Changing Habits Among Children

Though writing by hand is increasingly being eclipsed by the ease of computers, new studies show that handwriting helps people learn certain skills surprisingly faster and significantly better. Since children are writing less in the present times, the real question is: Are there other benefits to handwriting that have to do with reading and spelling and understanding? We find that, there are, most definitely. An experiment was conducted in which 42 young students, were taught the Arabic alphabet, split into three groups of learners: writers, typers, and video watchers.

Everyone learned the letters one at a time by watching videos of them being written along with hearing names and sounds. After being introduced to each letter, the three groups would attempt to learn what they just saw and heard in different ways. The video group got an on-screen flash of a letter and had to say if it was the same letter, they had just seen. The typers would have to find the letter on the keyboard. The writers had to copy the letter with pen and paper.

At the end, after as many as six sessions, everyone could recognize the letters and made few mistakes when tested. But the writing group reached this level of proficiency faster than the other groups—a few of them in just two sessions. Next the researchers wanted to determine to what extent, if at all, the groups could generalize this new knowledge. In other words, they could all recognize the letters, but could anyone really use them like a pro, by writing with them, using them to spell new words, and using them to read unfamiliar words? The writing group was better—decisively—in all of those things.

The main lesson is that even though they were all good at recognizing letters, the writing training was the best at every other measure. And they required less time to get there. The writing group ended up with more of the skills needed for expert adult-level reading and spelling and that was because handwriting reinforces the visual and listening to lessons. The advantage has nothing to do with penmanship (handwriting) —it is that the simple act of writing by hand provides a perceptual-motor experience that unifies what is being learned about the letters (their shapes, their sounds, and their motor plans), which in turn creates richer knowledge and fuller, true learning. With writing, you are getting a stronger representation in your mind.

The findings have implications for classrooms too, where pencils and notebooks have taken a backseat in recent times to tablets and laptops, and teaching cursive handwriting is all but losing its sheen. Whatever be the circumstances, children should always be encouraged to write, draw, paint, do calligraphy and such others. It’s good to ensure that they have appropriate writing and art materials. Children should be encouraged to engage in journal/ diary writing as a regular habit. The task in the coming days for students, educators and parents is the keep the flame of writing, glowing. As a good saying goes, “Handwriting causes thinking.”