Handwriting: Why Cursive?

By Robin Wilkins – Puriri Teacher, Primary

I am frequently asked, “Why cursive?” and in fact recently, was even asked why we teach handwriting at all, given the prevalence of computers in schools (did you know this question was first asked back in 1873, when the Remington typewriter was invented?).

Current articles and books focusing on the issue of handwriting address the difficulties of teaching cursive when following traditional education models, however this is not the approach used in a Montessori programme. Each environment – preschool, lower and upper primary and adolescent – is made up of materials, activities and methods that are carefully designed to meet the developmental needs of the child within that level’s three- year age-range.

When looking at writing, the manual preparation of the hand is interwoven with a child‘s need to express thoughts and feelings. We teach the cursive method beginning in preschool, as it corresponds to the physical and mental needs of the child at that stage. In ‘The Formation of Man’, Maria Montessori discusses the benefit of kinaesthetic preparation for writing, where she says, “The physical act of forming words on the page helps us to not only develop better handwriting, it also helps us to develop the neural networks that become memories and knowledge.” Cursive handwriting best mimics what the child does naturally. When a young child draws or acts out writing, he/she forms looping, connected shapes, not geometric, print-like shapes.

Much contemporary research evidence supports this. A study from the University of Washington found, “Forming a written word, letter-by-letter, leaves a stronger memory trace for written words than does a word, letter-by-letter, using a keyboard, particularly in developing writers” and interesting research out of the University of Toronto and Colombia University states that, “If cursive fades away, so will cognitive skills that only cursive handwriting builds. If children don’t learn those movements, their brains will develop in a different way that no one has really thought through. When a child types or prints, he produces a letter the same way each time. In cursive, however, each letter connects slightly differently to the next, which is more demanding on the part of the brain that converts symbol sequences into motor movements of the hand.” Practising the complex demands of cursive also builds fluency in language as studies confirm that characters learned through print or typing are recognised less accurately than those written in cursive. Another behavioural and developmental study says, ”When doing form drawings or writing in cursive, the right and left hemispheres are both active and working together. Print is a more abstract and advanced task that requires only the left hemisphere, often not developed enough for this task until 7-9 years.

As is backed up by modern scientific evidence, cursive still holds many advantages for the learning and development of our children.

The Benefits of Story Telling

By Krista Kerr – Pohutukawa Teacher

In the preschool, we start our year off with frequent and varied small groups. We have many conversation groups as tamariki are full of news about all of the exciting things they have done over the holidays. For preschoolers, speaking is a relatively recent ability that they now love to practice.

Storytelling groups have many benefits: they help tamariki stay on a topic and learn the ‘rules’ of conversation such as turn taking and listening to others. They also play a large part in building the community of the akomanga as we get reacquainted and new tamariki start to build relationships with kaiako and their peers.

“The development of language is part of the development of the personality, for words are the natural means of expressing thoughts and establishing understanding between people.” Dr Maria Montessori

Tamariki love hearing and learning about their world and those in it so these stories do not have to be wild, fantastical tales to capture their interest. Indeed they can start off with a sentence such as “At the supermarket yesterday….” or “On my way to school this morning…..” These stories give value and importance to the little everyday things we do, and are about something concrete that children of this age can relate to.

A true story may last a minute or two before moving on to another person in the group or if the focus of the group is me telling a story then a verbal story may be told which is much longer. This extends concentration for tamariki in a way that reading a book cannot. As there is no ‘object’ on which to focus their attention, more self-control is needed to sit and listen.

Reading books with tamariki certainly has its place, both at home and at kura, however verbal stories are equally important. In many cultures, including Māori, oral storytelling is used as a way to pass on knowledge and history. Only you know the intimate details of your child’s life and their history and ancestors.  Tell stories such as “It is such a surprise that you don’t like to brush your teeth! Let me tell you about the time we found your toothbrush snuggled up in bed with you…” or “When I was five years old …” or “Your Nana came to New Zealand from….”

Children of any age can be engaged in these stories, learning their personal stories as well as those about their family historyFamily trees fascinate children as it helps them to work out their place in the family and the world. So make the most of a snuggle at bedtime, a car trip or any spare moment together to start a story.

A short article on the benefits of oral storytelling: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/what-kids-learn-from-hearing-family-stories/282075/.