Should We Be Worried?: Avoiding the Summer Slide by Moving Beyond the Cursive Debate

By Melinda J. McBee Orzulak

Sample of letter headings written by elementary school children

Concerns about 21st-century writing shifts

Concerns about shifts in writing abound in the recent news. Some parents worry about whether they can keep up with their kids’ texting. Grandparents decry the death of cursive in some schools and wonder if the grandkids will be able to read their letters. The importance of writing by hand versus keyboarding is being researched and debated. You could say it’s the end of the world (again), at least when it comes to writing.

Should we be worried?

The reality is that discussions of impending doom tend to occur with any shift in writing (i.e., see Barron’s recent book A Better Pencil). Another reality is that language and the ways we write keep changing, but this doesn’t usually pose any long-term problems. It is true that cursive writing is being cut from school curricula and is not mentioned in the Common Core State Standards. Schools are starting to emphasize other mediums for writing than cursive, including print handwriting and keyboarding. And experts note that “handwriting matters but cursive doesn’t”: “Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.”

Picture of a notebook page. It reads,

Not writing much: An area for concern

Summer may be a time to worry less about cursive or handwriting and to focus more on how to encourage sustained writing. A recent NPR story, “Does The Fight For A Cursive Comeback Miss The Point?”, notes the limited use of cursive in our daily lives and discusses the bigger concern that students are asked increasingly to fill in blanks on worksheets rather than engage in sustained writing.

Kids need opportunities to write for real audiences, not worksheets. Of course, summer writing can dovetail with ways to help young writers improve their handwriting. But, writing in multiple ways better addresses the summer learning slump that occurs when students are out of school.

More practice=better writing.

Instead of debating how kids are writing, we have multiple opportunities to encourage writing this summer. Pick a medium—online writing, typing, print writing, cursive writing, or all of the above. All kinds of writing can be celebrated.

Suggestions to support summer writing: Because…fun

As a parent, cousin, grandparent, friend or an aunt/uncle—you can use writing to make a connection with the young writers in your life. Here are some ideas to try at home (or on vacation). Many tips for increasing summer reading also have writing components.

Top 10 ideas for encouraging summer writing:

  1. Engage in a letter writing exchange and include some sentences using age-/generation- specific code. For instance, grandparents can initiate a cursive reading challenge. Grandkids can initiate a text-lingo challenge. (I offer this idea, acknowledging that “grandma” in my family is better at both text-speak and cursive than I am.)
  2. Make writing into a  game.
  3. Decorate a special journal or computer document for responding to journal prompts or summer writing prompts.
  4. Send postcards while on vacation and/or post to the family/pet’s blog.
  5. Mail a thank you card after visiting a friend’s house on a road trip.
  6. Pick up a rock, another souvenir, or a Flat Stanley, and write a story about it. Then, mail the story to grandma; text it to mom; and/or put it in a journal or blog.
  7. Write to enlisted family members or friends.
  8. Write a review of a favorite book and share with a friend or on Amazon or Good Reads.
  9. Write using the American Dialect Society’s 2013 word of the year because or other recent word usages. This can be a fun way to talk about language change, as you explore how writers and speakers are using because as more than a subordinating conjunction, such as “because + noun” as in “because reasons” or “because futbol.”
  10. Write “moving” sports poetry or engage in other activities to “Keep Kids off the Summer Slide.”

Need more ideas? Check out ReadWriteThink for after school resources by grade level.

As you slide into summer, enjoy writing and exploring with the young writers in your life—using any and all of the options available.

Make writing into a summer habit and celebrate the joy of sharing words. This summer habit can be a wonderful exchange across generations. You can have the young writers in your life teach you new language constructions, even as you share your own.

Melinda McBee Orzulak is an associate professor at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, where she coordinates the English education program, teaches pre-service teachers, and studies writing teacher education. She’s thankful for the inspiration of the nieces, nephews, and grandparents in her family who use writing to keep in touch and learn new skills.



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