The Benefits of Handwriting for Young Children
This past school year my kindergartener spent several hours a week learning keyboarding and document processing right alongside reading and writing. As an up and coming first grader, he has been begging for access to my computer all summer long. Beyond the games he can play, he has stated his joy at being able to write quickly while using the keyboard. It is the same reason many adults enjoy using a computer versus writing with pen and paper: in the words of my six year old, writing by hand “Takes FOREVER!”
But, the formation of letters through the sequence of hand strokes proves to be much more than the tedious physical task my six year old believes it to be. According to the research of Dr. Karin James, a professor at Indiana University, when children freeform letters multiple parts of the brain show activity during functional MRI scans. On the other hand, the scans of children after typing or tracing letter shapes showed significantly less activity. These findings lead researchers to believe there is much more that occurs when we write by hand than a simple exercise in fine motor development.
Dr. Virginia Berninger of the University of Washington put children to the test: One group wrote by hand while the other typed on a keyboard. Surprisingly, the group writing by hand consistently outperformed the keyboarding group in the number of words per minute as well as the number of ideas expressed. Berninger suggests that “handwriting – forming letters – engages the mind” which in turn allows children to focus more on written language. (Klass, 2016)
Berninger describes how we use the parts of our brain connected to motor function like motor planning and motor control, as we “see letters in the ‘mind’s eye’ in order to produce them on the page.” Additional tests experimenting with retention rates in college students, demonstrate those who write notes by hand retain more information than those who type their notes on a computer during a lecture. Using these findings, some physicians suggest handwriting personal notes as a good mental exercise to keep the minds of older adults sharp. (Konnikova, 2014)
Dr. Berninger suggests teaching children today to become “Hybrid writers: Manuscript first for reading – it transfers to better word recognition – then cursive for spelling and for composing. Then, starting in late elementary school, teaching touch-typing.”(Klass, 2016)
The research suggests, at least, that handwriting may not be as outdated as my six year old would like me to believe.