National Handwriting Day was established by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association in 1977. January 23rd was selected because this is the birthday of John Hancock, the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence (and with a flourish!).
Why is handwriting important?
According to author Louise Spear-Swerling in The Importance of Teaching Handwriting, “After a long period of neglect in education, attention to teaching handwriting in the primary grades may finally be returning. This attention can benefit many youngsters, including those with learning disabilities (LDs) involving handwriting, which may accompany reading disabilities, writing disabilities, nonverbal learning disabilities, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
In fact, researchers are finding that writing by hand is far more than just a way to communicate. Handwriting helps with learning letters and shapes, improving idea composition and expression, and even aiding fine motor-skill development. Plus, handwriting can help children learn to read.
How does handwriting help children learn to read?
Dr. J. Richard Gentry, author of Raising Confident Readers, How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write–From Baby to Age 7 explains, “Handwriting is crucial because recent brain scan studies have shown that early handwriting skill helps kids learn to read. Keyboarding doesn’t have this effect. With a language such as English with its difficult spelling system, early handwriting practice and writing down messages and thoughts helps kids break the code.”
More specifically, using advanced tools such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers are finding exactly how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. In a study at Indiana University, children were invited to man a “spaceship,” actually an MRI machine using a specialized scan called “functional” MRI that spots neural activity in the brain. The children were shown letters before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. The neural activity in the children who had practiced printing by hand was far more advanced and “adult-like” than in those who had simply looked at letters.
Other research highlights the hand’s unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. 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. 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.
Another study demonstrated that in grades two, four and six, children wrote more words, wrote them faster and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand, versus writing with a keyboard.
Getting kids writing
Helping kids with handwriting is crucial. Experts recommend at least 15 minutes of handwriting instruction each day. Some resources for parents include:
- 5 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Handwriting, Parent and Child magazine
- ADHD & Handwriting: Practice And Improve Writing. ADDitude magazine
- Fine Print: Solutions to Handwriting Woes, Parents magazine
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