The Writing’s on the Wall: My Kids May Never Learn Cursive

For most of third grade, my son begged me to teach him cursive writing. It’s no longer part of the state curriculum and I feel it’s a skill that shouldn’t be tossed aside just yet. Even with the advancement of technology, people should still be able to sign their names on documents, unique signatures that no one else in the world has. And cursive writing just looks so much better, so formal. It should never become a lost art that people have to ask their grandparents how to do.

I told my son I’d teach him the loops and curves of cursive this summer when we had time to sit down and practice and enjoy it.

It’s summer. My daughter, who will enter second grade in the fall, wanted to learn to write her name in cursive too. So we began our lesson the other day with much excitement. I have vivid memories of practicing letters daily in my third-grade class to precision. And because I’m a lefty, I had to turn my paper a different way from everyone else. Since I would be teaching, I could forgo the idiotic paper slant and concentrate on the basic script.

cursive writing, mominthemuddle.com

Let’s write H-E-A-D-A-C-H-E.

The kids watched as I formed a cursive a. Both formed theirs with ease. A few letters later I demonstrated how to join letters to form words. I glanced at my son’s paper, shocked to see that he had already moved on to write the rest of the alphabet without me, using our guide as a reference. Some of them weren’t right. I had lost control over one of my students and I’m not sure where I went wrong. I taught my daughter how to write her name. My son wrote his and I pointed out a few errors. Things were getting tense around the table and he tried again.

“Let me show you how to do an r,” I said. “And an n shouldn’t have a straight line.” I tried to demonstrate.

“I just want to learn to write my name!” he yelled as he tried and tried again, determined not to watch any of my examples.

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to show you. You asked me to teach you.”

He said he was right and then he cried because I wouldn’t help him. I was ambushed by homework flashbacks, a killer mood swing, and possible hormones. The lesson needed to end.

When he showed my husband his cursive writing later, my husband bluntly said, “Your n isn’t right. It shouldn’t have that line. It looks like an m.” My son suppressed a grin and tried not to look at me.

Validation. Sort of.

If for no other reason than the sanity of moms, this is why they should still teach cursive writing in school.

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40 Comments

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40 responses to “The Writing’s on the Wall: My Kids May Never Learn Cursive

  1. I have two kids in college and one in high school. None of them can write cursive, although I believe they learned it when they were little. The problem? They struggle to read it. One of them received a hand written thank you note the other day and asked me to read it to him…

    • I know it’s dying out. But I still believe people should be able to sign their names. It won’t be long before we are discussing print handwriting dying out at the rate technology is going. Are people ready for that? It’s crazy to think young 20-somethings these days can’t read cursive. We’ve lost more than I thought.

      I used to have neat cursive writing, and I still can if I try. People were always “impressed” that a lefty could write so neatly. But a few years taking notes as a journalist ruined my writing. I usually only scribble now. It’s horrid.

      • Signatures! Signatures! Signatures! Realize, if you will that every hand is unique and therefore any mark made by it can be a legal signature. I am old. I have signed my name many times and never in the sort of cursive that is taught (or not) now. It is close to an italic cursive. Check out Italic.

      • That’s an interesting style. I’ve never seen it. Thanks for sharing! You’re right about legal signatures. One day, we may be worried about handwriting in general.

  2. I read about getting rid of cursive writing in school. The first thing I said was it kind of makes sense. Seems like everything is typed out and sometimes we don’t even sign checks anymore. We push buttons. The next thing I thought about was how are my kids going to get autographs? I guess Lebron James is going to carry around an ink pad and stamp (that someone has made for him) and stamp fans’ jerseys. I think cursive should still be taught. Young kids are pretty smart they can catch on pretty quick. It’s not like they have to teach it to High School kids that should be learning Quantum Physics.

    • I hadn’t thought of autographs. But I do believe signatures are important. Everyone should know how to sign their name and be required to do so. It should never be left to technology. Think of how many documents we have to sign. There are handwriting experts who can tell when something’s been forged. Can they do that with typing? I don’t know. In 20 years, I’ll read this and laugh because we’ll have some great system for signing things and say, “Remember when we used to WRITE?”

  3. I didn’t know they stopped teaching cursive! That’s a huge bummer! A petition??

    For your record, I remember that the “n” in cursive IS supposed to look like an “m” which is confusing, but accurate!! 🙂

    • The N does look like an M but his N looked like a print M, with a line on the left side. It didn’t look like a cursive N. He can get pretty stubborn with me sometimes. This is a huge reason why I don’t homeschool! I don’t think we’d survive.

      • Oh, I see! That’s the same reason I don’t homeschool! He fights me on everything! I asked him once (in a serious tone, not sarcastic or mocking) if he thought I wasn’t smart. He wants to do things his way most of the time and is terrible about taking instructions from us. It’s a fine line between being helpful and being overbearing for me. I think I’m being helpful, he thinks I’m always telling him what to do. And this is before Kindergarten!! I’ve still got a lot to learn.

      • Yeah, we just butt heads, which is hard when you’re trying to help with homework and get it done at a reasonable hour. One thing I’ve noticed is he thinks I don’t know anything because I don’t explain things to him the way his teachers do. They teach things much differently now, though to me, it’s easier the way I learned it. I try to show him you can learn things in more than one way. He won’t have it.

      • I can completely relate! That’s why I adore your blog.

    • To remember cursive “n” and “m,” count the downstrokes (not the bumps). A lower-case “n” always has two downstrokes — whether it’s cursive or printed: a lower-case “m” always has three downstrokes,

      • Yes. His was almost correct, but not quite. It looked like a print M in the middle of a cursive word. The matter was more that he was being stubborn and not willing to take my advice when he had clearly begged me for it! But that happens often around here! We get through it!

    • To disentangle your mental image of cursive “n” from cursive “m,” realize this: the _reliable_ way to distinguish “n” from “m” (in any cursive or non-cursive style) is NOT to count the humps. Instead, count he letter’s _downstrokes_.
      An “n” (in any style, connected or not) always has _two_ downstrokes —
      an “m” (in any style, connected or not) always has _three_ downstrokes.

  4. They didn’t bother to teach my third grader multiplication tables. He did learn cursive, though.

    • He did actually learn that. Though I have heard they won’t be diagramming sentences. Anyone remember that? We used colored markers to circle and underline parts of speech in sentences. That went on forever in fourth grade. I’m not entirely sure they learn what verbs, subjects, modifiers, etc. are. Yet another thing I’ll have to teach. But I’m already on that a little bit. Yay for Mad Libs! 😉

  5. K. Eley

    They don’t even teach printing at my kids’ school. Schools today are so worried about teaching kids to pass standardized tests. I agree they should teach cursive. My kids cannot read cursive letters from Grandma. A great program to use is Handwriting Without Tears. Kids can do the sheets on their own most of the time. 🙂

    • One of my kids’ teachers stressed handwriting practice, which resulted in beautiful handwriting. The other did not get that practice on lined paper. When I tried to do it at home, well, you can guess what that led to. We still have to work on it because the writing is hard to read.

      I think that’s really the problem. Standardized testing takes away from a lot of important things. Maybe cursive isn’t so important but I can definitely see how much time was spent this year on test prep instead of learning. But that’s another post.

  6. This scene is so familiar! Ugh! No homeschooling for me either …

  7. Our children are so programmed to hit a button or flip a switch and instant gratification. Our technologically advanced children, are also deprived of patience. Everthing in my house is right now, right here, hit this button. Well, this mama is taking the “old school” approach and following the lyrics from a song…”you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need!” I hope your school system “brings cursive back” and kudos to you for taking the time to teach them – n or m! Thanks for sharing!

    • We decided a long time ago that whatever our kids missed out on in school that we felt they needed, we would teach them. I knew no school would give my kids everything I wanted. Not homeschooling, not private school, not public school. We love the school they are in, but sometimes we do have to supplement what they learn. It takes time, hair pulling, patience, and eventually it will take knowledge we don’t have. We’ll figure that out too.

  8. Yes, indeed, they should teach it…but they don’t here either. My kids’ teachers, however, quietly encourage us to work with them at home; they know what an important skill it is, even if the district somehow does not.

    I am not a cursive writer myself, never have been. I write in all-caps (with the first cap being slightly larger), a hold-over from my drafting/engineering days, but I can write extremely fast in this manner and always took the “prettiest” hand-written lecture notes in college (I would scan them at computer lab and sell as digital .PDF’s). My own cursive is sloppy and unreadable, but if I try really hard, I CAN do it, and I do when I’m helping my kids at the table. And I try to bring a smidgen of patience with me too.

    This is a downside to the digital age in its current course trajectory (all-or-nothing). As of now, it may only be cursive writing and maybe the QWERTY keyboard waning in the process of the switch-over, but when finite reserves of fossil fuels are depleted or at best, minimally accessible, then what? Computers, PDA’s, the Internet — all built with said fuel, running on said fuel — may get put on the back-burner until a viable alternative to petroleum is invented (sorry to say it’s not wind or solar). Until then, I will steadfastly cling to the old ways, reluctant to make a full-on switch to “convenience” and “comforts.” Call me old-fashioned — I prefer realistic.

    Minimally, something that will make a mark (pencil), that will receive the mark (paper), and books are all I need to teach ABC’s and 123’s. I don’t homeschool nor do I want to, but I keep it so their primary learning source is me. And I teach cursive. With paper and pencil, no less. (But we do enjoy the Bamboo writing pad!)

    • For one thing, they could try to teach it in art class. Or do it as morning work. A letter a day? I’ve seen what they did to practice handwriting in kindergarten. There’s a method. I’m sure they spent ten minutes tops per letter. But I know my grandchildren will never learn it unless I teach them as well. So maybe you really better start practicing. For those grandkids.

  9. Bahahaha! It’s funny how you start off proud that your teaching your children something good and then your kids have a totally different reaction. They scream, gripe, and the whole experience turns to shit! Love this! My sons teacher sent cursive assignments home this last year. He said they are not teaching it in school…I was shocked! It is really such an important thing to know and to read.

    • This is always the case around here. They’re always so excited to do something and then all hell breaks loose. Must be my teaching style. I’m starting to get a complex. I swear I start out calm. Super calm.

  10. At first I thought it was terrible, to do away with cursive….then an older relative said “how will kids be able to sign a check !” to which I answered “Well, they are trying to do away with those, too….” & then I thought, Hmmmm I see where this is going. But hopefully this will leave a niche – those with nice handwriting may be able to earn $$$ in the future….formal invitations, etc

    • Cursive writing may become a hobby, like calligraphy! I don’t doubt it. Like so many things people once did out of need that are now done by machine, we can do as a hobby or to keep the art alive. Quilting, embroidery, canning, woodwork, etc.

      I admit, I type faster than I write. But I couldn’t get along without a handwritten to-do list or a simple pen and paper to jot down my thoughts. Call me old-fashioned!

  11. Handwriting matters … But does cursive matter?

    Research shows: the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid cursive. They join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citation: Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HANDWRITING STYLE AND SPEED AND LEGIBILITY. 2001: on-line at http://www.sbac.edu/~werned/DATA/Brain%20research%20class/handwriting%20speed%20style%20legibility%20berninger.pdf — and there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way.)
    Reading cursive still matters — this takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.
    Remember, too: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don’t take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

    • I agree that to write fast and legibly, for most people print is the way to go. I think if kids are going to read cursive, then they are going to want to learn to write it. My kids are two examples. Is cursive necessary for their learning? No. Is it necessary for a legal signature? No. But if I had to choose between signing my name on a legal document in print or cursive, I’d do it in cursive. I think cursive is harder to forge, but that’s my opinion. I think someone has a much better chance of learning how to sign my name if I do it in print everywhere. Why not safeguard that? Sure, it’s not a guarantee.

      I just think some people aren’t ready to let cursive go yet if for nothing else than the fact that technology doesn’t need to take over every ounce of our lives. And for the fact that there are still people, young people, who want to learn it. Or in my case, young people who say they want to learn it. 😉 Thanks for your insight.

      • Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, then verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.

  12. Totally agree – for sanity’s sake, but also the sake of lost art.

  13. Red

    I was the mean momma who made them do penmanship into middle school and they all learned to have a signature…even if they devolved into something as illegible as mine. Every signature is its own work of art and evolves as we age. Best to begin early and stay long. I am still teaching it to mine…and will one day teach it to my grandchildren. Good on you.
    Red.

  14. I loved writing cursive as a kid. I wrote a post on this a long time ago — I’m saddened that my kids will never grow that little calloused bump on their fingers from where their pens continually rest. And never will my daughter know the thrill of learning girly bubble script for note-writing in 5th grade. Actually, that’s probably a good thing.

    Nice effort teaching your kids — sorry it didn’t go as well as planned! I have your back on the cursive “n”.

  15. Great topic! This is one of my pet peeves. Few people under 30 who went to public school know how to write cursive. That’s why I included pages from Al’s autograph book in my Al’s War blog. If we can get folks to learn cursive and then re-introduce the art of letter writing, we can save the US Postal Service. 🙂 What do you think?

    • My kids love getting mail. I think it could work. I’m going to check out that autograph book. Future children won’t know what they’re missing without autographs.

  16. This post had me giggling. My daughter is almost two but I can definitely see visions of the future in your words. I love on your About Page how you say “You’re lucky you’re cute”. Perfect!

  17. ha! let’s write headache! love it!!

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