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  • We might be living in a touch-screen world where the need to write things down by hand becomes more and more unnecessary, but a recent study shows just why our kids still need to learn how to wield a pen.  

    “Handwriting--forming letters--engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language,” Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington and lead author told The New York Times

    Dr. Berninger adds that an individual would need to see letters in “the mind’s eye” in order to produce them on the page. “What’s very critical is a region of our brain where the visual and language come together… where visual stimuli actually become letter and written words,” she said. Her study, published in The Journal of Learning Disabilities, looked at the relationship between oral and written language and how it related to attention.


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    A separate study by Karin James, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, looked at the differences of the brain scans of children before they knew how to write and after they were taught how to do so. 

    Previous brain scans of adults show that reading lights up a brain network that includes areas related to motor processes, which suggested to scientists that reading may be connected to writing.

    They found that children who didn’t know how to write looked at letters as if they were meaningless shapes. “Their brains don’t distinguish letters; they respond to letters the same as to a triangle,” said Dr. James. 

    After the children were taught how to write, their brain scans showed an increase of brain activity including the same reading network that was present in the adult brain scans. It also showed activation in the regions of the brain that adults use for processing language even though the kids just started writing. In fact, Dr. James notes that while the letters the kids produce are "messy," it is actually good for how children learn things.   

    Typing, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to generate the same brain activation as writing does. 

    “My overarching research focuses on how learning and interacting with the world with our hands has a really significant effect on our cognition,” Dr. James said, “on how writing by hand changes brain function and can change brain development.”

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    Another study published in The Journal of Early Childhood Literacy suggests possible connections between good handwriting and school performance. Children who struggle with handwriting may not be doing as well in school because they may be putting too much attention on producing letters while the content of what they’re writing in the first place suffers. Another reason could be that better handwriting gets better grades because they’re easier for teachers to read. 

    Dr. Berninger suggests that children should be “hybrid writers,” meaning they can write in print, script and then move on to touch-type as they grow older. 

    If you’re looking to practice your child’s writing at home, there are tons of places online where you can get free printable worksheets. Try Turtle Diary for a bunch of worksheets categorized by grade level. Click here for those aimed at preschoolers are for both spelling and writing.

    Filipino writing and reading are also available online for free. Click here for Samut-samot’s collection of preschool Filipino worksheets. For a great collection of solely handwriting worksheets from print letters to script, click here to check out Student Handouts. 

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