Why cursive? Why not?

A number of years ago, I broke my wrist badly. It took a year to heal, and even then I still had nerve damage. Over the course of that year, I participated in extensive occupational therapy to retrain my brain to connect with my hands – to hold a fork, to squeeze a sponge, and to write letters and words.

What I learned during that time was not to take my hands for granted–and just how difficult handwriting can be. It required brain power and physical skill every time I put the pen down on paper, pulled the pen down to create a line, and then had to lift the pen up (just slightly) to put it down again to make the next stroke of a letter. The effort it took blew my mind and made me wonder just how much some kids struggle with this in the classroom – especially if they aren’t given time at school to do the same OT and handwriting training that I had the privilege of accessing.

Why didn’t I just use voice-to-text, you might wonder? Or why not work on keyboarding first, since it’s easier to press a button than to form a letter? The answer is – I did! I was desperate to find anything that would work. Voice-to-text was glitchy and frustrating, though I still persisted. Because of my particular injuries, keyboarding was as difficult as handwriting for me, believe it or not.

But the biggest reason I couldn’t simply switch to digital: I found myself more times than I had ever realized needing to write something on paper – post-its, notes, signing my name, filling out forms at the doctor’s office, you name it. Much like our students, I really could not get by without any handwriting.

I’m not here today to make the case for handwriting versus keyboarding, though there are plenty of articles that summarize why handwriting helps with memory, learning to read, and understanding content. It makes sense to me that keyboarding and handwriting are pretty important.

But why cursive? Isn’t it more difficult to write in cursive? Even if it is a good thing to learn, does it outweigh the importance of other things to teach? Isn’t the school day already too packed?

Here are my reasons why cursive might be important to make room for in your school day. You may want to consider these particularly if you teach students older than 2nd grade, who already form their print/block letters correctly (meaning from top down to bottom and not the other way around).

  1. According to HWOT, students still spend up to 58 percent of classroom time writing on paper and the amount of time writing only increases with age. Students who write in cursive write faster and more fluently and will be more successful in meeting the expectations of writing on paper.
  2. Once learned, writing in cursive is faster, and for some it’s less “painful” on the hands and wrists – there’s less picking up and putting down of the pen. The more fluently and pain-free a student writes, the more likely they are to write more and devote less brain power to the act of writing – freeing them up to think more about the content. I certainly experienced this personally, having to re-learn the physical act of writing.
  3. Cursive enables students to use various parts of the brain and boosts comprehension, participation, and written communication skills. Cursive is beneficial for more than just note-taking, but for learning in general (Askvik, Van der Weel, & Van der Meer, 2020, Polido, L. & Theriault, P. (2022).
  4. Learning cursive is not just for writing workshop! Being a more fluent, faster writer allows students to take notes more efficiently and effectively across the curriculum. Numerous studies have shown that notes taken by hand (print or cursive) increases memory and content learning (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014; ). 
  5. Cursive can lead to higher levels of engagement, as students develop their own personalized style of writing (HWOT, 2018). Handwriting in general also has the potential to be less distracting than keyboarding – where the temptation of popping back and forth between tabs, or fiddling with fonts and color, can be too much for some students to resist.
  6. Cursive provides an opportunity to revisit fine motor skills, letter formation, and even letter-sounds or spelling patterns for older students in a way that is age appropriate.
  7. Though it takes time to learn at first, once learned, it is easily maintained through practice integrated in the writing activities students are already doing across the day. Additionally, there’s no need to require all students to write in cursive – it adds another choice that may be beneficial to many, many students.
  8. Many programs focus on cursive as a means to faster, more fluent writing rather than “perfect” handwriting, encouraging students to find letter formation that works best for them. The goal is easy-to-read, rather than rigid perfection.

Of course, on the (very) long list of important things to teach, cursive may not be at the top of your list. It’s encouraging that many handwriting programs only take a few minutes a day. Cursive is not usually taught before second grade—it typically comes after print has been learned (at least this is the case in much of in the United States).

Some middle grades teachers opt to front-load a bit of cursive at the start of the year, spending a few minutes of direct instruction a day until all the letters have been introduced and then tapering off–offering it as a choice for morning work, or a center at choice time. Other teachers teach it to small groups who might benefit during their word study time.

As an adult learner, coming back from an injury that prevented me from doing something I love – writing – I can say that I’m thankful that I learned cursive a long time ago, and now know not to take it for granted. It doesn’t have to be choice between keyboarding OR writing by hand. Keyboarding offers speed and efficiency, as well as benefits of searching and easily organizing.  It’s easy to say that keyboarding has taken the place of handwriting – until you physically cannot write by hand. Not only do we learn more when we slow down to write notes, we gain yet another tool to choose from. And the more tools the better.


Eva Ose Askvik, F. R. (Ruud) van der Weel and Audrey L. H. van der Meer (2020).  “The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults.” Frontiers in Psychology  DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01810

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). “The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking.” Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159–1168. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797614524581

Polido, L. & Theriault, P. (2022). “Manuscript and/or Cursive: The Contribution of Research Conducted Since 2012 on Handwriting Instruction.” https://www.tandfonline.com/journals/wjot20

“Top Five Reasons We’re Crazy for Cursive.” Handwriting Without Tears Blog (October 18, 2018) https://www.lwtears.com/blog/top-five-reasons-were-crazy-cursive

8 thoughts on “Why cursive? Why not?

  1. I only taught cursive once when I was a classroom teacher since there wasn’t enough time in the day to fit it all in. I knew some of the benefits (Thanks for the excellent resource list in this post!) and thought it was important, but couldn’t always fit it in. That filled me with regret since I had excellent handwriting instruction as a kid.

    Last year, I taught Isabelle cursive when I homeschooled her. Despite having lots of other things I needed to fit into the year, I knew I had to do this. Her fifth grade year would be the only time. And so I prioritized it. When we had our homeschool evaluation at the end of the school year, the evaluator asked her what she was most proud of learning last year. What did she say? LEARNING TO WRITE IN CURSIVE. I was astonished! (Yeah, I wanted her to say writing essays that were journeys of thought, but you don’t always get what you want.)

    We fit cursive in for ten minutes daily. She practiced every afternoon. And now she knows how to write it!

    I am thankful I taught it to her. Now if only I could’ve fit map skills into our day. (Yeah, that’s my regret from last year.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your journey back to writing is a great testimony to the necessity of teaching cursive, though, I’m sorry you had to go through all of that. It never dawned on me to make cursive writing one of my stations. Thank you for that idea. Most people do not realize the connection between writing and enhancing cognitive abilities. Thank you, again! 🙂


    1. What Beth didn’t say here (that I’ll share) is that she pushed through in such an admirable way. She wrote blog posts using text-to-speech. And if I remember correctly, she even did the entire March SOLSC without the use of her hands in the way that so many of us take for granted. I remember how grueling getting her hand strength and use back was for her. She persevered and overcame the challenge!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for a quick overview of this topic. My daughter teaches in France and we pen pal and all the letters from the French students are written in cursive as French students learn cursive writing first. One more benefit is that if we teach cursive in the US, students here can read this form of writing!! Once pen pal letters arrive, my US students stare at it and ask me to read it to them. Your reasons are so compelling to a skill that seems to not be focused on anymore. Thanks for raising awareness.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.