The importance of handwriting

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There are a lot of things I like about my kids schooling in France —  there are also a lot of things I criticise. Compared to the children of my Anglo-Saxon friends, school seems to be so rigid over here.

One of the things I found unnecessarily strict here is the importance placed on handwriting. Children learn how to write in cursive script and are given bad grades if this is not done well. I never understood, how, in 2014, this made any sense and have been quite vocal about this to the teachers and other parents (who must roll their eyes at yet another foreigner lecturing them about their archaic teaching methods).

But the other day Violette’s teacher (who has been teaching for 34 years) made a very interesting point. Apparently 15 years ago the national curriculum had stopped the emphasis on handwriting, as it was thought that the use of keyboards was going to eliminate the need for writing by hand. They have now completely revised this stance based on a lot of research, as it seems that students taking notes by hand remember and analyse the material they are being lectured on a lot more than people typing notes. If you type notes, you have a tendency to write down the lecture word for word. If you write it down by hand, you are already analysing and interpreting the lecture, which in turn makes it a lot easier to remember it and learn from it. I thought that was so interesting! I found this article about a similar study here.

This is actually the saving grace behind the French education system: there is almost always some kind of theory behind the madness, even if it does not always seem obvious to a bystander!

– Emilie

PS. The above photo is of Coco’s homework, who is in the equivalent of 3rd grade. They are now starting to write with a fountain pen (I did not even know those things still existed!)


Comments (20)

September 25, 2014

This is fascinating! I like to take notes by hand because it feels more immediate to me and there’s more flexibility. As in, I can make a diagram etc. if I need to. I remember we were made use fountain pens too to learn ‘joined-up’ writing in primary school and we thought that was archaic way back then! The teachers said it was something about holding the pen properly…I have no idea if that is true but i developed a consequent love of fountain pens ever since! Funny thing is I can usually tell if someone is French, Italian or Japanese (Roman letters or writing in English!) by looking at their handwriting (I’m Irish) They have a certain way of ‘doing’ their letters/writing. I’m not sure this is true of all nationalities.

September 26, 2014

I agree, I can usually tell an English handwriting from a French handwriting or an American handwriting by the style of writing. Funny how each culture has such a different style…

September 25, 2014

That is unbelievable handwriting, beautiful work… how on earth do they achieve that? Would you like to do a school exchange. I am thinking hand-writing in exchange for some wildlife hiking!!!

Esther in Amsterdam
September 25, 2014

It looks beautiful! And I couldn’t agree more — when I write things down, I remember better. And just holding a pencil helps me to organise my thoughts… x

September 25, 2014

In Germany (Bavaria) it’s the same. We used to be graded in handwriting and had to use a fountain pen. I met since so many people who did not go through this and they either struggle not typing or their handwriting is difficult to read. This is obviously not always the case but most examples came from this group.
I love handwriting also because I do indeed memorise the content a lot better.

September 25, 2014

I love reading posts like this. Thanks for sharing Emilie! I just wrote a post about the school lunches at my son’s school in Barcelona. (p.s such a coincidence that Barcelona is written all over your daughters homework!)

September 26, 2014

Ha, I am actually working on a post about school lunches in France!

September 26, 2014

I can tell how good handwriting has become non important in schools. Adults now have some of the worst handwriting. I love how in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s it was really focused on and you can see how beautiful people would write back then. I’m making it a point to practice good handwriting with my kids at home.

September 26, 2014

I would love to teach cursive (many Montessori schools do) but in NZ we have to go print for primary. Loads of research that it is better, less letter reversals, less b/d confusion, and the fact that pretty much everyone ends up using their own form of cursive anyway.

September 26, 2014

I was just having this conversation with a Mexican mum last night! I love Coco’s handwriting and the look of a fountain pen! Growing up in Latin America, school’s were stringent about neatness. We were marked down for ink splodges and crossing out our mistakes. I still remember the smell of the chemical ink eraser! There is something about the whole process that although today in the digital world it may feel slightly trite. I still think it instills a great foundation and appreciation for order. What’s order if it isn’t a little analysis and interpretation? My cursive handwriting was similar as a kid and it was much admired by my US classmates when we moved but it’s been chaos ever since and I am grateful for that kind of start in life.

September 26, 2014

Really love this post Emilie – so interesting on many levels. Thank you.

September 26, 2014

The same in Portugal… my son is ten and, just like me, he learned cursive handwriting at school – it is the norm here. I know our cousins in Canada, England and in Belgium, who are the same age, learned and write in script, admiring this “foreign” cursive handwriting too 🙂 I remember my son saying, when he was younger, that he felt he was drawing instead of just writing.

September 26, 2014

I agree whole heartedly about the note taking.
The act of writing connects directly with our brains.
Also agree that legible handwriting is very important. Then everyone has their own style upon entering adulthood.

On the other hand, my 5 year old was at the Lycée here in Los Angeles, which is complete French Curriculum. She came home everyday so stressed that she couldn’t write her name perfectly in Cursive. I was saddened that at 5 this is her stress. Not to mention once you sign your name as an adult, you don’t want it to be legible. Studies are also showing that much of what kids are learning today will be outdated just 5/10 years after they graduate since technology is moving so fast. I prefer some thinking out of the box and we didn’t have that with perfecting the correct cursive I

September 26, 2014

They have recently reintroduced cursive writing at my childrens school (South Coast of England) ….my eldest didn’t learn it & is only now in yr3 starting to write in (very wonkily) joined up handwriting. My 2nd child started school last year & was the first year group of the new cursive scheme. Only one year later & she’s joining up her handwriting beautifully. It’s definitely worth the effort in my opinion, but it was a steep learning curve for the parents more than the kids, I’ve never written cursive before & have to really concentrate when helping my daughter!

Emilie in Paris
September 27, 2014

I know what you mean, I had to teach myself cursive writing and it is not that intuitive if you are an adult.

September 28, 2014

As a librarian/archivist in the U.S. I’ll also note the importance of learning cursive and nice handwriting simply to be able to read/analyze historical documents. I’m amazed by how many of our high school student researchers don’t even know how to read cursive handwriting! Writing these days…how I wish some of my college-age interns had nice, legible handwriting. Believe it or not, most look like the handwriting of a kindergartener. I learned cursive starting in 3rd grade and even had one high school teacher who required work to be written in cursive. It’s a skill I’m glad I learned, even though I don’t use it now.

September 29, 2014

This is a fantastic post Emilie really thought provoking thank you so much x

gilly porter
October 3, 2014

I was really inspired by this article and today took my 9 year old son to buy a cartridge pen and cursive handwriting workbook. He was completely absorbed in it all afternoon and when friends joined him for tea, he then showed them and they all spent a couple of hours practicing cursive handwriting – and really enjoying it!! My son’s handwriting has improved significantly in one afternoon – he had almost given up trying to join his letters and now he is finding it so much easier! Thank you so much Emilie!

October 4, 2014

That is great Gilly, I hope he continues enjoying it! xx

December 25, 2014

It’s true! I wish I could find the article as well…It was back in 2008 @Harvard U. when a professor brought up this study as a side note as we were shaking our wrists trying to get out cramps from so much note-taking. When we type, we may not be aware of it (depending on how quickly we can type), but our brains are computing each LETTER vs. the whole concept and word. There are different receptors and activators at work in our brain with typing vs. writing. Lo & behold, the “old school method” is the best. So hurrah to the French method, to cursive, and to good penmanship!

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