Is There Any Point In Children Learning “Handwriting”?

 

 

Is there really any point in children learning “Handwriting” in the 21st Century?

When I say handwriting, I mean cursive. We live in a digital age in which our children are surrounded by digital text and typography. Hand written letters to grandparents have been replaced by emails or Skype or FaceTime. I am 44 yrs old. I email, Text Message  and “Whats App” everyone. I have over 30 notes on my iPhone. Instead of rummaging through my handbag trying to find that scrappy bit of paper I have scribbled my weekly shopping list on, I now have it to hand on my iPhone. I didn’t plan it this way, it just happened.

 

I’m not concerned or scared or skeptical about technology like many people of my generation. I have a dream of what technology might look like in the future, and it’s not frightening but beautiful.

 

I have struggled with Dyslexia all my life and to be honest, handwriting just got in my way. When I got to use my first ever computer to write my essays on in university it was liberating and look at me now; an author of TWO blogs, articles published in magazines and I’ve even written a “short” book (and currently working on a novel). I didn’t know I could write, I didn’t know I had anything worth saying, I was nervous as soon as I put pen to paper until I started using computers. When I left school at sixteen years old, I went to work in an office. My role was to file papers and make tea for the boss. I resigned myself to believing this was going to be my life, that I was incapable of doing anything else. I had no idea that inside me was a river of creativity trying to get out!

 

Dyslexia is a label, given to people who’s brains work differently to the standardised way we are told we are supposed to learn and be in this world. I have heard stories from many parents about how their child ‘s confidence grew and their world expanded, once they had been given access to an Ipad or Computer.

 

Teaching children to learn handwriting belongs to the last century. Children always want to embrace the century they are born into. Of course, if a child wants to learn how to do handwriting as it is something they enjoy, then they should be allowed to do so but forcing every child to learn is pointless. I wonder, will even printing become redundant in the next twenty years and maybe typing will too? Quite possibly. Look how popular Youtube, Snapchat and Instagram are with the younger generation. These are visual-based platforms with very little text involved.

 

I am not going to join the fear mongers who predict the downfall of humanity due to technology. I believe in a more positive outlook. It really doesn’t matter if our children choose not to learn handwriting as they are the ones entering a future world where visual is king and that’s okay. It seems to be the natural progression of human consciousness, of evolution and we shouldn’t be afraid. Instead, we should embrace it and enjoy the creativity, and the opportunities it may bring to many more children who would have otherwise been left behind by an educational system that belongs to the last century.

 

 

11 thoughts on “Is There Any Point In Children Learning “Handwriting”?

  1. Interesting post. I must admit I would feel sad to think of future generations not doing any writing at all! I used to love writing in notebooks, and found that my brain seemed to get activated in a different way to when I typed. But I’m also happy for my daughter to learn what she needs rather than what I think she should learn.
    And as for cursive I think it’s John Holt who timed how long it took to write in cursive and found it was actually longer than simply writing the letters non-joined up! So it’s a purely aesthetic thing not for speed.

    1. Hi Kate, Yes, I remember that from John Holt. I thought it was very interesting. As a writer, I appreciate the craft of writing and cursive can be a beautiful, almost like an art form. I not sure it will completely die out but rather might become the practice of artists.

  2. I agree completely, Luminara – perfectly put! (I keep finding myself saying that as I read your posts or watch your videos, and I just realised I don’t think I’ve ever remembered to stop and say thank you. So – thank you!)

  3. Hi Luminara,
    Many hours are wasted in schools teaching cursive, but my two have learnt quite naturally as with everything else. My daughters handwriting at 10 is as neat and well formed as any 10 year olds in school, and my son at 9 is able to get his message across. From that standpoint I agree that teaching handwriting is certainly pointless.
    In terms of dyslexia, Spelling can be helped by movement memory, which means that the practise of joined handwriting does aid accurate spelling, of course the same is true of typing, but then there is also the spell checker for that! Again I agree that some technology is brilliant for the more visual learners.
    I don’t fear technology, but I find I am a happier person without much of it. I do use email & text to communicate but I love times when I do not have those modes of communication at my disposal. Cursive probably will become an art form, I’ve said it myself but I personally love to see kids writing old school style & both my two do it for fun (although I would never, ever force cursive on any child!), they have diaries with names and covered in doodles, little stories they are writing with lopsided words and highly creative spellings. These are beautiful treasures that embrace creativity in the fullest sense, it’s all ‘them’, mistakes and all.
    Writing should never be painful and that is where technology is a god-send for some kids, but the uniformity it brings to children’s creativity/writing sometimes saddens me.
    You are spot on when you say ‘children wish to embrace the century they are born into’ and for that reason I remain open-minded to the gifts that technology can bring them, yet mindful of keeping some old fashioned’ ways too, which add great value also.
    Love your words, heartfelt and interesting, thank you:)

  4. My uncle (now mid-70s) postulated some 20 years ago that children should be taught how to write in school using keyboards *before* being taught handwriting. It seems logical to me. Handwriting is always useful, though, I find. I don’t have the latest phone, so shopping lists still get done on the back of an envelope. And I actually still prefer paper at work quite often, too. But I agree that nothing should be taught for its own sake; as with everything in life, things need to be reviewed every so often from first principles. That’s what keeps us moving forwards.

    Grammatical rules are important, because they ensure that meaning is conveyed intact from writer to audience. But equally, language is dynamic and fluid. Indeed, the Latin origin of the word implies ‘tongue’; to me, this means that the spoken word comes first and the written text second. So the rules should respond to the way people use it, not the other way round.

    1. Thank you Colin, this is good. Your uncle was obviously a man of great foresight. I appreciate so much the comments that people have added to this post. It feels important to keep having these conversations about the future of education.

  5. I’m very late to this post, but just wanted to add a few thoughts. We homeschool, but I’ve given up labels now. We don’t unschool but we are pretty relaxed about things.

    I did teach my son both printing and cursive. I delayed teaching him cursive because he struggled so when he printed but when I finally did teach him cursive it made an enormous difference for him and I regretted not teaching it sooner. It was much easier for him than printing and his writing became much more legible, and really, what is the point of writing if you cannot read it yourself afterwards?

    For creative writing we always use a keyboard because it allows the ideas to flow more quickly, but again, I like to handwrite myself because it is slower and it makes me stop and pause. It helps me to reflect, which is also important when expressing myself. Despite what John Holt said (whom I respect enormously) it is not my experience that cursive is slower than printing. I much prefer writing in cursive myself, and really appreciate it for its beauty.

    I have read that cursive connects both hemispheres of the brain and is healing for that very reason, because it helps the brain to grow those cross-hemisphere connections. So I am curious – as an ex Steiner teacher, do you no longer believe that using the hands helps the brain and that cursive in particular has an impact? I wish you could hear the tone of voice that I ask that question in because I am really interested in your answer :-). I have been influenced and inspired by Steiner-Waldorf education but I do sometimes worry about ways in which I have accepted something as “truth” that might not be so. There are a lot of “shoulds” in Steiner-Waldorf education that leave me very uncomfortable.

    I agree that we don’t all have the same brain and that really we need to accept people how they are, to understand that we are not all the same and work with difference rather than seeing it as wrong or sick and trying to fix them or force them to change to “our way” or the “right way” (whatever that means). So I do agree that if cursive is not working (or anything else for that matter) it should not be forced. We opted out of school because I did not see it as supportive and respectful and honouring of children. I am not agreeing to the use of force, but I do have a plan to show my child how to do this because I think it’s a useful skill to have, in the way that learning to cook is useful or tying shoe laces or using a tape measure etc., and I have a plan to show him (aka teach) those things too. I also have a plan to paint with him, to listen to music with him, to walk through the rainforest and read wonderful stories with him, to share with him things I love simply for their beauty, for their artistic value. I can see handwriting fall into that category too.

    I don’t feel that teaching children how to write in cursive is last century. I hear that argument about many different things and sometimes agree, other times not. I see cursive handwriting as a tool for expressing ourselves, a very useful tool, but one in a tool kit we might choose to use, in a right tool for the right job kind of way. So I would like to see children shown a variety of ways to express themselves and then allow them to make the right choice for them at that point in time. I would hate to see handwriting, and particularly cursive handwriting, disappear in the way that so many wonderful handcrafts have. In a way, handwriting is exactly that – a handcraft, a piece of art.

    1. Thank you for your comment Cathy. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.
      “So I am curious – as an ex-Steiner teacher, do you no longer believe that using the hands helps the brain and that cursive in particular has an impact?”

      I am happy to answer your question Cathy. I suppose, I now believe that many alternative activities to the ones Steiner education suggests can benefit the brain. I also have a rather “Way out there” idea about all this….get ready…..what if, what is happening now with technology is just the natural evolution of humankind? Maybe, it is inevitable that future humans will not longer find a use for handwriting but instead will develop other skills. Not sure what these skills will be and maybe I am completely wrong.
      Like you, I also value handcrafts. When I am wearing my “artist” hat my work is inspired by folk art. Lately, I’ve been doing some Polish style paper cuts. We have one child that is also very into handcrafts and another that is not and prefers to use the computer. I’m not sure any of us actually knows what will come in the future.
      Thank you again for sharing your story.

      1. Yes, very true. I have no idea what will happen and one minute I find it really exciting and the next the change is so fast it scares me. If I think about it too much my brain hurts! We are learning some astronomy at the moment and it has a similar impact – a sea of infinite possibilities that my brain simply cannot comprehend. Confusing and miraculous. Except that looking out to the Universe is witnessing the past. At least, that’s how we understand it now. Who knows? We live in interesting times.

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