Why Handwriting Matters

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Why do we still insist on teaching printing and cursive at Mizzentop Day School?  Shouldn’t all students bypass these skills and go straight to the keyboard?  We don’t think so!  Even before the implementation of Common Core standards in public schools, few public schools were still teaching cursive writing.  Now that the Common Core is in place in most districts, its standards require only that legible printing is taught in Kindergarten and 1st grade.  However, research done in the last decade and especially from 2012 on, indicates that learning printing and cursive writing has unique benefits for children as they learn.  It appears that children who learn to print freehand rather than trace or type letters on the computer learn to read sooner than those who only trace or type.  Researchers theorize this is because when learners can’t reproduce the letter “a” letter perfectly, for example, they learn to recognize “a” in many typefaces and handwritten styles.  Handwriting connects motor skills and visual discrimination skills in a unique and powerful way.

Neuroscientists and psychologists studying the effects of handwriting on learning note the following:

  • When learners handwrite (especially freestyle as opposed to tracing or typing), there is increased neural activity in three areas of the brain
  • The brain is actually changed by the process of writing
  • Students express more ideas, and more complex ideas, when writing than they do when typing
  • Memory is enhanced when students handwrite rather than type their notes
  • Students in general “are better able to generate ideas and retain information” when handwriting
  • Cursive and printing are separate and discrete acts that affect learning differently

For a great summary and discussion of some of these findings, see the following NYT article: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?_r=0