Handheld technology may help kids communicate faster with their thumbs on a phone than with a pencil on paper. But research shows that handwriting benefits outweigh digital advances when it comes to cognitive development in people of all ages.
Learning to Write by Hand is Great for Kids
Several studies by handwriting expert Karin James of Indiana University show that learning to write by hand in early childhood activates the three areas of the brain essential for reading and writing. Kids also learn to recognize letters through the trials and errors of early handwriting, a benefit that can improve their reading skills later in life. Research even shows handwriting benefits students who struggle with dyslexia.
The growing body of evidence has led several states — most recently Texas — to bring cursive writing instruction back to classrooms.
“It’s important that our kids are able to communicate through the written word and through the spoken word,” said Elizabeth Giniewicz, executive director of elementary curriculum for the Temple Independent School District in Texas, in a local news interview. “It helps make those connections and the fluid strokes and all of the lettering so your brain just develops appropriately.”
Handwriting Benefits Adults, Too
Handwriting also offers significant advantages for adults.
Daniel M. Oppenheimer, former professor of marketing and psychology at University of California, Los Angeles, and Pam A. Mueller, then a graduate student at Princeton University, conducted a study on the advantages of longhand note-taking. They found that older students learn better when they handwrite their notes rather than type them on a computer. Their research suggests that handwritten notes challenge students to recast a lesson’s contents. This process requires them to contemplate and organize the material, which helps improve understanding and memory.
That said, there is clearly a need for digital technology in academics, especially for older students. So how can educators give students the benefits of handwriting while also preparing them for the digital world?
“What we’re advocating is teaching children to be hybrid writers,” said Virginia Berninger, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, who studied handwriting benefits in educational settings. “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.”
Aside from the many handwriting benefits for students of all ages, handwriting can help us slow down and be more mindful. Journaling, calligraphy or even a to-do list can help us be present and productive in authentic ways.