The importance of teaching and supporting handwriting has implications reaching far beyond the elementary classroom. Teaching handwriting in the early grades can stimulate small motor coordination. Virginia Berninger, a researcher and professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says that pictures of brain activity have illustrated that sequential finger movements used in handwriting activated massive regions of the brain involved in thinking, language and working memory.  

A 2012 study also demonstrated an impressive connection between writing and brain development.  A group of five year olds either printed, typed, or traced letters and figures. They were then shown images of these stimuli while undergoing functional MRI scanning. A previously documented “reading circuit” was recruited during letter perception only after handwriting—not after typing or tracing experience. These findings demonstrate that handwriting is important for the early recruitment in letter processing of brain regions known to underlie successful reading. Handwriting therefore may facilitate reading acquisition in young children.

Moreover, handwriting continues to factor into learning far beyond childhood, into adulthood.  Judy Willis MD, a neurologist, and former classroom teacher explains“The practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake, processing, retaining, and retrieving of information … it promotes the brain’s attentive focus … boosts long-term memory, illuminates patterns, gives the brain time for reflection, and when well-guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulus of the brain’s highest cognition.”

The tactile sense of putting pen or pencil to paper for note-taking boosts memory.  A study in the journal, Psychological Science, demonstrated that writing notes is more effective than typing them. The results of the two experiments suggest that taking notes with a pen and paper, rather than a laptop, leads to higher quality learning, as writing is a better strategy to store and internalize ideas in the long haul. Writing by hand strengthens the learning process, while typing can impair it. 

So, put down that laptop or tablet, and start taking notes in longhand.


Laura Maniglia