Part 1: The Neurological Benefits of Cursive Writing
In today’s technologically advanced world, handwriting might seem like dying art, but research shows that putting pen to paper stimulates the brain like nothing else. Learning to write in cursive writing offers hidden benefits to children that they don’t get from printing letters or keyboarding.
So what does the act of joining letters together offer the developing brain of children that printing does not? The fluid, continuous motion of cursive writing offers the brain a different form of kineasthetic stimulation that helps facilitate different parts of the brain to develop and integrate, assisting in establishing the connections that enhance memory, attention, learning and emotional responses.
The brain is a complicated organ.
Our experiences and interactions form the foundations for the way we think, behave and learn. Building brain synapses and synchronicity between the different levels of the brain and across the two hemispheres helps children to develop ‘layered skills’ that enable them to eventually ‘think and write’ at the same time.
The layering of skills is the key to successful learning. Being able to reach ones academic potential is a precarious process. One that is dependent on specific skills such as handwriting, becoming subconscious or automatic, so the child is able to direct their attention and concentration to the concept of ‘what they are writing’, releasing energy to pay attention to spelling, punctuation and grammar.
The teaching of handwriting is an essential component of the early years curriculum and it needs to be acknowledged as a complicated skill that requires a consistent and dedicated approach to ensure that children at the end of Key Stage 1 are able to write without having to think about letter formation, size, height and the correct spatial placement of letters. In other words, the mechanics of handwriting.
Dr David Sortino, a psychologist and current Director of Educational Strategies in the USA explains in his articles that practicing the curls and swirls of cursive writing affords children the opportunity to naturally train the pencil grip and fine motor skills, acting as a building block rather than a stressor for young children. The cerebellum, a part of the brain located in the ‘old brain’, where the control of subconscious skills live, is directly associated with kinesthetic memory. Therefore, by teaching children one style of writing, cursive, you give them a single set of skills that will embed in their motor memories and become their ‘preferred’ way of writing.
Recent studies have shown that the cerebellum is not only responsible for the development and management of motor skills, but also supports the emotional functions such as attention, impulse control and higher cognitive skills such as problem solving and decision making. By learning a single pattern of movement for handwriting, as is developed using cursive script at the start of handwriting teaching, the children are better able to develop the automatic or subconscious control for handwriting. This frees up the ‘thinking’ parts of the brain for other cognitive skills associated with learning.
Print first or Cursive?
Children who first learn to print letters and then transition into cursive writing are essentially learning two ways of writing. In this scenario, the success of the transition is variable. Some children will be resistant to the new way of writing and find it hard to ‘over ride’ their first motor template stored in their cerebellum, and others will develop a hybrid of both print and cursive. And there will be those children that will develop good cursive handwriting because they want to and have practiced secretly.
By teaching children a single pattern of movement for handwriting, i.e. cursive, children are better able to develop the automatic or subconscious control for handwriting; freeing up the ‘thinking’ parts of the brain for other cognitive skills associated with learning. A study published in Science magazine by Shadmehr and Holcom of John Hopkins University showed that subjects who had been given physical instruction on cursive handwriting showed structural changes in their brains when imaged. Other research by Virginia Berninger, an educational psychology professor at the University of Washington, demonstrates that children are able to write faster and express more ideas when writing essays by hand rather than typing, which is supported by the evidence that cursive writing demonstrates higher SAT scores. It is believed that the speed and efficiency of writing in cursive allows the student to focus on the cohesion of their ideas, as they are not having to think about their handwriting.
There is a strong case for teaching cursive in the classroom before print handwriting. For younger children who can’t yet control their fingers in finer movements, the fluid cursive style can offer a multi layered approach to their development helping them build essential skills that they will not be asked to change later. This enhances the overall efficiency of their thinking and moving skills so freedom can be given to conscious academic learning.
The Hemispheres Think Write (HTW) handwriting programme offers schools a unique opportunity for a single and consistent approach to the teaching of cursive handwriting. The HTW focuses on mastering single cursive letters before joining the letters together, helping children master cursive quicker than other handwriting programmes. Research studies, with data taken from several different schools, show that the programme exceeds the standards set by the National Curriculum Framework, with 96% of children leaving Year 2 with full cursive automatic writing, compared to 46% of children using other teaching methods.
To find out more about the Think Write programme please email email@example.com , and visit the website www.thinkwrite-learning.co.uk.