Cursive writing in the Waldorf homeschool has come up three times this week, so I figured I needed to write a little post about this subject. Friends, I can find nothing anywhere about what Rudolf Steiner thought about cursive writing. My guess is that it could be that Steiner didn’t really think about it much! I mean, if you think about that time and place, German writing in cursive seemed to be pretty well established and in use. If you use a search engine, you can find images of German cursive writing. (Perhaps my German readers can tell me how much cursive writing has changed in their country over the years).
Fast forward to the twenty-first century here in the United States. Cursive writing is being phased out in many public schools and if cursive is taught at all, many schools do not have specific instruction in cursive after the third grade.
Many Waldorf Schools seem to have adopted use of the Vimala Handwriting. I understand, because the soul qualities of Vimala is about learning the hidden soul qualities of each letter, of transforming your self-esteem, healing old wounds, and expressing your creativity.
I know many Waldorf homeschooling parents who have chosen to bring Vimala to their children and cite that their own handwriting is much better than it was. I understand this, so I feel badly telling you all this: I don’t especially love Vimala as the choice for cursive writing, as many are using Vimala for that purpose. I think I am the only one in the entire Waldorf world, LOL. So, feel free to disagree!! I think much as many Waldorf students practice writing the Russian alphabet in conjunction with the Russian fairy tales, the Greek alphabet in fifth grade, Latin in sixth grade, calligraphy and such, the Vimala alphabet could be used in this way for fluidity and flexibility of the brain. However, here is why I personally don’t love Vimala as a cursive writing tool:
I like the fluidity of using a traditional cursive script for fine motor development: really working on cursive writing helps strengthen hand-eye coordination, and other things such as how much pressure one must apply to the paper (ever seen a child who puts a hole in his paper every time he goes to write?), directionality, spacing between words since all the letters are linked and the spaces are between the words and not the letters, and fluid cursive decreases reversals of letters. It also increases fluidity and speed, once a child masters cursive.
One thing I never thought of is that some proponents of cursive writing point out that a very simplified, print-style signature is easier to forge than a cursive one. I never thought of that, but it does make sense. Also, some things still are written in traditional cursive writing, and it would seem a shame to me that a child or young adult would not be able to read an invitation to a wedding or other formal function or historical documents because they never learned a fluid form of cursive writing!
However, my caveat to all of this is that in teaching cursive writing the instruction and practice should carry on for YEARS. It shouldn’t be that the child is “taught” cursive in second or third (I generally prefer third for the most complete development of fine motor control and then not expect cursive writing in a main lesson book until the end of third or fourth grade), and then that is “it”, but that this practice should continue on through (and this is just my opinion!) into sixth and seventh grade with several practice sessions a week. These lessons can have the qualities of those meditative middle lessons in a Waldorf school, with a really beautiful beeswax candle lit and that smell permeating the school room, and to really sit and focus on each letter for fifteen minutes or so after the cursive letters have been introduced in a block.
I essentially teach cursive from my own writing, which looks probably closer to Palmer handwriting. I was raised by grandparents and that is also what I grew up mainly reading in terms of letters and notes. I know people who really like to have alphabet cards hanging in their school room – the website Educational Fonts has many. Find the font that looks closest to yours if you want something “standardized” or if not, make your own alphabet cards!
This post is already too long, so I will just leave you with the idea of using form drawing and forms to work toward cursive. That topic will need to wait for another post. Many Waldorf teachers teach the cursive letters as being ones of the sky, the earth or dipping into the water. It is a great pictorial image!
I would love to hear how you teach cursive in your homeschool!