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Is Handwriting Becoming Extinct?

Is handwriting becoming a thing of the past? How often do you actually write with a pen and paper? In therapy, I tend to hand-write my session notes. I take data by hand as well, but outside of work I use my phone/ computer for EVERYTHING. I type my appointments in my digital calendar. I make a grocery list in the “Notes” section of my phone. I even text myself reminders. Adulthood requires signing documents so I write my signature often. I sign my greeting and holiday cards, but I type and print address labels before putting them in the mail. And who writes letters anymore?? We email, text, video chat, but rarely do people hand write anything outside of their work lives.

It appears that the same can be said of our children. Handwriting appears to be less of a priority in the school day. Printing is required during class time, but many assignments and reports are now typed on computers. It seems that cursive writing is no longer apart of school curricula. A few of the special education teachers that I work with continue to incorporate it in their classes, but I question if any focus is given to cursive writing in the general education classroom. The extinction of (cursive) handwriting really caught my attention while watching a court trial on television. A teenage girl was a key witness in a trial and during her testimony, she admitted that she could not read cursive writing. I gasped when she said that! At 17 years old she could not read cursive writing. I recall the media bashing her and labeling her as ignorant. She was even dubbed not credible, but if we don’t focus on handwriting in school, isn’t the process the problem – leaving the students as victims?

Many educators contend that handwriting doesn’t matter much, but a recent article in the NY Times cited that psychologists and neuroscientists have found evidence suggesting a link between handwriting and educational development. According to research, children learn to read quicker and retain information when they learn to write by hand. The article noted that the gesture of writing a word stimulates the brain and automatically activates circuits in unique ways. Researchers conducted a 2012 study at Indiana University with children who had not learned to read or write. They were asked to reproduce a given letter or shape by tracing dots, drawing it freehand, or typing the letter. The researchers concluded that the children who drew letters freehand demonstrated increased activity in 3 areas of the brain- the same 3 areas that are activated in adults when they read and write! In contrast, the children who typed or traced the letter/shape did not exhibit this effect and their activation was significantly weaker.

Another study conducted with children in grades two through five found that children who composed text by hand produced words more quickly than on a keyboard. They also expressed more ideas.

The benefits of writing go beyond childhood. Typing is faster, but writing by hand improves our ability to process new information, commit information to memory, and overall learning ability. To read more about these studies, click here for the full article.

There is no denying the advances we have made as a result of technology, but there is still room for some old-school fundamental skills like handwriting. Encouraging handwriting does more than preserve a medium. It also promotes brain development and is an important element in learning and memory.

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