship. The above is an actual handwriting example from the year 1893 done in the old way by dipping a pen in ink. Children can do more than we think they can).
I actually tried to create the ready-made pages for you to download for free, but it is not as easy as it looks! After a letter is written down, it must be scanned in, and then digitalized using Adobe Illustrator. We tried this a few years ago, but the work was so time-consuming it got pushed to the back of the line (I’m sure you understand).
We decided the next-best would be to show you how to create these pages yourself.
Here’s what you will need to create your own:
- Some printed cursive writing paper. We have created a pdf which you can download here in color and here in black and white so you won’t have to spend time chasing all over the Internet.
- An image of the McGuffey’s script from the McGuffey’s Primer, revised edition. We have made things simple by snipping a picture of the pages and putting them into this pdf.
- A pencil with a good eraser. This is so you can correct your own work as you prepare it for your children ;).
- A good pen. This is so you can go over your corrected pencil work and make it un-erasable so your children can follow it. If you have a copier, you will want to keep the originals so you can copy them for subsequent children.
- Pages from the Primer and first McGuffey reader with “slate work” that you can copy and create practice pages with.
Here is an example of one of the pages you might want to copy from:
Here are some more examples that will help explain even more:
I have found that, if a child is ready (usually at least the age of 8, which is in keeping with the practices of ages past), just a consistent line or two a day is all it takes.
Which isn’t too much to ask, especially when it pays such dividends!
I hope it gives you just one more thing to help (and not just one more thing to do!).
If there is anything more you would like to know, anything that you feel would be a help to you as you are mothering your precious children and would like to see it addressed in a future post, please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me personally via my feedback page.