Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cursive - Plan B

"Oh no! I started with print! It's all lost."
"My child started using print on his own. Now what do I do?"
"My child is 10 years old. Is it too late?"

I like to say: It's never too late! :D Anybody who thinks "it's all lost because I started Montessori/cursive/whatever too late" is very likely a perfectionist and might consider doing some soul searching. ;)

If your child has started with print for whatever reason, you may not be able to have them switch to cursive for their day-to-day writing, but that doesn't mean they can't benefit from cursive. Let me share some examples from my own life that might encourage you in your own Plan B.

My daughter started writing letters at age 3, before I knew anything about Montessori. It was too late, obviously, to start with cursive. When I first learned about Montessori a year later, I promptly made sandpaper letters with Elizabeth Hainstock's print template. Again, more print. When I started learning about cursive and how Montessori ought to always have cursive and all of the benefits, I decided that cursive was a non-negotiable item. I made cursive sandpaper letters and word cards and not sure what else, and we played games with them. Over the years, I also made worksheets and dd chose a cursive workbook (A Beka--which, btw, offers cursive starting in Pre-K) and so on. Basically, while I made cursive a requirement, I provided different opportunities to choose from for the practice.

My daughter is now 12 and when she writes, unless she has an aesthetic reason for using cursive, she will write in print. But let me say this:

1) Her cursive is better than her printing. Part of it is that she's more attentive to the cursive since it's not completely second nature. The other part of it is attentiveness because she does want it to look nice when she uses it. She complains that it takes longer than printing, but when brought to the fact it looks nicer, she's satisfied. But has no desire to switch to using it all the time. ;)

2) She can write and read in cursive. Which is good, because I pretty much only write in cursive. She has to be able to read it! (Her grandparents also write in cursive in her birthday cards--another reason to be able to read it!)

3) She may never switch completely to cursive, and that's okay. Yes, my heart would love for her to use cursive as her modus operandi, but she can write in beautiful cursive, can read cursive, does use cursive for certain purposes, so I have nothing I can justifyingly (sure, it's a word) complain about.

How did I do this?

She was under 6 still when I learned about cursive first. It is still a very, very good age to learn cursive. It was quite easy and making games out of learning the letters went a long way. What kinds of games? Matching games with the print sandpaper letters, "hiding" letters in various places and playing I Spy, practising a couple of letters and then writing on my back and seeing if I could figure out what she did (and vice versa--I'd write on her back), things like that. I did not insist that she write what she wanted to in cursive, the way we were forced to in school, so she stayed with what was easier for her.

My son is another example. He's 9 and not much of a writer at all yet. Technically, he's "too old" for cursive to become a permanent switch (up to age 8 seems to work; after that, much harder), but since he has spent very little time printing--his printing looks like someone much younger--I just don't know.  Also, while he hasn't used cursive much, he was presented it when much younger and still had some practice with it now and then, so the roots are there, just not enough practice. Actually, I've only ever presented cursive to him; he's done the print on his own. And yes, his cursive is better than his printing! Now that things are settling around here at home, I have already begun doing what I did with my 12yo (and am doing again with my 12yo): providing different means of practising cursive, but making working on it a non-negotiable. Yes, Maria Montessori might be unhappy with me. I'm okay with that. I have, I will add, also printed off things for my own practice and have been just using blank sheets to work on cursive, telling the kids my handwriting has gone downhill (which it has) and I want to improve it. My son seems to think it's neat that I'm doing that and that we can work on cursive together side-by-side. I think it also gives the message that cursive isn't just work for kids!

How about an older example? Bob started with me when he was 9. Had horrible printing. Had never been shown cursive. I think around the time he turned 10, he actually asked about cursive and I started him on it, knowing full well that the chances were that he would never, ever switch. Know what? He learned it fairly well and his printing improved in the short time he was interested in working on it. Hmm... So yes, cursive has benefits for the older child, too! His handwriting has gone downhill a bit and he has decided he definitely wants to work on improving his printing. I told him the best way was to go back to trying cursive again, because his brain would treat it as something "new" and would be more attentive, and the habits learned from the cursive would switch over to his printing. So, today, he started on cursive. :) Would he ever switch to just cursive? Probably not. He's 15 now and only looking now to possibly actually master cursive. But that's not the point. He will be doing something very valuable, requiring attentiveness, attention to detail, which will transfer to his printing, and in the process, he will be learning to read cursive, which is also an important skill.

I have now decided to work concertedly on my 5yo niece with this. Although I only ever really showed her the cursive sandpaper letters, she writes in print. Not sure if that's what she does at home with her parents or what. She can trace most of the letters well and knows almost all of them by sound and name, but can't seem to make the connection yet between following the same movements on paper or on a chalkboard. So, I'm going to start playing some games, like air writing--you trace the letter without actually touching it, then you try to trace it in the air without the letter right there. You start with easy letters, like l and e and n. She has begun reading every so slightly and so, for a pack of alphabet cards I have (image on one side, French word on the back--in print, of course), I wrote up a few cursive cards to match yesterday. Today, she asked if we could do like yesterday, where I wrote the cursive on a card and she could put it on the card. :) We did quite a bit today, 3 cards at a time, and now there are fewer cursive cards to make. lol. (I just used blank business cards, if you're wondering what kind of card I used.)

She will be in the regular school system in the fall, where I'm not sure if they really spend any time on cursive, (and they certainly don't in Kindergarten). Haven't seen any evidence of it in my nephew, who is in grade 4. So, it might fall away for her. But she'll at least have had what little I could give her and I've told her she'll probably be the only one who will already know what cursive letters are and she is so lucky.

Although, since she'll be coming here after school, maybe it won't fall away too much--I'll be the only place offering her the "pretty" letters. ;)


My Boys' Teacher said...


I think an important part of this question is, "are there times in the standard Montessori sequence that are good for making the switch and times that are bad?" For example, my son is mid-pink series. I think it would be cruel at this point to start switching things to cursive. I feel like I should let him learn to read first.

I wonder if their will be a point in the future where I can try to transition somewhat logically. I am toying with the idea of starting him on cursive sandpaper letters now and hope that he starts to use those for his writing.

I don't expect you to actually have the answers to that question :) I know you are self-trained as well, but I would like to get it out their for discussions sake.

Great series!

D. said...

Remember: Our young children absorb EVERYTHING. *We* think things are too complicated because our adult brains work differently, but they just take it all in. I have heard people say they were holding off teaching their young children a second language because they thought it's "too much" for a young child. Young children don't care. They don't think about it. They just absorb and do it. :)

You could always just make more and more cursive gradually available in the environment and see if he shows any interest and take it from there. If you were to impose an actual switch, that might be too much, I agree. But if you just make it a part of the environment, add it in gradually, there'd be nothing cruel about it. :)

Wait a second--were you thinking of making the reading series in cursive? I don't think you need to do that. It can be a step-by-step thing to have more and more cursive in the environment. A sudden switch would be cruel. :)

The girl who painted trees said...

I found your blog via My Boys' Teacher. I have found the last three posts very interesting. My 31 month old just started reading print (decoding CVC words is a better way to put it) and I never thought to introduce her to cursive, mainly because all our books are in print. To me it makes more sense to learn to read in print but learn to write in cursive. I definitely agree with your comment that they just absorb things quite easily for the most part. Your posts have made me decide to play games with Bear to match cursive letters to print letters and since she knows all her letters but hasn't been keen on tracing them, I think I will make a new batch of sandpaper letters in cursive. However, I will continue to teach her reading in print and as she gets comfortable reading and learns her cursive letters, introduce more cursive print around the environment. Thanks for the posts.