Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why handwriting is important in school

Compiled by Linda Green

Cursive is an important skill to help train the brain. Jeanette Farmer,  Retrain the Brain, has proven that over and over that rhythmic cursive skills make a difference.

The keyboard seems to be replacing the pen, but is that progressive or damaging to school children?
Forty-two states now do not require that cursive handwriting be part of the curriculum in school.
Why the concern?

  • Thirty percent (30%) of children are dysgraphic.
  • Parents are worried that their children may not know how to sign their names.
  • The SAT and Advanced Placement exams currently require handwritten essays.
  • Ninety-nine percent of college students takes notes and perceive handwriting as important.
  • Journal research has shown that those who write their thoughts in journals are better able to solve their problems than those who don’t journal. This seems to link handwriting to a cathartic effect.
  • Writer Julia Cameron has her students do Morning Pages in their own handwriting. Those who have gone to the keyboard to write the pages have come back to the pen and paper, finding that they did not have quite the creativity with the keyboard that they do with the handwriting.
  • Graphotherapy has been shown to bring about positive changes in personality with handwriting exercises, demonstrating the importance of cursive writing
  • Handwriting therapy is being used successfully all over the nation, according to Jeanette Farmer, with children having disabilities.
  • Research is now showing that the sensory act of cursive writing is conducive to brain development and language fluency.

Rand Nelson of Peterson Directed Handwriting indicates that when children are exposed to cursive handwriting, changes occur in their brains, which allow a child to overcome motor challenges. He says, “the act of physically gripping a pen or pencil and practicing the swirls, curls and connections of cursive handwriting activates parts of the brain that lead to increased language fluency.”
Dr. David Sortino ( recommends cursive handwriting as a strategy to stimulate brain synchronicity—that is to coordinate the  right side of the brain or visual, with the left side or verbal and linear areas of the brain.
Iris Hatfield, creator of the New American Cursive Program (, believes that the connection between cursive writing and brain development is a powerful tool to stimulate intelligence and language fluency as well as improve neural connections in the brain. “The physiological movement of writing cursive letters helps build pathways in the brain while improving mental effectiveness which may continue throughout the child's academic career.
Shadmehr and Holcomb of John Hopkins University did a study that showed their subjects’ brains actually changed in reaction to physical instruction such as cursive handwriting lessons which resulted in an “almost immediate improvement in fluency,” which led to later development of neural pathways.  As a result of practicing motor skills, the researchers found that knowledge becomes more stable.
Author Matthew Geiger says there are psychosocial benefits to cursive handwriting. “As our brains learn to connect our inner worlds to the external universe, we begin to connect our inner worlds to the external universe. We begin to recognize abstract ideas like awareness of others and perception
Virginia Berninger, University of Washington, offers that 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. Brain mapping has illustrated that sequential finger movements activate massive regions involved in thinking, language, and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information. In one study of grades two, four and six, the children wrote more words, they wrote faster, and they expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.
Handwriting increases neural activity. At an Indiana University study one group of children practiced printing letters by hand while a second group just looked at examples of ABCs. Both groups entered a functional MRI (disguised as a spaceship) that scanned their brains as the researchers showed them letters. The neural activity in the first group was far more advanced and “adult-like.” It showed that learning had taken place. (Functional MRIs show oxygen use in the affected areas).
Anne Mangen at University of Stavanger’s Reading Center says, “handwriting seems, based on empirical evidence from neuroscience, to play a larger role in the visual recognition and learning of letters.” Those who learn to write by hand learn better.
Mangen cites an experiment where two groups of adults were taught a new, foreign alphabet. One group learned the characters by hand, the other learned only to recognize them on a screen and with a keyboard. Weeks after the experiment, the group that learned the letters by hand consistently scored better on recognition tests than those who learned with a keyboard. Brain scans of the hands-on group also showed greater activity in the part of the brain that controls language comprehension, motor-related processes and speech-associated gestures.
Handwriting is one of the most difficult neuromuscular tasks involving proper eye focus, integration between the two hemispheres of the brain, fine motor activity, with more brain activation when writing.
Important points about cursive writing:
1. Cursive writing, once mastered, is faster than printing because the small pen lifts that result in printed letters actually slow down the writing process.
2. Children with learning disabilities are able to produce better written outcomes when using cursive because each pen break/pen lift when printing causes a minuscule disruption in the thinking process.


  1. Thanks for sharing the details ! Its very informative !

  2. I totally agree. As a former teacher I am appalled at the students who can barely print let alone do cursive writing. I will pass this along

  3. Other programs:

    By the way: your case for handwriting is strong. Your case for cursive is weak.

    1. Thanks, Kate. We've only just begun. . .

    2. For what it's worth: cursive made my learning disabilities much, much worse.

    3. Regardless, I'm staying tuned. Are you planning some legislative outreach, to require schools to teach a particular form of handwriting?

    4. In 1949 I lost out on a 1st place award for a paper (got a 4th place) because of my handwriting. I haven't forgotten it yet---I spent the summer that year fixing the problem, and now I am a calligrapher....You bet I know the value of good handwriting!

  4. Thanks for sharing this useful information with us.Through Children's Handwriting Analysis we can know our child personality, behavior,strength and weakness and change our child career through some grpahotherapy excercises.

  5. Yes, certain forms of graphotherapy can help, such as Jeanette Farmer's program, which is done to special music; or my own graphotherapy manual ( Having a child change bits and pieces of their handwriting, however, can cause serious emotional damage.

    1. Given that "chang[ing bits and pieces of their handwriting ... can cause serious emotional damage," what do you (and other graphologists) think about the fact that 90+% of North American handwriting systems require children to do exactly that, when they hit second or third grade?

    2. Practicing "change" is good preparation for life.

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