Jun 4, 2014

All Aboard the Penmanship: Rouleau de Beaulieu en Ardèche


If you're American, then like me, you probably remember learning how to write your cursive letters in 3rd grade. That's what they do in California public schools still today, to a lesser degree. But in some US states, they no longer teach cursive at all; according to Stephen Colbert and a recent article that went out on the AP wire, 45 states are considering standards that don't require cursive at all.

Well, in France, it starts in kindergarten (Grande Section) -- and remember that children are younger here in each grade, since the cutoff is Dec 31 (with no redshirting, or voluntary holding back of the younger children). That means that children go into kindergarten as young as 4 years and 9 months, and during that school year, they are expected learn some cursive, certainly at least enough to write their own names. By the end of 1st grade (called CP), they are writing exclusively in cursive for their assignments.

What makes it even more challenging for our girls is that they are not always writing their cursive homework with ballpoint pens. Often, they use calligraphy-style pens with ink cartridges and nibs. This is not by choice; it's a school requirement, beginning in the middle of 2nd grade (called CE1).

The French are very exacting about how cursive is learned and written; thus, there is a very distinctive French penmanship. I can tell French handwriting at a single glance. My own is most definitely American. There are some letters that were taught to me differently than how my daughters learn them. There are other letters where I just do whatever comes fastest and easiest, whether it's "official" cursive or not.

For the letters, the girls' writing looks French, but it's universally legible. For the numbers, however, they have to worry about the fact that their 1s look like American 7s and even 4s sometimes, and their 9s look like American 4s as well. It's a real problem when writing out phone numbers or numbers. Then again, it's all a matter of perspective; they think some of my own letters are bizarre. Notice the differences between the French (top chart) and American (bottom chart) uppercase A, G, H, I, J, N, Q, S, X, and Z, along with the lowercase P and number 1.

For people who say kids younger than 3rd grade are too young for cursive, here is an assignment written at age 7 and 1/2 (and yes, the francophones among you will notice many errors, but see how pretty it looks!):
My mother, who used to teach at the university level (in the school of education, forming future teachers), said that she was stunned at the block-printing her students would use for essays. Not only did it look childish, it also was slow and laborious. For notetaking, it's a complete disaster.
I've always thought that our girls learning cursive is a great thing; I had my own completely unfounded opinion that, like learning to crawl before walking, writing cursive must do something beneficial to the brain. Well, it turns out to be true. There's an interesting article published in Psychology Today about it, and the crux of it says:

In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice.

There is spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. Students have to pay attention and think about what and how they are doing it. They have to practice. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.

So, difficult as it is, in our family, we don't curse the cursive. We are 100% on board the penmanship.

THE CHEESE: Rouleau de Beaulieu (en Ardèche)

Rouleau de Beaulieu (sometimes with the added "en Ardèche" or even "d'Ardèche") is , obviously, a cheese that comes from Ardèche, in the Rhone-Alpes. It's a raw goat's milk cheese and, in the style of a St. Maure de Touraine, it is aged and sold on sticks. In the case of the St. Maure de Touraine, this is often true. And in the case of the Rouleau de Beaulieu, it is nearly always true, as this is a cheese made in much smaller production; in fact, it's a farmhouse cheese made at only one farm.

The inside is creamy and moist, with a medium-strength goat flavor that has hints of fruits and herbs. In order to get to the soft interior, you need to cut through the firm and greenish-moldy crust, and beware of the stick.


Of all the cheeses I've seen so far (and I've seen a lot), this one looks among the most pen-like, mostly because of the prominent twig sticking out at the end looing something like an old-fashioned nib. It's a somewhat lame connection, I know, so I'll give you this, too: the name translates most literally as a "Roll from a Lovely Place in Ardèche" whereas this blog is about writing that "Rolls at a Lovely Pace at Our Desk".


  1. Like you with French cursive, I can spot a native Russian cursive writer from a mile away. It's fascinating that even when Russians are writing in English they form letters the same way that they learned to write them in Cyrillic.


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