Spain Sunday: Cursive

Something interesting about Spain that I hadn’t known until I got here was that the children learn to write in cursive before print. This is opposite than the USA where we learned to print our letters until about 4th grade. Then we learned cursive and were told we would use cursive for the rest of our lives. These were adult letters, they said, real adults always write with these! With computers and such we never had to turn in long handwritten papers. So I think we just used cursive in 4th grade and never again. It basically only helped us read our grandparents’ handwriting. I also have a foggy memory of being scolded for writing a worksheet out in cursive in high school. 

In Korea they taught the kids how to at least read cursive in their 7th grade equivalent. The kids wrote an entirely different alphabet (Hangul – Korean) but had to learn the Roman alphabet young. Then 6 years into their English education they’re exposed to cursive – of course no one used it.

So Spain -wow starting kids out with cursive? This is so opposite of what I thought was normal. To us it’s “adult letters” and are basically only used by our grandmothers. Here it’s everyone letters and they’re omnipresent in school. 

From 1st grade when the students are learning to read and write textbooks are in cursive. Here’s an English textbook for 1st graders:

The most important parts (that the students need to read) are in cursive. While the title of the lesson (students don’t care about this) “Story Time” isn’t in cursive.

Most posters are all in cursive – both teacher and student made. The teachers always write in cursive on the board – up to 6th grade.

The “Wednesday” was my co-teacher being lazy – she didn’t even erase the other subject off the board before squishing the date up there.

The cursive looks good. Like really good. It’s because they write in cursive all the time while I only use it to … sign my name? Even then, Chris doesn’t even sign his name he just prints it really really quickly. So he doesn’t even use cursive at all

Part of the reason it looks so good is because it’s only partially in cursive. Here they don’t teach those terrible insane-o uppercase cursive letters where the F is some backwards-disabled J and the G is the same backwards J with more loops and extra garbage flair thrown in. Uppercase cursive letters look like a drunken mistake. Spain just removes that garbage and uses block letters. So students can write in all block letters if they want to print or they can write in cursive.

Does it look good? Can you read a small child’s cursive? Amazingly, yes.

Not impressed? That was an 8 year old boy’s handwriting. Who barely stopped making big fart noises to write it down.

Why cursive?

My co-teacher explained that in 1st grade they’re allowed to string it together as poorly as they want since the focus isn’t (initially) legibility so much as getting used to holding a pencil and doing the whole writing-thing.

It’s more flowing and more like drawing. It’s a natural progression of letters rather than picking up the pencil each time. When you pick a pencil up you shift it a little, cursive maintains the same grip. Handwriting looks a little better and it’s a little easier on little hands. 

It’s better for the brain. Cursive activates a different part of the brain than printed letters do. According to the New York Times, “Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing.”

Better spelling. According to the International Dyslexia Foundation, “When writing cursive, the word becomes a unit, rather than a series of separate strokes, and correct spelling is more likely to be retained.” I can believe this – I very rarely see misspelled words on my kid’s posters and presentations.

No more backwards letters? Heck yes. None of my kids have ever written a letter backwards. You couldn’t do it. B and D (both upper case and lower case) look nothing at all like each other. This is a great way to learn your alphabet – and it’s very dyslexic friendly. 

So cursive uses different muscles than printed letters but by using both cursive and printed letters they’re activating all the muscles (and parts of the brain).

The kids are given a lot of leeway. If it doesn’t look like anything better than a scribble done by a 5 year old (face it, that’s what it is) the teacher will actually transcribe what they wrote so parents who look at it later can understand it. This is done to allow them to come into writing at their own pace. It was drilled all through preschool here (“infantil”) and now in big kids school they’re going to have to write like big kids, but, you know, take your time. I’ve never seen any kid scolded for bad handwriting like any American kid was growing up. 

Is it different?

The cursive in Spain is a little different than the cursive I grew up with (and I struggle immensely to remember). As I mentioned, no uppercase letters. If my brain is going to write in cursive then it will use those blasted uppercase cursive letters. I have absolutely no idea how to connect a printed letter to a cursive one correctly so I do it the American way. And it’s so bad the teacher who literally just re-writes things for 1st graders all day said “what is that? An F??!”

Also weirdly they don’t close their lower case Ps. It’s just an open bump on the road with a tail.

Also I can’t remember how we used to do lower case Fs but I think they’re a backwards bottom loop than we used. The way I was taught to do an N vs an M was a 3 bump for N and a whopping 4 bumps for M but here it’s just an N and an M. It’s simple.

8 months in, on my last week of school – my cursive is just starting to become good. I always struggle to write on chalkboards/whiteboards as a lefty but lately I’ve stepped back and thought – wow, that looks pretty good.

Common Core standards in the USA have finally killed off cursive although New Jersey wants to make it required so students can read historical documents (Declaration of Independence – ha! That’s not even the original) Also people are pretty worried about kids being able to sign their names if they can’t even write in cursive.  But, you know, online signatures are widely accepted and when was the last time any employee actually compared signatures?

Cursive arguments go both ways in the United States and some people feel extremely passionate about it one way or another. Here, though, it’s just how it is and it doesn’t have to be a political issue. It probably really is better for kids – their brains, their hands, their spelling, their reading. But they’re lucky because that’s how they’ve always done it – they don’t have to decide to shorten art or stop cursive to make way for more test prep.

4 thoughts on “Spain Sunday: Cursive

  1. Wow Kaeti, this is really interesting! I can’t imagine not using cursive on practically a daily basis, not just to sign my name (upper case too)! As you said, us “grandparents” might have been the last generation to do this. But, now I have my grandchildren (2 – 1st graders) reading and writing in cursive and it’s amazing how well they do. Of course, printing comes first here as you said. It really never dawned on me with computers and all, that they may never really have to use cursive in the future . . . life is changing too fast for me, I liked the “old way”, LOL! We’re really enjoying all your posts and wish you guys the best on your new location! Can’t wait to see some of those posts. You really got to do and see a lot on the Spain mainland and the memories you are making are priceless! Love to you both, Liz


    1. Neither of us ever handed in a handwritten paper once we got to college. It was all typed. Times are a changin’!
      We are glad you are enjoying our stuff! We got a few more months in this location yet, plenty of good hikes to take and villages to visit!
      Love to you both as well!


  2. In my opinion, cursive is a necessary skill. As an amateur radio operator who has handled a great deal of emergency radio traffic through Army MARS, it’s impossible for me to keep up if I try to print while copying Morse code.

    Cursive requires no external power source, yet yields instant hard copy.

    I think this article is very useful. Thanks.


  3. I love this article as well. Very interesting….graph paper!? Who knew! I am going to send this to my teacher friends, I know they will find it interesting too.


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