Most of us remember the early elementary school days of writing instruction: tracing curves, lines, and circles. Let’s take a look at what cursive writing is, how it came to be, and the different types we see around today.
Cursive Writing Defined
Most people assume cursive writing is a form we only use here in the United States, but really, it is used internationally as well. Handwriting, or penmanship, is a way of writing using the hand and an instrument.
Cursive writing is a form of penmanship that uses a flowing style to make writing faster. Cursive writing is always looped and connected.Much like our own handwriting history, we didn’t start off writing in cursive. So how did we get here? Evolution!
Origins of Cursive Writing
While the history of recorded writing goes back thousands of years, we’ll focus solely on how cursive writing came about. Historians believe the Romans were one of the first to use written forms for corresponding and recording transactions.
, such as sales or stock. In the 600s, writing consisted mostly of upper case letters with some lower case letters mixed in, and it showed the telltale flow and curve of cursive.Following the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of monasteries, where monks dedicated their lives to transcribing Christian texts, we see a rise in the use of cursive writing, though styles varied depending on geographical region. In the late 8th century, an English monk standardized cursive using script from classic Roman characters. This style of writing was named Carolingian Miniscule and was meant to be functional: legible, lower case letters, words separated, and punctuation. Grammar was born!Later in the Middle Ages, the price of paper rose, which resulted in folks trying to get more words on a page.
This denser style of writing had a more Gothic look, which was not popular. As a result, a more elegant type of cursive called italic evolved. At that time, beautiful handwriting was equated with wealth and status so that by the 1700s, penmanship was being taught formally as a craft by master scribes.
Cursive in the Colonies
In the early days of the United States, scribing continued to be a profession. The colonials transcribed official documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S.
Constitution, and other lesser known legal documents and books. Lay people learned a style of cursive equal to their stature; handwriting became a way to mark one’s profession or social status. A bookkeeper named Platt Rogers Spencer created a more uniform system, known as the Spencerian Method. This method was taught using a textbook and used predominately by schools and businesses. The original Coca-Cola logo is written in this style!In the late 1800s, a new style, the Zaner-Bloser method, was developed by Charles Zaner and Elmer Bloser. It dominated the classroom for decades.
In the 1970s, the D’Nealian method emerged. designed to make the transition from printing to cursive more smooth, this style is a popular choice in many of today’s schools.
Cursive in the Classroom
Chances are, if you attended school in America you learned either the Zaner-Bloser or D’Nealian method of cursive. Both use a printing and cursive style, but there are two main differences: slant and shape. D’Nealian printing is written at a slant. Zaner-Bloser printing is written straight up and down.
The Zaner-Bloser style is straight up-and-down in printing but uses a slant in cursive. The D’Nealian style is written at a slight slant in both printing and cursive to make the transition from printing to cursive easier for young students. When teaching printing using D’Nealian, the focus is on writing letters with tails. To transition to cursive, instruction focuses on connecting the tails. In contrast, the Zaner-Bloser method teaches letter writing as two completely different styles in printing and cursive.
Because there are two distinctively different styles, teachers and parents often want to know which one is best for children. The answer is that it depends on the child. Some students find the straight up-and-down method used in the Zaner-Bloser style easier to understand and do not struggle when they have to adopt a new, more slanted cursive style.
Some children may find that learning one style and then having to learn a whole new style is not only difficult in itself but also a challenge when reading. Keep a few things in mind as you consider which style is best:
- First, the printed word in books and texts is a Zaner-Bloser style. Children may struggle with switching between printing in D’Nealian and reading Zaner-Bloser.
- When transitioning between printing and cursive, the D’Nealian method stays mostly the same – though half of the letters change shape slightly – except for connecting the letters.
- The style that works best for you may be the one to teach. Remember, you’ll be the one demonstrating the strokes.
If you learned Zaner-Bloser as a child, you may not be comfortable teaching D’Nealian.
The transition from printing to cursive is an exciting time in a child’s life, often looked at as a step towards being more grown up. No matter which style is chosen, learning to write in cursive is a fun, memorable time for most children.However, recent trends towards technology and increased time on specific content areas, like reading and math, have meant a decline in the instruction and use of cursive in the classroom. In response, National Handwriting Day is celebrated every January 23.
This day, which is also John Hancock’s birthday, is meant to celebrate cursive writing and show its significance in our lives. John Hancock was the man behind the famous signature from the Declaration of Independence.
Cursive writing has been around for centuries. What began as a method of making transcription faster evolved into a status symbol and eventually became a staple in educating young children.Two main styles exist today: the straight printing and slanted cursive, more traditional Zaner-Bloser style and the newer, loopy, and easier to transition to D’Nealian style.
Both styles are currently used in schools across the country. Sadly, however, due to the predominant use of computers as well as the decreased amount of class time dedicated to handwriting instruction, many children are no longer formally taught either style. In response, National Handwriting Day is celebrated every January 23 on John Hancock’s birthday.