Research: Handwriting Spurs Brain Activity, Typing Doesn’t

While educators find handwriting increasingly irrelevant, there is evidence that the act of writing by hand provides significant developmental benefits.

Putting actual pen to paper can have significant benefits for brain development, the Los Angeles Times reports. Recent research has found that when students learn how to write by hand, they also increase their brain activity and improve their fine motor skills. Similar benefits were not detected when kids were typing or simply repeating their lessons verbally.

Scientists compared the neuroimage scans of preschoolers who were learning to write by practicing printing their letters and those who were just doing verbal repetition.

After four weeks of training, the kids who practiced writing by hand showed brain activation similar to an adult’s, said James, the study’s lead researcher. The benefits of writing by hand also included improved letter recognition, which is the No. 1 predictor of reading ability at age 5.

Good handwriting also has benefits that are harder to detect on a brain scan. For most kids, writing is faster than typing. Research found that students between second and sixth grade wrote essays that were both longer and more thorough when using pen and paper rather than a computer. In addition, those who hand-wrote their papers did it quicker than those who typed them.

This research, however, is in contradiction with a Vanderbilt University study done in Spring 2011 that showed that students who typed produced better quality writing.

Although more and more school districts are dropping cursive requirements for their students, either because they lack the funds or because teaching keyboarding seems a more logical application of limited funds, there are others who believe development of good handwriting is an important part of education.

Colorado makes a compelling case-in-point. While the public schools in the state are moving away from cursive, usually devoting only a small part of class time to it up to third grade, private schools frequently make it a backbone of their literacy efforts. Some, like Denver Montclair International School, start teaching handwriting in kindergarten because they believe that in addition to other benefits, knowing cursive also helps their students learn second languages like French and Spanish.

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