A+ Advice for Parents

Handwriting Still an Important Skill for Kids to Learn

Q: I'm told our school doesn't teach handwriting anymore because of the Common Core. I think that's really dumb. My daughter was looking forward to learning this. What can be done about it?

A: Don't blame the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Handwriting instruction began declining 20 years ago. Increased use of technology for assignments and testing, more instructional time given to other subjects, and a growing assumption that cursive was a "horse and buggy" skill in a digital age has led to less emphasis on it in schools.

But many educators and parents think handwriting shouldn't go the way of the typewriter. Research shows that knowing cursive handwriting can increase a student's attention span, language fluency, physical coordination and ability to retain information.

Studies also show that the act of writing stimulates creativity in the brain, says handwriting expert Thomas Wasylyk, author of the "Universal Handwriting" series (Universal Publishing, 2014).

"People tend to remember things they write more than things they key in," he says. "About 90 percent of all writing assignments in grades K through 6 are done with a pencil and paper, so why stop teaching a skill that is used every day, by every student, in every subject?"

Cursive makes it easy to get thoughts on paper quickly, notes Kathleen Wright, product manager for handwriting at Zaner-Bloser ("an educational curricula and digital resources provider").

Knowing cursive boosts reading power, too. Greta Love, a New York librarian, helps college students hone research skills. She was surprised to discover that many can't read primary source materials such as historical documents because they'd never learned cursive.

While it's true that handwriting isn't part of the Common Core, many states that have adopted the standards continue to offer cursive instruction -- among them California, Massachusetts, Florida and North Carolina.

If you think your child should learn cursive, and you can't get your district to reinstate it, teach it at home, says Sharon Paul, a Massachusetts educator.

"With the right materials to model how to make the strokes properly," she says, "it's one subject that's easy to 'homeschool.'"

Make it fun and interactive -- not drudgery -- says Wasylyk.

"Young children can start very early with large writing instruments like crayons on large pieces of unlined paper, or newspaper spread out on the floor or taped to a wall," he says. "My method of teaching manuscript and cursive handwriting is fun and engaging for the teacher and the students. There is a difference between teaching and assigning. Assigning handwriting, where the student practices the letter 50 times, very seldom has good results. Handwriting is a skill and must be taught using a planned, sequential approach." (Find Walsylyk's series at www.upub.net.)

Paul helped her son build faster note-taking skills using the "Handwriting Without Tears" method of instruction (www.hwtears.com). "Our goal was learning simple, basic strokes through 15 minutes a night -- never a minute longer," she says.

Just as kids are proud to read their first book on their own, "a child cannot wait to write his or her name in upper- and lower-case letters," says Wasylyk. "They can't wait to reach this milestone in their intellectual development."

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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