Looking at my desk calendar, I saw September 13th was circled in red with a hand drawn smiley face next to it, indicating session number one. Oh, happy day! But, as I prepared my notes, a little apprehension kicked in. Despite my years of being a classroom teacher and tutor, these first meetings still fill me with two parts excitement and one part nervousness. Excitement because once again I’d get to share my love of creative writing with a student. Nervousness because I’d have to establish rapport, assess, and motivate this child in a short span of time. And time really is of the essence as each Writing Buddies program offered through our local library, is only eight weeks long. Add to that, volunteers aren’t privy to the age, grade level, or experience a child has or how willing they are to work, until we meet. Whew!
With this in mind, a few months ago, five of us brave souls showed up at the meeting room and took our places at tables with baskets of writing paper, and mini white boards equipped with markers and erasers. As always, the literacy library assistant introduced us to each other and then said she had two announcements. One more than usual.
First, 16 children had signed up – wow! And second, she needed two volunteers to teach cursive instead of creative writing – not so wow. At that point I knew each of us would have more than one child to tutor and surmising that only two of us were over the age of 18, I knew Mrs. S. and I would be the designated cursive teachers.
I’m not sure how our groups were formed but Mrs. S. got the three students in Grades 3 and up, while I got three students in 1st grade. Now, having introduced many – maybe a hundred – 2nd grade students to cursive, I knew this task was not going to be easy. For them. Or for me.
First, due to their fine motor skill development, children aren’t usually ready to take on cursive until they’re 7-8 years old. Second, depending on which cursive program used, there is a certain sequence of letters taught which need to be learned before moving on. And third, perhaps most important, it takes time, months, not weeks to acquire the basic skills. Even when my 2nd grade students followed my instructions to the letter, sit up straight, feet on the floor, booklets at a slant, hold pencil loosely, trace letters on the lined page lightly, tears were on the verge of spilling. While their enthusiasm was at a fever pitch to start, the fluidity, eye hand coordination, and patience it takes to get the strokes right often ended in frustration. Ask any child first learning cursive. Better yet, ask their parents.
Luckily, handwriting always came naturally to me. I have always loved the feel of a pen, pencil, or other writing instrument in my hand. Forming lines, curves, and loops on paper sets me at eases. It relaxes me. I have to laugh when I think of my first experience learning cursive. I asked Miss Maley, my kind 2nd grade teacher to give me sheets to take home at the end of the school year so I could practice before entering the 3rd grade. What child actually asks for summer homework? Me!
From my journal: February 18, 2020 Newbury Park, California
“Couldn’t see R last week so I wrote her a letter. When I asked her why she didn’t write back..she said can’t read ‘handwriting’ meaning cursive! Really? In 4th grade?”
With technology being mainstream in classrooms today, should children even learn cursive? I know times have changed. I know typing is easier as fingers just need to press keys. And I know typing is faster making communication instantaneous whether on a computer, phone, or other device. But…in my humble opinion (IMHO), yes! Children should still be taught the fine art of cursive writing.
Writing in cursive stimulates the brain in ways that typing cannot. Sequential finger movements light up huge areas of the brain related to language, memory, and thinking. When age appropriate, cursive writing further develops fine motor skills making children more physically and spatially aware. It helps increase memory and retention of information. It can be beneficial in spelling because the hand gains memory of spelling patterns through repeated fluid movements. Many of our nation’s historical documents were written in cursive. Being able to read them gives us a better understanding of the context in which they were created – the time and the place. And of special interest to me, being able to read personal letters and cards handwritten from relatives and friends brings me, and keeps me, closer to them, especially with those who have passed on. I want to continue to pass on this joy to others, in particular those of younger generations, such as the girl I mentor who just a few years ago couldn’t read my letters. And I’m so glad to note, that our local school district still includes cursive writing in their curriculum. Write on!
The Writing Buddies program I am involved with is now on hiatus until spring. Although I wasn’t able to teach creative writing this time around, I did get the opportunity to present cursive writing to my group. It wasn’t easy for us. But, by the end, my students could show me how to prepare themselves to write. They could identify the lowercase and uppercase letters written in cursive which is essential as they are not taught in alphabetical order. They could also read and write some basic handwritten words. But the best part for me was seeing their faces beam when they practiced writing their first names in cursive. So proud! I couldn’t have smiled any wider!
On the last day of the program, my students excitedly took their completed pages home to show their parents. Whether or not they continue to practice, I have no doubt that when reintroduced a year from now, in their respective schools, they will be more confident in their abilities as they put their pencils to paper.