Why your child's handwriting still matters in the digital age

Why your child's handwriting still matters in the digital age

Learn why researchers still believe that handwriting is still the most essential form of communication for developing minds!

Sure, your child will likely be using a keyboard more often than a pen and pad in their professional careers, but does that mean we can completely downplay the importance of handwriting? Has it devolved to a nonessential skill?

Of course not.

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There's actually a large body of research to suggest that it's as intrinsic to a child's development as ever. That goes for print, manuscript, and cursive!

Earlier this year, The Journal of Learning Disabilities conducted a study in which researchers observed how oral and written language related to attention span and focus. They also worked with “executive function skills" (like planning) in children in grades four through nine, both with and without learning disabilities.

Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington and head of the study, told the New York Times that evidence from this and other studies suggests that “handwriting — forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.”

Learn more about the importance of handwriting and how it can lead to improved academics here! Click next!

In addition to this finding, Dr. Laura Dinehart, an associate professor of early childhood education at Florida International University, published an article in The Journal of Early Childhood Literacy in late 2014. In the article, Dinehart says, "Children with good handwriting may get better grades because their work is more pleasant for teachers to read; children who struggle with writing may find that too much of their attention is consumed by producing the letters, and the content suffers."

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Dr. Dinehart obviously sees a correlation between academic success and proficiency in handwriting. However, her assertions are far from personal opinion or farfetched claims. In her professional experience working with children from low-income families, those who displayed excellence in motor skills and writing in prekindergarten performed better in school as they grew older. Since coming to these conclusions, Dinehart has worked to help young children develop the skills they need for “a complex task” that requires the coordination of cognitive, motor and neuromuscular processes.

According to Dr. Berninger, handwriting skills don't solely come from motor skills. She believes that the process takes different parts of the brain that all come together. “This myth that handwriting is just a motor skill is just plain wrong," she claims. “We use motor parts of our brain, motor planning, motor control, but what’s very critical is a region of our brain where the visual and language come together, the fusiform gyrus, where visual stimuli actually become letters and written words.”

In other words, your brain has to visualise letter in order to produce them. Therefore, handwriting requires a series of brain activity and is not something to be completely determined by a child's motor skills. In fact, brain imaging can specifically point out which parts of the brain are activated when conceptualising letters and words, and what parts are functioning when we produce them

Karin James, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, conducted brain scans on kids who could not yet print letters or words. “Their brains don’t distinguish letters," she claims. "They respond to letters the same as to a triangle."

Eventually, James and her team conducted the same study on the same children after they had learned to write letters and words. The study found that the response to letters indicated an increase activation of the reading network in the brain, including the fusiform gyrus. In addition, the inferior frontal gyrus and posterior parietal regions of the brain (which adults use for processing written language) were noticeably more active.

Following the study, Dr. James said, “The letters they produce themselves are very messy and variable, and that’s actually good for how children learn things. That seems to be one big benefit of handwriting.”

Learn more about the importance of handwriting and how it can lead to improved academics here! Click next!

As children progress through school and learn to master their writing capabilities by learning different techniques, like cursive, their literacy and academic competency are shown to improve as well. According to a 2015 study, "starting around fourth grade, cursive skills conferred advantages in both spelling and composing, perhaps because the connecting strokes helped children connect letters into words."

One interesting thing to note is that while learning new ways to write language, like cursive, marked improvements in children's education, forming language through processes like typing yielded less favourable results. Researchers noted that simply typing letters doesn't activate the same (or as many) parts of the brain.

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This lack of brain activation, in comparison to writing, leaves many researchers to come to some pretty shocking discoveries about typing. Dr. Dinehart, for example, claims that “college students who are writing on a keyboard are less likely to remember and do well on the content than if writing it by hand.”

Obviously, there's no way society will ever step away from keyboards and revert back to pen and paper. It's simply less efficient and nowhere near as practical. Researchers like Dr. Virginia Berninger do have suggestions, though.

“What we’re advocating is teaching children to be hybrid writers,” says Dr. Berninger, “manuscript first for reading — it transfers to better word recognition — then cursive for spelling and for composing. Then, starting in late elementary school, touch-typing.”

Simply put, parents, handwriting is a stimulating function that activates a wide variety of parts of the brain. This overactivity in the brain leads to better results in terms of learning, and thus, handwriting cannot afford to be overlooked!

This article was originally posted by The New York Times.

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