Monday, July 8, 2013

Cursive and the ART of Handwriting

While rummaging through the garage this afternoon I found this piece of paper.  It really struck me since this too is a tad dated.  I think it's an important piece of information to share.  As I type this, it emphasizes the lack of handwriting and the loss of this art.  We are in an age where we type, skype, facetime, email, and text.  The use of our hands is limiting and limited.  We feel more "intelligent" due to the pace of technology and the information it brings us, but giving up  and under-utilizing a valuable aspect of our human development, are we really that much smarter?

There is a debate about writing and the use of cursive writing in the Motnessori classrooms.  Depending on when and where you did your training, you were taught to use either print or cursive.  AMI has now brought cursive back into the classrooms and it is how we teach children to write.  In a previous post I discussed why we introduce children to writing before reading.   In this handout below the author will explain why we introduce cursive to the young child instead of print.  I have typed the text as is, but italicized and bolded the text myself.

The Art of Handwriting
by unknown author and presented as a handout during AMI lectures.

Out of the Middle Ages came masterpieces of decorative writing.  Early manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells, were mostly products of Christian monasteries.  These illuminated manuscripts were written on parchment with a fine metal pen or a goose quill and were complete with letters decorated with miniature paintings made of rare pigmentation colors.  Until 1450 C.E. and the invention of the Gutenberg printing press with movable type, all writing was done by hand.  It was a painstaking and time-consuing task which required the hand of an artisan.  Fortunately, much of this work was accomplished by monks who thereby preserved much of the oral tradition of ancient times.  The beautiful decorations had the purpose of drawing the reader more deeply into the test, as if mesmerized by the written word.

Since the invention of the printing press, beautiful handwriting has nevertheless continued and is often considered an art and referred to as calligraphy.  In Japan, calligraphy is a highly respected art form and it is gaining greater appreciation in other countries as well, including the United States.

The recent wide-spread use of typewriters, word processors, the telephone and other technological advances have brought our present-day culture to neglect the hand-written word.  Handwriting is considered unnecessary, an obstacle to efficiency and old-fashioned.  Even today, however, we can derive a great deal of pressure from this very personal form of communication.  We are in a much faster-paced era, where we prefer to use the telephone instead of writing a letter, when we take photographs of trips instead of keeping a journal, etc, and as a result, we have come to tore easily form the use of a pen.  We no longer take the opportunity to let our innermost thoughts flow easily with a hand-written communication.  Our handwriting is such a personal experience that each person, with their own unique hand, writes in his or her own individual writing style.  All movement and gestures are a creation of our own unique personality. So is our handwriting.  Therefore, our handwriting is as unique as our finger prints.  Graphology analyzes a person's character, as well as his intelligence, from his handwriting. 

One of the advantages of handwriting is the possibility to write down our thoughts whenever and wherever we are.  We can bring to life a bland piece of paper with these magical little marks which the Phoenecians invented.  Even if we are not poets, writing can be everyone's craft.

In teaching children to write beautifully, we are not attempting to eliminate the use of modern conveniences, such as the typewriter.  We must prepare our children to live in their culture and use the technology of today.  However, the ancient art of writing will give the children an added dimension to their self-expression which they can use all of their lives.  The Montessori teacher herself must develop a consistent style of cursive writing which will serve as a model for the children.  Much of the teacher-prepared material in the environment should be in beautiful cursive style and we must take every opportunity to expose the child to cursive writing.  Even letters to parents, messages and signs for the class should be in cursive style.  Whenever appropriate, the written message should be decorated in some way, using a colorful border of some type.

One should use the exact same cursive writing style as is used in the local country or region.  The cursive alphabet to be used is usually easily available on written tablets sold in local school supply stores. 

We are often questioned as to why we introduce the young child to cursive rather than manuscript (printed) letters.  Here follow some of the reasons:

  • The young child is in the muscular-tactile stage when he enjoys manual activity. 
  • The hand does one continuous movement left to right with cursive.  
  • The shape of the letter is easier to write in the flowing cursive form and the sandpaper letters are easier to trace in the natural flowing style.
  • Because of the continuous movement from left to right, children do not reverse letters as easily, such as do children who have inclination to dyslexia.
  • The hand is lighter in the flowing movement and therefore does not tire as easily.
  • The child is in the sensitive period for small detail, for refinement of movement and for language.  This unique natural combination is the ideal time for the child to begin writing.  Cursive writing allows the child at this stage to enjoy the process of writing, not only the finished products of the written message.
  • Children are very susceptible to the art form of writing: thy are attracted to beauty.
  •  All letters begin on the base line, and with few exceptions (dotting the i and crossing the t), the child need not pick up the pen.
  • Compared to manuscript letters which have many of the exact same ball and stick characteristics, the cursive letters are shaped more uniquely and therefore are easier to differentiate from one another.
  • The child can easily pick up the manuscript form of writing after he has mastered the cursive style. 

The Illuminated Letters from the 8th Century Book of Kells

Reading this document made me realize how much has changed since then.  Typewriter?  Oh my!  That has become as vintage as writing except that both have been used to create new typeface and a new following has come out of it- I suppose.

Also, just typing this out has caused both my wrists to lock up and made me think about how carpal tunnel is now a huge issue.  As I paused to give my wrist a break, I moved my hand in a cursive motion and noticed the ease and fluidity and relief it gave my wrist.

So, what's the purpose of this post? I hope it just gives you something to think about and also some insight as to why we teach children cursive in most AMI schools today.

I hope this inspires teachers to use more art in language, and I hope it inspires more parents to take away electronic devices and allow their children to write more.  Keep a journal, write a letter, doodle, or take up calligraphy yourself.  Use your hands to create, and explore, and discover the possibilities of your personality.  After all, as the author says, our handwriting is as unique as our fingerprint, so, express yourself!

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  1. Cursive is something I wish I had paid more attention to in school.
    Thanks for sharing at Tuesdays with a Twist!
    Hope to see you again this week.

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