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Relegated in 2006 to an optional piece of learning in Ontario elementary schools, it is set to return as a mandatory part of the curriculum.Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press

Brianna Bell is a writer based in Guelph, Ont.

At the end of June, while students and teachers were packing up their bags and dreaming of summer vacation, Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced upcoming changes to the curriculum. One of the updates, which has arguably received the most buzz, was the reintroduction of cursive writing into the classroom. As soon as I heard the announcement, I was frustrated and annoyed – cursive was a useless skill, as far as I was concerned. I didn’t know how to do it myself, and it had never bothered me.

I learned to read and write in Brampton, Ont., in the 1990s, when cursive was technically still part of the curriculum – but I was never taught how to write in script. I remember teaching myself how to sign my name, and had to practise reading cursive whenever my grandmother sent pages-long letters, her tight, loopy writing smooshed onto the page, but I never did become comfortable writing in cursive. Now that I’m in my mid-30s, I don’t feel like I’m lacking a fundamental skill, and I have managed a career as a professional writer without it.

When I found out that my own three daughters would be required to learn cursive writing come September, I was disappointed and angry. First of all, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our children’s education. My two younger kids are already behind in reading – while my eldest, who could already read prior to the pandemic, hasn’t suffered as much academically. All I could picture were my kids, frustrated and upset, trying to learn useless cursive writing. How much further would this set them back, and was now really the time to introduce a tool that was deemed useless back in 2006?

Shortly after Mr. Lecce’s announcement, I shared my anger online, but was surprised to hear resistance from fellow writers and teachers. I discovered that many educators are still teaching cursive writing to their classes – in fact, while cleaning out my oldest daughter’s backpack at the end of June, I found pages of cursive worksheets that she’d done over the school year. “I hate it,” she said, tossing the pages into the recycling pile. When she’d moved on to something else, I picked up her discarded papers and flipped through the worksheets. Her writing looked neat and I could tell she’d taken care while practising her letters. As a very active 11-year-old, it can be hard to get her to sit still and concentrate on a single activity – but I could see that she had been attentive while practising.

The combination of online resistance from people whom I respect, and my daughter’s writing sheets, got me rethinking my entire perspective. Maybe cursive writing shouldn’t be relegated to the past after all. I started to do a bit more research into the evidence behind cursive writing – something that Mr. Lecce had pointed to in his announcement. While cursive writing hasn’t been a part of Ontario’s curriculum since 2006, it still remains in almost every other province’s language-arts curriculum, except for British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Surely, there had to be science to support the continued instruction of a seemingly outdated form of communication.

In a study published in 2020 by Frontiers in Psychology, it was determined that cursive writing and drawing have the ability to activate specific brain regions linked to memory and the acquisition of new information. As a result, these activities foster optimal conditions for learning. However, the study did not observe the same effect in individuals who were engaged in typewriting.

The big question remains: Isn’t printing just as effective as cursive? One often-cited study from the 1970s has shown that first-grade children who learned cursive writing scored better in spelling and reading than those who simply learned how to print. However, a 2012 study in Trends in Neuroscience and Education also found that cursive writing activated different parts of the brain in a group of five-year-olds, when compared with typing or tracing. The general consensus seems to be that introducing cursive as a part of early literacy supports reading acquisition. Some researchers also say that cursive writing can help students with dyslexia, however most studies that I reviewed seemed to have mixed results.

Jen LeGrandeur, a permanent instructor in the faculty of education at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, told me, “I know that there has been a lot of research supporting the inclusion of cursive handwriting in the curriculum, specifically related to memory and encoding, among other benefits. While this is the case, I think it is important to recognize the domains and stages of language acquisition and the very small part that cursive writing has to play in overall proficiency.”

But what if science is just one of the reasons we incorporate cursive into the curriculum? There’s no doubt that nostalgia plays a key role as well – it feels like everyone wants to hark back to the “good old days” lately. I was thinking about my own grandmother’s letters and her loopy script – what if my daughters wanted to read them one day? What happens when our children become historians or archivists, or just want to read their great-great-grandmother’s long-lost pot roast recipe?

Jason McCoy, a teacher in the Upper Grand District School Board in Guelph who has been teaching cursive for years, said the curriculum changes could give students who find printing challenging a different way to write, other than typing. “I’m hopeful that the ministry and board will make training a priority, by providing time during the workday or during PA Days to allow us to better understand these changes,” he added.

As a parent to three kids in the public school board, I’ve been thinking about how I can ease them into the school year. Since I’m personally not proficient in cursive writing, I decided to order some cursive-writing workbooks – an elementary-aged workbook, and a more adult-branded one for myself and my eldest. I also downloaded a cursive-writing app on my kids’ iPad – yes, I’m still a tech geek, and with an electronic stylus the kids can practise digitally, too. On rainy days over the summer, they sat around like modern-day Brontë sisters, practising their cursive writing for a few minutes, until they got bored and left me to continue my own practice work alone.

I went from vehemently hating the idea to realizing that cursive writing isn’t all that bad. It takes practice and some determination, but it’s also relaxing. The repetitive nature of working on the same letter until it looks right can be soothing. Is it an essential skill that my kids and I are going to use regularly? I don’t think so, but if it helps my kids to think outside the box, to grow as readers and writers, and taps into a new, creative part of them – then I’m all for it.

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