The Cursive Conundrum

In Beth Woods, Kiddos by Lola Magazine

Last week, I had the pleasurable and amusing good fortune to overhear and watch a teenager and his mom discuss the importance of writing thank-you notes. I say pleasurable and amusing because just being a bystander brought back such a flood of memories for me. It reminded me of my struggles not so long ago. I, too, had the same unpleasant battle with my teenage son. “You have to write them by Friday, or you will not be going to prom! No thank-you notes – No car – No date!” “Awghhh, Mom, no one cares about a thank-you note anymore. You’re so old, everyone just sends emails in this century. Stop living in the past.”“That’s not true, when someone gives you a gift, the least you can do is to say thank you. Stop being lazy and just get it done,” said a frustrated mom.“Come on MOM, it’s just such a pain. Handwritten notes, really? What time does the pony express stop by to pick them up?” How about a nice personal text? James’ mom let him write texts to everyone he got stuff from, and they all loved it.”

They say patience is a virtue, and this mom had plenty. She steadfastly explained, “We will not send a text, we will write and mail a thank-you note to everyone who sends a graduation gift. If you don’t write the notes by Friday, you will not have a car. Your aunt won’t understand why you don’t care enough to mail her a simple thank-you note. Just please, get it done.”

I got tickled listening to the excuses, sheer panic, and banter. I remember well my own son having the same dread and excuses. It got me to thinking. Why do so many people have so much fear of writing a simple handwritten note? It is true, that today, most communication is instant. We type out an email or text, hit send, and often have a response in minutes. What gives? There may be a couple of important things to consider. Handwritten notes and letters are important because they are so unique today. They hearken back to a simpler time when people communicated through the mail. Love letters during military service are a sacred and treasured item in many families. My own family carefully preserves letters written to my sons long before they could read, written by my grandfather, a prolific letter writer. He passed away before they had the chance to really know him and we all love reading and rereading his letters to them. I’m not so sure we would find an email as entertaining.

Examining the cursive handwriting style provides a glimpse into the soul. It tells us so much more about the writer than the mere words. Putting pen to paper is an expression of who we really are. Personalities are exposed. Is it perfection with every letter formed like a grandmother would? Is it all flowery and flowy, swirls and big swooping y’s and g’s, maybe even i’s dotted with little hearts? It must be my teenage niece. What about the hurried scratching of someone with lots of ideas? Mistakes, corrections in the margins? We can almost picture what was happening.

The point is, handwritten notes can be more than just a simple passing of information between two people. Studies show that we are more creative and utilize the creative side of our brain much more fully when we hand write something instead of type it. The hand-eye coordination and the fine motor skills employed force us to slow down and make our words more expressive. Our vocabulary expands and we are more thoughtful in sentence structure and composition.

Our schools have gotten away from focusing on handwriting. Schools used to teach us handwriting in first grade and introduce cursive writing skills in about the third grade. By the fifth grade, we were all writing our “essays” on a Big Chief tablet with a No. 2 yellow pencil in carefully crafted cursive because our teacher was grading the handwriting just as much as the content of our story.

Today, the focus on learning cursive writing is almost gone, replaced with keyboarding skills and technology. Educational leaders argue that with limited school days and so many things to focus on, handwriting is getting pushed to the back burner. I agree. The common core standards don’t require cursive writing skills, and our overworked teachers simply don’t have time to focus on the softer and less-tested areas. Many teachers I have talked with sadly admit they don’t have time to teach things like cursive writing and manners.

Both skills are quickly becoming extinct in our fast-paced society and we are all the worse for it. But, that doesn’t mean these skills are no longer relevant. Just consider, how many of us have saved an email or text from someone special? The pony express is coming by soon. Will you be ready?

Home Academy, a local tutoring and test prep company, is offering a cursive writing class this summer for everyone who wants to improve their penmanship. Practicing and improving handwriting to unlock creative thinking is such a valuable skill when you are faced with the dreaded “thank-you note curse.” To assist all of us “last century” moms, we are also offering scheduled times and dates when we will provide qualified tutors to assist our graduating seniors with writing thank-you notes.

If you are already a customer of At Home Academy, this is a free service to say “thank you” to our friends. If you are not a customer, please call or visit us to learn how we can help you through these and many other difficult times. Email or call athomeacad@gmail.com or 318-465-6475 for details.