Blessed Distractions

I grew up in the era when schools were experimenting with open classrooms–or rooms without walls. My parents were appalled as they visited the new building and found bookshelves as dividers and mats in place of auditorium chairs. A third-grade student at the time, I just loved the ‘newness.’ A ‘nerd’ from childhood, I guess, I was just excited to be surrounded with things to learn! Maps, books, globes–I can still see it in my mind. Distraction was not an issue because learning fascinated me. For the most part, my attention was not disrupted because the opportunity in front of me already captivated me.

More than that, I think the presence of distractions proved to be a tool for building my focus. While teachers could be heard in adjacent ‘rooms,’ my focus had to be trained on the teacher in my area. I can not be certain of the reason, but I forty years later, my ability to focus despite distractions remains. My family has been frustrated more than once while I worked on a writing and tuned everything out around me. It is a blessing hard to describe.

So, why do I share all this–as if it has bearing on our homeschool classrooms. Because I believe it does. We teach in the midst of life. Dogs bark, doorbells ring and family needs flow in and out of our lesson plans. What a blessing for our children! Although we must impress upon our children (and often our extended families and friends) the priority of education, we do not need to stress over teaching amidst distractions. Life is rich in learning; home education embraces that learning along with the books. Take joy in the unexpected lessons being learned!

-BJ

Cursive Handwriting: To Teach or Not to Teach

Thankfully, the issue of teaching cursive (or not) never even occurred to me when our children reached that ‘age’ of cursive learning.  Third grade.  Do you remember it?  I was excited to learn how to make that beautiful looping scrawl the grown-ups used.  My grandmother taught me how to run the fox through the hole to prepared to write.  (It looked a whole lot like scribbles but practicing was great fun!)  I took great delight in creating beautiful pages of writing.  The majority of public schools now are making the determination that cursive writing is an archaic, outmoded task that need not be taught.  I understand their point, I guess.  In truth, our children know how to write in cursive but rarely do.  I, too, have some morphed version of print-cursive that is all my own.  Yet, if I had to do it all over, I would still teach it.

In this world of electronic communication, emails and texts, written communication is becoming a lost art.  Receiving a card in the mail or a hand-written note approaches ‘real gift’ status these days.   The beauty of cursive writing is slightly less elegant than calligraphy but far more attractive than a typewritten note.  Texting barely deserves mention as communication, so we will not even compare those two!  Even in a world of computers, signatures are still expected to be in cursive writing, are they not?  Handwriting is personal; it reveals the personality and touches hearts when received.

Even more practically, there are other reasons to learn cursive writing.  Being able to read the writing of the past is definitely one reason.  I treasure the recipes that have been handed down to me.  I love to use the cards my mother, grandmother and friends have shared.  I still enjoy writing down favorites (sometimes in cursive) for others to enjoy.  More importantly are the historic documents or family legacies recorded in cursive.  Source documents of our nation’s history are all in cursive.  Many other treasures lie in handwriting as well.  While we could always find a ‘translator,’ why not teach a skill that takes so little time…and comes before children when they are still eager to learn?

Interestingly, the SAT scores from 2006 may offer another incentive.  That year, only 15% of the test-takers employed cursive in the essay portion of their tests.  That 15% scored measurably higher on their overall scores.  It is suggested that the fluid movement required by cursive writing, the fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination impact the development of brain synapses.  Often history shows us making adjustments to enhance culture—only to find that we have misunderstood the full implications of the changes.  I wonder if cursive writing may be that sort of endeavor.

Maybe relegating cursive writing to artistic expression is an option to explore.  The flow of words across a page is sweeter when the letters link.  Handwriting does not need to be perfect, but it is a perfectly enjoyable task.  I hope you and your students will embrace it!