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Why is it important to learn handwriting?

Margaret Morris, G11, a lecturer in the Department of Occupational Therapy who gives workshops in handwriting at elementary schools, explains
September 3, 2014

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As learners, people need access to a range of options for written expression. Research shows that writing by hand—manually producing letters—is linked in early childhood to improved reading. For elementary school-aged children, the ability to write individual letters by hand automatically—meaning it is a habit, with no working memory needed—is the best predictor of the length and quality of their written compositions. Writing by hand activates areas of the brain that support retention of written information, a critical area for learning. For older children, this means that taking notes by hand, for example, will aid remembering and learning more than taking notes using a keyboard or on another electronic device.

There are developmental considerations as well. While preschoolers and kindergartners may be extremely facile with physically swiping a tablet to move through screens, or even tracing a letterform on the screen with their index fingers, they do not yet possess the motor coordination necessary for efficient keyboarding. Indeed, the physical skill of sequentially moving the fingers in a coordinated pattern may not be refined until the age of 10. Learning keyboarding usually occurs around age 8 or 9, which makes sense from a developmental point of view.

Writing by hand activates areas of the brain that support retention of written information, a critical area for learning. Photo: iStockIt is also worth noting that the advantages of handwriting continue throughout life. These issues don’t just pertain to children. Consider writing a grocery list. You can write it out by hand with pencil and paper, or type it into your phone. Odds are if you have written it by hand but forgotten to take it with you to the store, you are more likely to remember what you need to buy than if you had used your phone and left it on the kitchen counter.

People create routines and habits for their daily activities. Mine include handwriting grocery lists, to-do lists and menu lists for big family holiday dinners. I also type my lectures, reports and responses to myriad daily emails. All of my daily routines are supported by the appropriate method of written expression for me, depending on the context, the task and my options. Others may choose different options.

All methods of written expression are valuable, of course, and what we choose depends on many factors. The fact that we can choose is one of many reasons for us to continue to learn handwriting skills, even as we continue to produce digital forms of written expression.

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