In a time where everything is becoming increasingly more and more electronic and technologically advanced by taking notes on our computers, sending emails, and cell phone reminders; we’re replacing the act of simply writing things down with typing it into something with a battery life. Writing with pen and paper is a much more stimulating cognitive experience for children and adults as opposed to pushing the keys of a computer.
Learning how to write by hand provides a substantially greater understanding of the formation of language in young children as it allows them to learn letters and shapes in a more mentally engaging way. Due to the requirement of having to first recognize that different letters are made up of different features, and to then replicate those features onto paper, create stronger neuronal connections in the brain to distinguish which letters are which and the proper way in which the letters are formed. Thus our feature nets are formed, and after they are established and become more developed we are able to learn the language faster and broaden our vocabulary at a faster pace due to bottom-up processing.
Other research highlights the hand’s unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.
She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.
And one recent study of hers demonstrated that in grades two, four and six, children wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.
The degradation and diminishing use of handwriting in society can lead to some negative repercussions. Through the disuse of printing by hand we slowly lose the connections we made and our vocabulary and ability to spell slowly fade away as we are constantly reliant on spell check to catch our grammatical errors. The stimulus of hand-eye coordination that comes with writing using pen and paper is more important than some might realize. However there are some apps and technologies that allow the use of a stylus to write on a computer screen or tablet, replicating the process as if it were done with the initial tools. This feature of electronics could be taken advantage of in order to reincorporate handwriting back to its former practice.
I am sure that society probably won’t ever get to the point where we completely lose our written language, at least not any time soon or during any of our lifetimes but it is still a little concerning that there has been a shift in the frequency in which we write by hand that has resulted in a slight dulling of the mental processes used in both reading and writing.