Can Writing By Hand Make Your Child Smarter?

Do you remember making the big grade school transition from writing in print to cursive? How about waiting in line for the pencil sharpener, or the pungent smell of pencil shavings? Whatever grade school memories you have, chances are, your child’s will be very different.

Today, children as young as six are using computers at school. And with our increased dependency on computers, handwriting has inadvertently taken a back seat in many classrooms. Even outside the classroom, today’s younger generations are more apt to type than write. Kids are more likely to email than write letters, text than pass notes and increasingly, more likely to take notes on a laptop rather than by hand.

While many believe computers provide a faster learning curve for today’s youth, there is in fact a downside to this technological turn. Research shows that learning to write letters and shapes by hand actually has a handful of benefits that come along with the practice—benefits your child could be missing out on!

Using an MRI designed as a spaceship, researchers at Indiana University measured neural activity in the brain in two groups of children. One group was simply shown letters, the other was asked to practice printing the same letters by hand. The results? Neural activity was much more profound and “adult like” in the group of children that had written-out the letters. Experts also agree that learning to write can improve expression and composition as well as aid fine motor-skill development.

Psychologist Virginia Berninger, of the University of Wisconsin, studied elementary aged children and found that aside from writing faster by hand, they also produced more ideas when writing essays, rather than typing. Her research shows that the very act of using fingers to write activates parts of the brain that monitor short-term memory, language and thought.

In the age of emails, texts and keyboards, can technological advances happily coexist with traditional learning methods? It does seem so. Smartphone apps such as the “ABC Pocket Phonics,” “ABC Tracer,” and “iWrite Words” encourage children to write out letters and words on-screen using their finger or a stylus. And of course, children are still taught to write by hand in elementary school even though this generation is more apt to hit a letter on a keyboard rather than write it in a workbook.

So what do you think? Should we be placing more focus on penmanship in the classroom? Or is this lack of focus on writing inevitable?

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