366 | Why Penmanship Matters (Janice Campbell)
In this brief episode you'll learn why penmanship, including cursive, is important for learning, and you'll get practical tips for helping your children master this useful art.
Janice Campbell, a lifelong reader and writer, loves to introduce students to great books and beautiful writing. She holds an English degree from Mary Baldwin College, and is the graduated homeschool mom of four sons. You’ll find more about reading, writing, planning, and education from a Charlotte Mason/Classical perspective at her websites, EverydayEducation.com, Excellence-in-Literature.com, and DoingWhatMatters.com.
Penmanship Matters, an article and video with links to many studies on the benefits of handwriting
Writing to Learn by William Zinsser
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Janice Campbell Hello and welcome to The Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Janice Campbell and I'm one of the many hosts here on the podcast. Each week we bring you an encouraging conversation from this busy and blessed journey of educating our children at home. While the title of the show is Homeschool Solutions, we don't pretend to have all the answers to all the homeschooling questions. It is our hope that this podcast will point you to Jesus Christ that you may seek his counsel as you train your children in the way they should go. Parents, here's a riddle for you: Homeschoolers love them, enemies of freedom hate them. What are they? It's the Tuttle Twin books. With millions of copies sold, the Tuttle Twins series helps you teach your children about entrepreneurship, personal responsibility, the Golden Rule, and so much more. Get a discounted set of books with free workbooks today at TuttleTwins.com/homeschool. And now on today's show.
Hi, I'm Janice Campbell. In our last episode, I talked about using learning journals in your homeschool. One of the skills that's used in those learning journals is penmanship. So in today's podcast, I'm going to be talking about the art of handwriting, especially about cursive and why it can be especially helpful for learning. I hope you enjoy this episode. Most of us probably learned both print and cursive penmanship in elementary school, and many of us still use it daily. There's been a lot of debate in recent years about whether kids still need to become confident in penmanship, and a lot of schools have quit teaching cursive at all. However, there are many reasons why it's a good idea to help your children master the mechanics of both print and cursive writing.
One simple reason is that when your student masters the mechanics of penmanship and can write fluently and easily, it takes down a barrier. It can make working on other subjects simpler and less stressful. But why else should your students learn cursive? One of my favorite books, Writing to Learn by William Zinser. The author compellingly demonstrates that writing about a subject is one of the best ways to understand it. He quotes one interesting study. Dr. William Clem, a neuroscientist, writes that brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding. That means more brain cells are active when you write with a pen or pencil by hand than when you type. Now, this wouldn't be news to Petrarch, who was a 14th century scholar. He devoted his life to discovering and copying great works of Latin literature by the Greek orators, Cicero and others. In one rather amusing letter to a friend, Petrarch apologizes for keeping a borrowed book for two years, explaining that he'd copied the whole book by hand because copying helped him remember and even memorize important things. He explained that when he slowed down to copy, rather than just read whatever it was, the writing had a chance to make a deep impression and cling to the mind. Petrarch wanted to learn to be a great writer, a great speaker like Cicero, and he chose this simple method of doing so. So Dr. Klemm explains that this way, he says, cursive writing helps train the brain to integrate visual and tactile information and fine motor dexterity. In addition, he cites a study in which the researchers found that when second, fourth and sixth grade children wrote by hand, they wrote more words, they wrote them faster, and they expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.
It seems clear that writing by hand, especially in cursive, helps children think. One other reason for helping children master a clear and legible style of penmanship is that just as wind and water shape and transform nature, physical activities can help to shape and transform the brain. I've spent a lifetime reading and copying and meditating on Scripture, literature and poetry, and writing thoughtfully by hand has helped me remember ideas and to appreciate the beautiful ways of expressing them. The things that I've copied or written by hand remain in memory so that I've been more easily able to connect ideas and see patterns. And this has helped me in my professional life, in my academic life, and so forth. And I think it's one of the principles that holds true for almost any student who learns to write and copy and do all of those things. One other thing is that I find that I think more creatively when I write by hand rather than by keyboard. So whenever I need to compose something, whether it's a talk, a book, or just an essay or report or column for a magazine, I tend to create a rough draft in pen and then edit it as I type it into the computer. Makes everything flow so much more easily. So penmanship can be practiced all through the school day in history and science and all of those things. But it helps to have at least a brief time dedicated to learning to write more legibly and beautifully. Even 5 minutes a day can be a simple and good practice.
Handwriting practice can exercise a student's body, mind and spirit. And so it can be helpful to create a calm and quiet atmosphere for a penmanship lesson. If you happen to have your handwriting practice after a particularly active or noisy part of the school day, it can be helpful to signal a change of mood by softly playing classical music, the kind that comes with nature sounds is even very nice. But if you do this, just be sure and choose selections that aren't jerky or jumpy and things that have no words and no particular singable type of tune because those things can become distractions. Just a nice instrumental selection. Perhaps Bach or Brahms would be a good backdrop for practicing handwriting. So to begin a practice session, you can have the child sit upright with their forearm supported on a desk or table and feet flat on the floor. I know that this is such a school-ish sounding thing to do, Very, very traditional way of practicing. But there are important reasons for each part of the penmanship learning process. Sitting upright with the supported forearm, the feet flat on the floor gives you balance while you're at the desk. It prevents unnecessary tension and tiredness within the muscles and tension on the shoulders. And it really does make a difference in the quality of your handwriting. Even my handwriting, after many years of practice, looks better when I sit at a table properly supported in good posture than it does when I sit in my chair and write with a pen on it in a notebook held on my lap. So it does make a difference when they're learning to practice the correct posture.
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Show the children how to hold a pen in a relaxed tripod grip, because that is one of the grips that can keep a child's hand from becoming extraordinarily tired. Because hands do get tired and a tripod grip is simply holding the pencil or pen between the thumb and the first joint of the middle finger, with your index finger resting on the top of a pen. There's a link in the show notes to an illustration of this type of hold. It's the classic hold that children are usually taught first, and it keeps them from holding the pen as if it's some kind of a blunt instrument. You're holding it in a way that is closer to the way you would hold it a fork or spoon, but not exactly the same. But it helps to keep the control of the pen without squeezing it to death.
In the earliest days of practice, there's some children who might need to be reminded to breathe as they're writing because some of them tend to hold their breath as they're trying to form beautiful letters, and eventually that gets to being, you know, distracting from the activity of writing. They end up gasping for breath and losing concentration and that sort of thing. So as the body settles into writing, then their mind can engage with the text absorbing and meditating as words take shape on the page. That's what you want to end up with, but at first there's going to be more of a focus on just forming letters. And it's a matter of time, but short practice sessions each day can really help with making writing easy and automatic. So if you don't have legible handwriting, you might want to delegate penmanship lessons to someone who does, unless you'd also like to write more beautifully. I used to teach calligraphy to adults at our local community college, and I realized how much easier it is to learn basic penmanship skills when you're young. But if you haven't learned them and you don't know correct pen hold or posture or anything like that, it can be really difficult to follow the correct order of strokes and calligraphy to make beautiful letters. And even worse, an awkward or too tight pen grip or poor posture can make writing physically painful. So even for adults or for children, this is distracting and in the long run can be quite harmful. So if you have a child who complains that it hurts to write or if it you find yourself very tight and sore after writing, you know, for a while, it might be time to just review those basic penmanship, posture and pen grip and skills like that. Because honestly, writing is well worth doing and it's a skill that can be mastered. It's an art form, really, that can be mastered by just about anyone.
So if you'd like to try teaching cursive to your children, I recommend starting with a good cursive curriculum such as Cursive Logic, which you can find at CursiveLogic.com...I'll put a link in the show notes as well...because this program teaches the traditional and beautiful cursive in a way that can help children learn. Because when I used to teach calligraphy, we taught in letter families, shape families, so it made learning each set of letters more easily. And cursive logic does that with cursive, teaches by shape families. And it makes a lot of difference in how easy it is for a child to learn and retain, you know, beautiful penmanship. So the key is keeping lessons short. And if you're working to change bad habits, don't be discouraged because it's harder to change a bad habit than it is to learn a good habit from the beginning. You can start cursive as early as age six and you can start it before learning to print or after.
Back when my parents and grandparents were young, cursive was actually the only type of penmanship that was taught, and kids learn to do it very well. And I remember my grandfather, both of my grandfathers, actually had beautiful cursive handwriting, and were very pleased when they received compliments on it. And I find that at homeschool conferences as well, older customers will very often be happy to see cursive curriculums and be...like to show me their writing. Some of them have amazing penmanship. So there's no real reason not to learn cursive, not to learn to write well. But you know what? Once the basics are learned through a cursive curriculum or just through copy work, your child can use cursive for copy work and other assignments and learning journals. It takes time for it to feel easy and natural, but that comes. But from then on, writing by hand and all of its benefits will be a skill that your children use for life. Good penmanship is a gift you can give to your children, and it's also a gift that keeps on giving.
Thank you for joining us this week on The Homeschool Solutions Show. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at Homeschooling.mom. Don't forget to check out my friends at Medi-Share because you deserve health care you can trust. To learn more about Medi-Share and why over 400,000 Christians have made the switch, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast and while you're there, leave us a review. Tell us what you love about the show. This will help other homeschooling parents like you get connected to our community. And finally, tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom to let us know what you thought of today's episode. Have you joined us at one of The Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling events of the year, offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops covering today's top parenting and homeschooling topics, and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit halls in the US. Find out more at GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. I hope to see you there. Finally you can connect with me, Janice Campbell, at EverydayEducation.com where you'll find my Excellence in Literature curriculum, transcripts made easy and more, as well as at my blog DoingWhatMatters.com and my literature resource site Excellence-In-Literature.com. I wish you peace and joy in your homeschooling.