It may seem frivolous for schoolteachers to spend time on handwriting these days.
But a study from Florida International University shows a link between penmanship skills in young children and academic achievement later in life.
The research found that preschoolers who were able to copy letters, numbers and shapes were more likely than other children to excel in both reading and mathematics.
Laura Dinehart, an assistant professor at FIU’s College of Education, said her research doesn’t fully explain why the link exists. But she has some theories.
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"It takes a lot to write," Dinehart said. "It takes a certain amount of attention and memory. We think there are some cognitive factors that are important to writing that are also important to other academic skills."
Her work looked at data from 3,000 youngsters in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
For the moment, penmanship is being taught in South Florida schools.
For years, the state Department of Education required handwriting to be part of the curriculum from kindergarten through the fifth grade. Under the Sunshine State Standards, the roadmap for instruction in Florida’s public schools, kindergartners were taught to print letters and write their names. Third-graders learned cursive.
But that is changing.
Over the next three years, Florida will be moving away from its own standards — and adapting a national set of standards known as the Common Core. Those new standards do not include handwriting.
In the meantime, South Florida schools are emphasizing the art of lettering to varying degrees.
Miami-Dade’s public schools still teach handwriting, said Karen Spigler, who oversees the reading and language arts curricula. In the future, Miami-Dade County will encourage teachers to include the skill in their language arts lessons.
"I believe that students should be able to write in cursive," Spigler said, citing studies like the one out of FIU. "They should be able to read cursive handwriting."
It’s the same situation in Broward, schools spokeswoman Marsy Smith said.
Some charter schools, which receive public funding but are managed privately, are also holding out. Charter schools must adhere to state and national standards, but have more flexibility over the curriculum.
At the Charter School of Excellence in Fort Lauderdale, for example, students learn a method of writing known as Zaner-Bloser.
Dinehart believes the skill is worth another look.
"It’s really important for young kids to be exposed to writing as much as possible. Parents and teachers should make sure they have access to writing materials, and that they practice writing their names, letters and numbers."
She doesn’t underplay the importance of typing skills, especially as more children have access to computers and mobile communication devices.
"But," she said, "pressing a letter is not the same as producing a letter."