The many health perks of good handwriting
Angel Diaz, 9, works on his paper in an English class at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Joliet. (John Smierciak/Chicago Tribune)
By JULIE DEARDORFF, TRIBUNE NEWSPAPERS Medical ResearchHealthScienceEducationColleges and UniversitiesIndiana University
Children are texting, tapping and typing on keyboards more than ever, leaving less time to master that old-fashioned skill known as handwriting.
So will the three “T’s” replace a building block of education? It’s not likely. The benefits of gripping and moving a pen or pencil reach beyond communication. Emerging research shows that handwriting increases brain activity, hones fine motor skills, and can predict a child’s academic success in ways that keyboarding can’t.
“For children, handwriting is extremely important. Not how well they do it, but that they do it and practice it,” said Karin Harman James, an assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University. “Typing does not do the same thing.”
Here’s how handwriting makes its mark:
Handwriting can change how children learn and their brains develop. IU researchers used neuroimaging scans to measure brain activation in preliterate preschool children who were shown letters. One group of children then practiced printing letters; the other children practiced seeing and saying the letters. After four weeks of training, the kids who practiced writing showed brain activation similar to an adult’s, said James, the study’s lead researcher. The printing practice also improved letter recognition, which is the No. 1 predictor of reading ability at age 5.
Good handwriting can mean better grades. Studies show that the same mediocre paper is graded much higher if the handwriting is neat and much lower if the writing is not.
Handwriting is faster. Researchers who tested second-, fourth- and sixth-graders found that children compose essays more prolifically — and faster — when using a pen rather than a keyboard. In addition, fourth- and sixth-graders wrote more complete sentences when they used a pen, according to the study, led by Virginia Berninger, a University of Washington professor of educational psychology who studies normal writing development and writing disabilities. Her research has also shown that forming letters by hand may engage our thinking brains differently than pressing down on a key.
Handwriting aids memory. If you write yourself a list or a note — then lose it — you’re much more likely to remember what you wrote than if you just tried to memorize it, said occupational therapist Katya Feder, an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa School of Rehabilitation.
Handwriting proficiency inspires confidence. The more we practice a skill such as handwriting, the stronger the motor pathways become until the skill becomes automatic. Once it’s mastered, children can move on to focus on the subject, rather than worry about how to form letters.
Handwriting engages different brain circuits than keyboarding. The contact, direction and pressure of the pen or pencil send the brain a message. And the repetitive process of handwriting “integrates motor pathways into the brain,” said Feder. When it becomes automatic or learned, “there’s almost a groove in the pathways,” she said. The more children write, the more pathways are laid down. But if they write them poorly, then they’re getting a faulty pathway, so you want to go back and correct it,” Feder said.
Technology may help invigorate the practice. Handwriting applications that allow users to hand-scribble notes on the touch screen rather than paper may be useful tools. Researchers are also working on software to help improve handwriting.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Go to the last page of any of your completed WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS.
At the Bottom of the chalk board, type our email address
into the empty field and click "share my book."
All of your WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS can be found in the My Books tab
under Book Builder in our Main Navigation.
Simply email the short link to your digital book to
You can find the short link on the receipt of any confirmed book order.
Our app isn’t quite ready yet. We are polishing and fixing a few bugs to make sure you have the best, most seamless user experience possible. If you’d like us to let you know when its done we’ll send you a link to the FREE APP the minute it's ready to go!
I WANT A LINK TO THE FREE WRiTE BRAiN APP WHEN ITS COMPLETE! Please enter your email address!
*We will not publish, share, or sell your email address in any way. We hate spam just as much as you do and will not spam your email. We would love to share details on the progress/completion of our site in an occasional digital note. However, you will always have the option to opt-out.