I know what you’re thinking. What’s the point? Why would anyone want to actually improve one's handwriting when we live in a digital age? Penmanship used to be a subject every student learned so that his/her work could be easily read and understood by anyone. In the 19th and 20th centuries, children practiced drills, exercises, and letterforms until their writing was smooth, rhythmic, and elegant. It was important to have an “elegant hand” in order to land a good job back then.
Excerpt from An Elegant Hand—"Children's writing"
I think I’m part of the last generation that learned American Cursive and was held accountable for writing fluently. By the time I was a freshman in high school, we typed everything, and a Dot Matrix Printer was our unfortunate, wretched, noisy standard. I had already been trapped by the digital age in the early 90s.
The Dot Matrix Printer that should be tossed off of the highest building.
Today, I took a typing test just to see how I was performing, and today’s score was 87 words per minute with only 3 errors. This doesn’t mean much except that it wasn’t that long ago where typing 60 wpm was necessary to get a job. I don’t know if anyone actually cares about speed or accuracy of your typing today. The last time I took a typing test was in 2007 for a communications job. There was never a requirement for actual penmanship. That had already vanished along with my own handwriting. What also vanished was the neurological benefits to writing by hand.
There is a reason why it’s imperative to put pencil to paper when taking notes in school. It engages the brain in a way that typing does not. This is not a new concept. Handwriting is more important than just having pretty lines of prose! For that reason and the reasons below, you might want to re-introduce yourself or your children to learning cursive!
There was a great study published in December of 2012 in Trends in Neuroscience and Education that focused on the usefulness of handwriting skills. Scientists used fMRI scans to gauge preliterate children’s recognition of letterforms. They wanted to determine how the brain processed handwriting versus typing or tracing letters and shapes. (1)
“A previously documented “reading circuit” was recruited during letter perception only after handwriting—not after typing or tracing experience.”
Writing by hand gives your brain a workout. This process engages several parts of the brain, and we are depriving ourselves and our children by taking this opportunity away. (2)
“In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during the learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice.”
“The benefits to brain development are similar to what you get with learning to play a musical instrument. Not everybody can afford music lessons, but everybody has access to pencil and paper.”
—William R. Klemm, Ph.D., Psychology Today Why Writing by Hand Could Make You Smarter
If you’re interested in improving your own writing or helping your children learn, here are some places to start, and I think you’ll find it fun, too! Just remember that it takes a little bit of work every day. Consistency in practice is key to success and progress!
>> Check out the Spencerian script. This method was famously taught from around 1840 to 1925. Spencerian script became so popular that it soon became the standard script in the United States. It is based on simple, elegant movements of the arm and fingers.
Example of Spencerian script by D.L. Musselman, December 4, 1884. Public Domain Mark 1.0
>> Check out the Palmer Method. This method is considered a simplified version of the Spencerian script and became a standardized form in the late 19th century.
By A. N. Plamer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
>> Some students have mentioned having success at Loops & Tails to learn cursive as well.
I hope these resources help you on your journey! Choosing a method really just depends on your personal goals. As with all new skills, there is a learning curve. Slow, deliberate practice and patience will be virtues for you. Take it easy, and track your progress! Happy penning!
1. James, K. and Englehardt, L. "The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children." Trends in Neuroscience and Education, Dec 12, 2012. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211949312000038
2. Klemm, W. “Why Writing by Hand Could Make You Smarter.” Psychology Today, Mar. 14, 2013. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/why-writing-hand-could-make-you-smarter