January’s topic of the month is Handwriting, and to start the month off “write,” we would like to specify why handwriting is a key component to a child’s development in this “keyboard age” we currently live in. Science and research prove that writing by hand has significant brain benefits, and many school systems around the nation are slowly incorporating handwriting back into their classrooms.
It’s about the journey, not the destination…
For typically developing children, regardless if writing on paper with a pencil, or typing on a computer, they will generally arrive at the same letters on the page, put into words, sentences, and paragraphs. Teachers and spell check serve as additional editors if things get messy. What is fascinating about writing by hand, however, is the amount of brain growth that occurs during the process. Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, concluded in her article in The Journal of Learning Disabilities, that children who write by hand (learning disabled or not) process information better, have stronger executive functioning skills (such as planning), and begin to pay closer attention to written language. Writing by hand also stimulates fine motor growth, and motor planning.
What does research show?
Researchers have scanned the brain during the reading process, and have determined the various areas of the brain that are activated while reading. According to Karin James, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, children who are exposed to writing at an early age begin to see the letters in the “mind’s eye,” which is not only the first step before producing the letter on the page, but is also a visual representation of the symbol in reading. This briefly explains the correlation between writing/spelling and reading. Children who struggle in writing later down the road may partially be struggling because they are using much of their mental energy to properly form the letter on the page, vs. focusing on the material they want to express.
The Freedom of Handwriting
Handwriting is unique to every one of us, and is also an expression of our personality. Some children, if given the opportunity, really take to cursive handwriting. The continuous strokes feel more like an art than a tedious task, which can be therapeutic for the struggling writer. Cursive writing does not require the writer to pick up their pencil and start again with the formation of every letter. For example, instead of having to stop to think which direction letter b or d goes (to the left or to the right), and thus interrupting the writing process and flow of thoughts, the writer can stick with the fluidity of the connections between the letters and get their thoughts on paper more efficiently.
Technology and Handwriting
Technology serves as a strong supplement to the overall learning experience. Should a child find it impossible to form letters by hand for a variety of reasons (cognitive, motor, etc.), accommodations are essential. Technological advancements offer accommodations while intriguing children, parents and educators alike. We are here to remind our readers to use technology while remaining mindful of the fact that standard handwriting serves as a key ingredient to a child’s development in reading and writing.
About the Author
Angelina Spiteri-Bender, CDP
Angelina is the Learning Center Director at Brainspring Lake Orion and Grosse Pointe and is also an Instructor with Brainspring Educator Academy.
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