Ask preschooler Zane Pike to write his name or the alphabet, then watch this 4-year-old’s stubborn side kick in. He spurns practice at school and tosses aside workbooks at home. But Angie Pike, Zane’s mom, persists, believing that handwriting is a building block to learning.
She’s right. Using advanced tools such as magnetic resonance imaging, researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.
It’s not just children who benefit. Adults studying new symbols, such as Chinese characters, might enhance recognition by writing the characters by hand, researchers say. Some physicians say handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age.
Studies suggest there’s real value in learning and maintaining this ancient skill, even as we increasingly communicate electronically via keyboards big and small. Indeed, technology often gets blamed for handwriting’s demise. But in an interesting twist, new software for touch-screen devices, such as the iPad, is starting to reinvigorate the practice.
When I did my flurry of meetings last week in Israel, I brought a booklet with pad and paper to take notes on. Prior to my meetings, I wrote down why I was talking to whom with the questions/points I wanted to make sure I covered when I talked with them.
There’s a very simple reason for it: the act of writing things down helps me commit them to memory. It’s as if initiating the physical act of writing is telling my brain “hey, this is important, remember it!” I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it works for me.
Now, if I can just read what I wrote later on…