These days, the only reason why most people would pick up a pen to write something by hand is to leave a signature. People do not use handwriting for personal or business reasons – whether it is to keep a diary, write a note to a friend or maintain official correspondence, today we have faster, easier and more convenient means of doing it than writing everything with a pen. Some school boards even consider removing the study of cursive letters from the curriculum altogether – after all, the time freed up this way can be put to better use teaching other skills, more applicable in today’s world.
If you share these views, we are sorry to burst your bubble, but recent studies in neuroscience indicate that there are many good reasons to invest into studying the cursive alphabet and make using it an integral part of your life. As it turns out, calligraphy is not just a fancy anachronism. Writing in cursive letters provides one of the best training regimens for improving overall fine motor skills and manual dexterity. When you write something down by hand, you have to process it on a deeper level than when you simply type it out, which improves the recall of this information (it is a good reason to write down your lectures by hand instead of using your laptop). Some studies even suggest that writing in fancy cursive letters leads to physical development and growth of certain areas of the brain. In other words, while typing may be far more convenient, using cursive script in your everyday life can have some far-going positive consequences.
First of all, you should get it into your head that using cursive does not mean simply writing the usual block letters and connecting them with lines. Do not decide that you know how a letter is supposed to look in cursive if you never saw it; and anyway, you should consult the practice sheets for a while after you get started. Many letters of the cursive alphabet, both lowercase and uppercase, look quite different from the block letters you are used to. Therefore, start your learning with downloading a few practice sheets and trying to imitate what you see in them. Later on, you will be able to practice using any piece of lined paper, but in the beginning, it is better to have the examples in front of your eyes so that you do not learn any bad writing habits.
When you learn the alphabet in cursive, start with lowercase or small letters. You are going to use them far more than the uppercase cursive, and they will give you an idea of how the cursive works in general.
The best approach to study cursive is to start with the lowercase letters that begin with an upward stroke, as the hand is naturally more inclined to use it. These are b, f, h, I, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, u, w, x and y. There is no universal instruction that would make writing these (or any other) letters significantly easier. Simply look at your practice sheet, carefully memorize all the necessary movements and try to repeat them. Do not think that you have mastered it once you filled in one practice sheet – memory just does not work this way. Space repetitions out and practice every day. Eventually you will find it possible to write without the examples in front of you, and using cursive will become as natural as breathing.
Studying cursive capital letters does not require any special skills you do not already have. The only problem with them is that you will have to consciously set aside time to practice them long after you have mastered the lowercase letters, as they, naturally, are used far less often. Pay special attention to the capital letters like Z, G and Q: they are not used very often and are written in a pretty unexpected manner. If you do not practice them regularly, you will keep forgetting how to write them.
Some strokes in uppercase letters may be hard to grasp at a glance, so start with simpler ones. An optimal beginning is L, as it has a structure similar to more complex letters like C, E, G and O. Once you master L, these letters will come easier to you.
Once you have these letters covered, we suggest that you move on to R – it is still similar to them, but will probably take some getting used to as, unlike them, it is written in two strokes rather than one. Putting your pencil back to the letter in a way that makes it look like it is written in a single unbroken line may take some practice, but with some patience, you will get there.
While learning how to write individual cursive letters may not be particularly difficult, what really stumps many students is the connections between them. It is extremely hard to make the flowing manner in which good cursive is written natural for your manner of writing. If you never used anything but block letters, you will constantly be tempted to break the line and start a new stroke for each new letter, thus defeating the very purpose of the cursive.
Start with downloading some practice sheets focusing on sentence writing. This will help you learn the most widespread connections between the letters and recall them later, when you write on your own. Of course, it is impossible to memorize all the ways in which letters are supposed to connect to each other, but with a bit of practice you will be able to assume the correct approach and proceed further naturally.
However, learning how to write individual cursive letters and even words will not do you much good as long as you do not use your newfound skills. Unfortunately, contemporary life does not offer many opportunities to practice handwriting skills in the course of your duties. Well, if you want to reap all the benefits associated with this skill, cognitive and others, you will have to create these opportunities on your own.
Make it a rule to practice every single day: either for a set period or by writing a set number of words. Make handwriting a fun and engaging activity by associating it with something interesting and unusual for you: for example, buy a beautiful journal it will be pleasant to write in and keep a diary. Send handwritten letters to your friends or family members – while this practice may seem archaic in our day of instant messaging, the very rarity of such letters will make your every piece of mail a special item, worthy of much more attention than a usual soulless email or voice mail.
When all is said and done, writing by hand when your penmanship is beautiful is just plain pleasant and fun. Looking at the results of your work make you feel as if you accomplished something, gives your work a substance that is absent with electronic or printed text.
Of course, today practical applications of handwriting are limited – in the rare situations when a modern person finds him/herself without a computer, smartphone or tablet, it is usually enough to be able to write in block letters. However, handwriting is one of those skills that overflow to other areas of human endeavors. Not only does it improve your fine motor skills. There is little doubt that it helps create new neural connections, developing the areas of the brain that remain largely dormant otherwise. There is some evidence suggesting that handwriting practice can help combat and postpone the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, while writing words by hand may seem like a waste of time right now, it is likely to be a solid investment into your future, health and wellbeing. And even now, students who habitually make their notes by hand report better recall and understanding of the material they write down than those who type it or simply listen to the recordings of lectures. Therefore, you will spend less time memorizing the material because your brain already processed it on more levels than most other students.
It is up to you to decide whether it is worth the effort – but there are certainly worse ways to spend your time than dedicating it to mastering this fascinating skill.