Can Handwriting Lead to Better Grades?

Nowadays, the majority of our communication is made of simple text messages, e-mails, quick calls over the phone, videos, or maybe a shout through social media. We are constantly checking our phones or logging online for the next text or email. Yet, rewind to our grandparents’ generation, and things were much different. Long distance phone calls were expensive, and so, letters were the most prevalent form of communication. Everyone wrote because that was the most efficient and cost-effective way to keep in touch.  Think of the countless letters sent during the First and Second World Wars. Hearts and lives literally remained entwined across oceans by the written word–and it was handwriting that made all of this possible.

But that was then. Today, penmanship finds itself in virtual obsolescence with the rise of instant forms of communication. Newer tools claim to be faster, more effective, and cut to the point, so why on earth would anyone take the time to write something and post it?  Why would we write at all when we can type faster on a keyboard? Some might say developing handwriting in our children simply isn’t worth the effort.

Quite to the contrary, handwriting–specifically cursive writing–has been analyzed and researched with the widespread conclusion that it is not only affiliated with conveying sentiment and carrying emotion, but it aides cognitive development. So, it follows that encouraging children to write may even help them to do better in school!

 Writing as a Cognitive Skill

Good handwriting is a complex, cognitive skill. As such, it developes over time, with much patience and lots of practice. It is a skill that connects pathways in the brain and promotes the development not only of coordination, but also generates support of positive personality traits, such a self-discipline. According to neuropsychologist Dr. Virginia Berninger of the University of Washington (an expert who has studied the effects of handwriting for over 20 years), “writing in cursive seems to help the brain with self-regulation and mental organization.” (1) Meanwhile, Katya Feder, a professor at the University of Ottawa School of Rehabilitation wrote that, “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.'”  (2) 

William R. Klemm Ph.D  wrote that handwriting aids in cognitive development, “particularly in training the brain to learn ‘functional specialization’—that is, the capacity for optimal efficiency.”  He explains further that, “in the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking.”(2) Essentially, cursive writing strengthens and stretches the mind, and it allows the writer to learn how to sort and organize their thoughts, while also strengthening their hand-eye coordination. 

In a study conducted by Indiana State University (3) of 5-6 year old children, brain scans were conducted on the children before and after they were taught cursive letters. Some of the children only saw the letters, while others printed them by hand, as well. The findings showed that in the children who practiced writing the letters, the neural activity during reading was also active during writing.  For those who had simply looked at the letters or typed the letters via keyboard, this enhanced activity was absent.

How May Handwriting Help Children in School? 

Handwriting changes how a child’s brain develops. This can include many different aspects, including strengthening their memory by exercising their recollective abilities, reading, spelling, critical thinking and composition abilities. When one considers what goes into the exercise of  handwriting, it becomes obvious that it is a constant recollection of letters, shapes, curves and strokes.  Not only that, but the activity is a constant exercise of excellence in fine-tuning as the child practices. (1) In fact, “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.” (4)

Fine Motor Skills:

The pressure and  flow of the pen strokes that the hand must do in order to write actually triggers areas in the brain that develop sensation and vision, thus refining fine motor skills, coordination, and attention to detail.  It has also been said that a child is not fully literate until they can sign their name. (1)  “Cursive writing helps train the brain to integrate visual, and tactile information, and fine motor dexterity.”(5)

Self Expression:

Do you know that your handwriting says a lot about you? Handwriting analysts can tell if a person is stressed, confident and self assured, well-educated, or even if a person is keeping secrets. Needless to say, penmanship is like jotting down a bit of your personality onto paper. 

Penmanship is also a beautiful way to show emotion. Letters can be treasures sent from distant places and have the ability to be touched, and grasped as a conduit to the person that wrote them.  They can be savored in a way that emails and text messages cannot. It is so much harder to convey emotion (even with emojis) from a keyboard. Think about it– an email can never be perfumed, tear-stained, or crinkled.

 What Can We Do? 

Good penmanship used to take years to learn and accomplish.  It was a skill that followed one’s character development through life, from bold young strokes, to the wisps of elder years. Somewhere along the line we lost all of that. We lost the sentiment. Have you ever seen an elderly person write and been in awe of their penmanship? Such a beautiful art should not be relegated to calligraphers, but should be a gift we give to one another–and to ourselves–on a daily basis.

With that in mind, would you believe they are taking cursive writing out of schools?  We can reclaim this art and encourage handwriting by fostering a love for it in our children. Writing also does not mean just composing letters–we can encourage our children to write Thank You notes after birthdays or holidays, help them to journal special occasions such as a vacation, or to keep a daily diary.  Karin Harman James,  assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, said that, “for children, handwriting is extremely important. Not how well they do it, but that they do it and practice it” and that “typing does not do the same thing.”(1)  We use handwriting every time we sign our name. Think about how uniquely special your signature feels because it says a great deal about you in one word, and that is just the beginning…

Writing Activity Ideas

For Younger Children (K-2nd Grade):

  • Use fun cursive writing books at home to promote proper letter forming for d’nealian (Single stroke printing for cursive prep) and after that cursive.
  • Learn to write their name, age, and address.
  • Write a simple card to a friend or a grandparent.

Older children (3rd-8th Grade):

  • Address envelopes
  • Write invitations
  • Write Thank-You notes
  • Scrap book 
  • Journal
  • Practice signatures

Even if you do not believe you write well, a handwritten card or letter from you could make someone else’s day! 

Vive le pen! 

For more insight into childhood education, check out Why Your Child Needs Music Education. And, be sure to stay tuned for our upcoming post on Pen Pals for more about making writing into a fun experience for your children!



Photo Credit: KirstenJournal Entry, Fountain pen on parchment, Joel Montes de Oca (CC); Writing, hand writing, Caitlin Regan (CC)

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Kirsten is a military wife by day, an artist by night, and an around-the-clock-mommy to her (almost) two year old daughter and a son due in the Fall. She loves to travel and is always dreaming of her next adventure. Her interests include everything from extreme sports like skydiving and rock climbing to languages and studying philosophy. As a Californian now living in South Dakota, there is no taking that golden sunshine out of this California Girl.

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    This was awesome! Why, because I’m a teacher and I teach handwriting (manuscript) and all your points are right on in the early years. And, taking cursive out of the schools, a no-no for sure. It will have consequences. I’m going to have to link this to one of my blog posts so other parents not reading Daily Mom will see this. Nicely done Kirsten.


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