by Second Grade Teachers Emily Moll and Jamie Rhinesmith
The question we posed to our second graders during our first morning meeting of the school year was a simple, and probably quite predictable one: “What are you most looking forward to in second grade?” As we started going around the circle giving each student a chance to answer, we expected to hear expressions of excitement for upcoming field trips, anticipated hands-on projects, and favorite games in P.E. However, what we heard from an overwhelming majority of students was a seemingly much more mundane skill that they knew they would be learning in the upcoming year – cursive handwriting.
As we listened to student after student answer our question in a similar way, we were reminded of the anticipation and excitement students feel about learning to read and write in cursive. While we feel lucky to be able to build on this excitement as our cursive lessons begin around October, we know that this is not just something we’re teaching for fun and purposes of keeping with tradition. There are several cognitive and developmental benefits to learning to read and write in cursive.
One huge benefit to writing in cursive is that it simultaneously stimulates the left and right hemispheres of the brain, helping to build physiological and psychological connections in a way that manuscript or typing cannot do. Because of the interplay between both sides of the brain, writing in cursive has been shown to help children build the foundational skills for reading, writing, and spelling and even increase creative thinking and expression.
Cursive handwriting instruction and practice also benefits the development and strengthening of working memory in students. This is an area that not only helps individuals during academic instruction, but can be transferred practically into everyday routines and deep problem solving scenarios. As students progress through school and encounter more rigorous tasks, a strong working memory increases a child’s ability to absorb and critically think about complex material.
Another benefit of writing in cursive is improved spelling. Because cursive writing involves connecting letters into a single word, students are able to focus on this word as a whole, instead of the individual letters. Research has shown that as students write in cursive, they have an increased ability to notice whether the word “feels” right, rather than focussing on the individual sounds of letters. Since words in English are often not spelled
phonetically, this is an important skill for students to develop.
Lastly, neglecting to teach cursive creates a generation of cursive illiterate individuals. Students need to learn the cursive alphabet in order to read documents that have been written in cursive, typed in elegant script fonts, or even scribbled in a cursive-manuscript hybrid, as many adults tend to do.
As they sat there on the first day of second grade, our students probably didn’t know that they were most excited for a skill that is going to benefit them for years to come. And now, as we watch them complete all their daily work in cursive, we see the pride on their faces for all of the hard work they put in, and we know all of the ways it will pay off in their future.