In today’s digital age, it’s increasingly common for children to use computers, tablets, and smartphones to type out their thoughts and ideas. When I was in school many years ago, most of my classmates and I wrote notes by hand. Very few students owned a laptop and smartphone hadn’t been invented, yet. Nowadays, many students use either a laptop, iPad, or a smartphone to write their notes in class. Is handwriting still relevant in modern education? Is the age-old practice of writing by hand still essential for children’s learning, or has it become a relic of the past, now overtaken by technological advancements? Does handwriting even make any difference?
What does the research say about handwriting?
Research has shown that handwriting, specifically the act of physically forming individual letters, promotes cognitive development and enhances learning in children. A study published in International Journal of Advanced Research found that fluency in handwriting has a particular importance to composition skills in children, and that handwriting intervention can help children who struggle to compose written texts. Another study, by psychologist Dr. Pam Mueller and her team, found that taking notes by hand led to better information processing. Particularly, college students who took notes on a laptop tended to write the professor’s words verbatim and also had lower performance on conceptual questions related to their class materials than students who took notes by hand. The researchers noted that students who handwrote the notes processed the information and wrote it down in their own words, resulting in better understanding.
The benefit of handwriting is also highlighted in several neurological studies. A study by psychologist Dr. Karin James demonstrated that children who practiced writing by hand exhibited improved letter recognition compared to those who typed or traced letters on a computer. Only the children who practiced handwriting showed activation of “reading circuit”, a part of the brain that associates sound with text, in functional MRI scanning. Another study used high-density electroencephalogram (HD EEG) to scan young adults’ and 12-year-olds’ brain during handwriting, drawing, and typing. The study found that during handwriting and drawing, a part of the brain related to memory and processing of new information were activated. The authors note that the involvement of senses and fine-motor skills in writing process may be responsible for learning, and every child should practice handwriting from an early age. These studies suggest that handwriting aids in the understanding, remembering, and processing of information, which is critical for children’s reading and writing skills.
Handwriting improves literacy and writing
While typing can be an efficient means of producing text, the physical act of writing by hand can improve a student’s writing skills. Handwriting exercises can help pre-school children recognize letters better. Handwriting also helps young children become better writers.
Moreover, the process of writing by hand has been found to activate different parts of the brain than typing, including those linked to learning, memory, and language, as described above. This means that handwriting offers unique benefits to children’s overall cognitive development and can provide a solid foundation for their academic pursuits.
Handwriting for refining fine motor skills
In addition to its cognitive benefits, handwriting is essential for the development of fine motor skills in children. The act of grasping a pencil, coordinating the hand movements required to form letters, and mastering different writing styles all contribute to the refinement of fine motor skills. These skills are crucial for daily tasks such as fastening buttons or tying shoelaces and play a critical role in a child’s overall development and functioning.
A balanced approach to handwriting and technology
While there’s no denying the importance of technology in children’s education, it doesn’t mean that handwriting should be sidelined. Instead, a balanced approach that incorporates both handwriting and digital learning tools can optimize children’s educational experiences and promote well-rounded development. Here are some ways to strike the right balance:
- Encourage children to practice handwriting during their early years to foster cognitive development, fine motor skills, and creativity.
- Introduce technology gradually, allowing children to become familiar with digital tools while not neglecting the importance of handwriting.
- Teach children how to use technology responsibly and augment their learning, rather than replacing traditional methods of learning such as handwriting.
- Ensure that both handwriting and technology are integral parts of children’s education, providing them with a variety of learning opportunities and experiences.
How to encourage your child to handwrite
What if your child is too accustomed to typing on a computer or smartphone and struggles with handwriting? How can you encourage your child to practice handwriting? Research indicates that handwriting is crucial for a child’s literacy development. Consider implementing the following strategies to motivate your child to improve their handwriting skills.
- Provide age-appropriate writing tools: Offer crayons, colored pencils, and markers to make the handwriting process fun and engaging for young children.
- Create a comfortable and inviting writing space: Set up a designated area with proper lighting, seating, and surfaces to encourage children to practice their handwriting.
- Encourage daily practice: Incorporate handwriting activities into their daily routine, such as writing a note to a family member, copying a simple sentence, or making a list.
- Praise their efforts and progress: Offer positive reinforcement for the effort they put into handwriting and acknowledge their improvements, even if they are small.
- Use fun prompts and activities: Generate interest in handwriting by providing various creative prompts, stories, or scenarios for them to write about, such as characters from their favorite TV shows or books.
- Encourage letter formation activities: Have children practice proper letter formation using tactile activities such as finger-painting, tracing letters in sand, or using play dough.
- Make it personal: Give them personalized stationery, stickers, or other writing accessories to create a sense of ownership and pride in their handwriting.
- Connect handwriting to other interests: Encourage them to write about their favorite hobbies, activities, or subjects, which can help to make the activity more enjoyable and relatable.
- Provide guidance and support: Offer gentle, constructive feedback on their handwriting and demonstrate the correct way to hold a writing instrument or form letters when necessary.
- Share handwritten notes and letters with family and friends: Encourage children to write letters, thank you notes, or holiday cards to friends and family, emphasizing the importance of personal touch in communication.
As the world becomes increasingly digitized, it’s vital for parents and educators to recognize that handwriting still holds a vital place in a child’s learning and development, offering benefits that simply cannot be replicated by technology. By striking a balance between handwriting and digital tools, we can ensure that children receive the best of both worlds and thrive in their educational journeys.
Richard Zhang, M.Ed., is an educator and a software developer with a Masters degree in education from University of Toronto and an immense passion for education and learning. Until the pandemic, Richard owned an award-winning learning centre in Toronto. For 15 years, he has taught and mentored hundreds of elementary, middle school, and high school students succeed in academics. He is also an app developer specializing in web and mobile application in educational and business sectors.