Will Cursive Writing be a Lost Skill of the 21st Century? Memories of those hours of practice

When many of us older folk went to school, we began to learn cursive writing in Grade 3. Every day we learned a newly written letter of the alphabet and then we practiced combinations of letters to improve this skill. The teacher wrote many assignments on the blackboard and we knew how to read cursive writing and copy our notes into our scribblers. The local fairs had printing and writing competitions for the best handwriting of a poem.

Those who attended teacher’s college in the 1950s were expected to complete assignments in large printing, small printing and in cursive writing for our English master. We had to obtain 5/5 for three weeks in a row or continue to practice until our instructor was satisfied.

The sentence that was used was:

“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” See sample

I never received more than 4/5 for my cursive writing as my instructor did not like the way I wrote – “br”.

This sentence contains all the letters of the alphabet and for cursive writing it contains some of the more difficult joining combinations such as “qu”, “br”, “ox” , “ov” and “zy”.

As a teacher, I had to learn to write on the blackboard and make sure our lines of writing were straight across the board. We often spent many hours lining all our blackboards with straight lines done with white pencil crayons.

A scientific study reported in “Frontiers in Psychology (Dec. 2020) looked at brain scans of young adults and 12-year-olds and found that cursive writing and drawing used brain areas that ”provide the brain with optimal conditions for learning”. This was not found when the subjects were typing. Other research studies have shown that cursive writing stimulates the brain. It encourages left to right movement, helps build neural pathways and increases mental effectiveness. This skill development aids the left to right progression needed for reading and fine motor skills. These are all important skills for children to learn. (New American Cursive, Iris Hatfield, 2007-2011, Memoria Press)

I taught my grandchildren to do cursive writing. When the company that my granddaughter was working for discovered her beautiful cursive writing, they paid her to sign and address over 300 Christmas cards. Both grandchildren have the ability to read old documents in cursive writing.

We have copies of several letters that were exchanged between John Gemmill (1774 – 1847) and Ann Weir (1781-1848) who settled on Lot 13, Concession 8, Lanark Township, Lanark County. These letters are dated from 1822 to 1832.

Here’s a sample of a letter John sent to his wife, who was still in Scotland, giving her instructions as to what to bring and telling her to get signed up with an immigration society.

Our family also has several original letters written to James S. Paterson (1793-1866) and his wife Mary Dumbreck Morrison (1794 – 1879) who emigrated from Scotland to Ramsay Township, Lanark County in 1821. Some of the letters were sent from Scotland and others originated from other places in Canada.

Note: Copies of these Gemmill letters and their transcriptions have been donated to the Middleville Museum. Copies of the Paterson letters and their transcriptions will soon be donated to the North Lanark Museum.

Will individuals of the next generation be able to transcript these old documents or will they have to hire someone else to do this work?

:: submitted by Frances Cooper

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