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Close to Home: Intelligence and the lost art of cursive writing

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Children are taught to print in the first few years of grade school and, depending on the school, stay with printing throughout their academic careers or are taught cursive in second or third grade.

I recommend cursive handwriting as a strategy to stimulate brain synchronicity — that is, to coordinate the right, or visual, side of the brain with the left, or verbal and linear areas, of the brain.

According to some researchers, the debate is a little like comparing painting by numbers with the rhythmic brush strokes of a true artist.

For example, Rand Nelson of Peterson Directed Handwriting believes changes occur in children’s brains when they are exposed to cursive handwriting, allowing them to overcome motor challenges. He says “the act of physically gripping a pen or pencil and practicing the swirls, curls and connections of cursive handwriting activates parts of the brain that lead to increased language fluency.”

Iris Hatfield, who created the New American Cursive Program, sees cursive writing as a powerful tool to stimulate intelligence and language fluency while improving neural connections in the brain. She says “the physiological movement of writing cursive letters help build pathways in the brain while improving mental effectiveness. And, this increased effectiveness may continue throughout the child’s academic career.”

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University published a study in Science magazine showing that their subjects’ brains actually changed in reaction to physical instruction, such as cursive handwriting lessons. They also demonstrated that these changes resulted in an “almost immediate improvement in fluency,” which led to later development of neural pathways. As a result of practicing motor skills, the researchers found that knowledge becomes more stable.

Furthermore, there are psychosocial benefits as well. According to author Mathew Geiger, “As our brains learn to connect our inner worlds to the external universe, we begin to recognize abstract ideas like awareness of others and perception.”

Cursive writing affords us the opportunity to naturally train these fine motor skills by taking advantage of a child’s inability to fully control his fingers. This means cursive writing acts as a building block rather than as a stressor and provides a less strenuous learning experience.

Again, some schools advocate teaching cursive writing in second grade while others suggest third grade. Whatever direction you choose, the sensory motor act of cursive writing has been proven to be conducive to brain development and language fluency, and with proper training, it can be accommodated by parents and teachers at home or in school with their children.

David Sortino is director of Educational Strategies and the Neurofeedback Institute. He lives in Graton.

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