In keeping with Montessori practices, children at my school will experience writing before reading. Many children get experience at home reading and learning print handwriting, and if interest lies with reading and writing in print, I would not discourage that. However, when it comes to learning writing, children who are not already writing will be introduced to cursive first.
I believe there are many benefits to starting with cursive first, before print. First, the movements of cursive handwriting more closely imitate the developmental movements of the child. Movements required to create cursive letters closely resemble movements of scribbling which the child does prior to creating symbols that convey meaning. It is more of a struggle for the child to learn cursive writing later in life when the ease of executing these natural movements are lost.
Children have an easier time with writing and reading when the letters of a word are connected together. Cursive style writing allows the child to write continuously without having to pick up the pencil and start again in order to write each letter in a word. In addition, letters that are connected together help children to know where individual words begin and end, and encourage children to begin reading back what has been written.
Cursive writing offers more distinction among letters such as “b”, “d” and “p” so that reversals of letters is much less likely to occur. Spacing and positioning of letters while writing is better understood through cursive writing.
Through songs and other experiences prior to attending school, most children have the alphabet in the memory and say the name of the printed letter rather than its sound. In this way, cursive offers a new system for the child, whereby the symbols are learned according to the sounds they make. Lower case symbols are used exclusively at first, in order to isolate one difficulty at a time. Over time, upper case cursive letters may be introduced. Because print is in the child’s experience in the form of books and many other places in the child’s environment outside of the classroom, children who learn cursive early tend to have little difficulty learning to recognize and write print letters.
Lastly, beautiful cursive handwriting can be an outlet to allow the child to express his or her personality.
Of course children should not be discouraged to write in print, and learn keyboarding skills as well, in order to adapt to modern communication methods. But the developmental benefits should not be overlooked when deciding on a writing curriculum.