Does Printing Always Have To Come First?

Over four years ago now, I had the “summer of cursive.” Different articles predominated the media about cursive writing, and I became involved in numerous Twitter chats with other Ontario educators about the pros and cons of cursive writing. My thinking continued to evolve that summer, and is still evolving years later. I’ve written many blog posts on cursive writing over the years, and my thoughts are rarely the same. One of the first posts I wrote though following that memorable summer talked about the possibility of Kindergarten students exploring cursive writing through play. The opportunity has never presented itself for that to happen until this year.

A Year 2 student actually inspired us to look at cursive writing in class. This child is a prolific writer, but prints almost exclusively in capital letters. She knows how to form most lowercase ones, but rarely uses them in her writing. One day, she decided that she wanted to practise writing using lowercase letters, and she thought that cursive writing could help her with this. She spoke about learning how to do some cursive writing at home, and then she used the cursive alphabet on the iPad to explore how to write some other letters. Pretty soon, she was writing the names of multiple students in the class. And with the use of cursive, she was actually using lowercase letters in her writing.

About a week later, she continued this cursive writing when making a list of “yummy foods” at the eating table. 

Other students started to listen to her talk about cursive writing, and they became interested in learning. They began talking to each other about different line formations, and we thought that we could extend this thinking by exploring various fonts. 

Since students were also showing an interest in visual arts, and exploring the work of some famous artists including Van Gogh and Kandinsky, we thought that we could link literacy and The Arts. After school one day, my teaching partner, Paula, and I discussed looking at cursive writing as an extension of our exploration of lines. We went back and forth on this one for a bit. Paula initially wondered if we should introduce cursive if some of our students are still learning how to print letters correctly. Then came my question of, do they need to learn printing before writing?

I’ve felt different ways on this topic before, but Valerie Bennett made me think differently when she shared this Case For Cursive information with me. I shared it with Paula, and together we explored the possible benefits of cursive writing for our students. 

  • Would the continuous line help some students form letters that they struggled with doing when printing?
  • Would it help students with forming and extending ideas in their writing?
  • Would it even help some children better solidify letter-sound connections? 

We’re not giving up printing in the classroom or only exposing children to texts written in cursive writing, but we thought that we might build on a natural interest and see about the possible positive impact for kids.

We love how students are tracking the alphabet in cursive, just as they do with the printed alphabet. They are noticing some similarities and differences between the letters. A few children are also starting to read texts written in cursive and experiment with some cursive writing of their own. We’re showing them how to form the letters and giving them opportunities to practice. Just as with printing, we’re trying to be responsive to different students and different needs, and giving multiple practice options, knowing that it can take a while to learn how to form letters correctly. 

I’m not sure if every child is going to learn how to print in cursive this year, but I love that kids are starting to recognize letters and words written in different fonts and experiment with different fonts of their own. Many children are developing fine motor skills in Kindergarten, and cursive writing helps with this. When one of our students then went home to ask her mom to write the “cursive alphabet” in her journal so that she could look at it at school, I was thrilled. This wasn’t one of our home extension activities, but this was something that mattered enough to this child to explore at home. 

This same child was able to read some words in cursive the next day that she was not able to read the day before. Amazing!

This year, one of our Board’s main goals is to have “all students reading by the end of Grade 1.” We love how it’s this same year that our students have taken an extreme interest in the letters of the alphabet, and this interest has extended into a four-month inquiry that’s included a look at cursive writing. As we post our class learning story this week, cursive writing will be a part of this learning.

I wonder about the impact that cursive will have on reading, writing, and fine motor skills. Will an early introduction to cursive writing have a long-term impact on academic skills and/or literacy development? Years ago, I never would have thought of this cursive option for Kindergarten, and now I’m excited to see what’s possible. Maybe I just needed to see cursive writing beyond the worksheet option to gain a new appreciation for this art form. What do you think? Does printing always have to come first?


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