Why Writing by Hand Makes Kids Smarter

Summary: Children learn more and remember better when writing by hand, a new study reports. The brains of children are more active when handwriting than typing on a computer keyboard.

Source: NTNU

Professor Audrey van der Meer at NTNU believes that national guidelines should be put into place to ensure that children receive at least a minimum of handwriting training.

Results from several studies have shown that both children and adults learn more and remember better when writing by hand.

Now another study confirms the same: choosing handwriting over keyboard use yields the best learning and memory.

Van der Meer and her colleagues have investigated this several times, first in 2017 and now in 2020.

In 2017, she examined the brain activity of 20 students. She has now published a study in which she examined brain activity in twelve young adults and twelve children.

This is the first time that children have participated in such a study.

Both studies were conducted using an EEG to track and record brain wave activity. The participants wore a hood with over 250 electrodes attached.

The brain produces electrical impulses when it is active. The sensors in the electrodes are very sensitive and pick up the electrical activity that takes place in the brain.

Handwriting gives the brain more hooks to hang memories on

Each examination took 45 minutes per person, and the researchers received 500 data points per second.

The results showed that the brain in both young adults and children is much more active when writing by hand than when typing on a keyboard.

“The use of pen and paper gives the brain more ‘hooks’ to hang your memories on. Writing by hand creates much more activity in the sensorimotor parts of the brain. A lot of senses are activated by pressing the pen on paper, seeing the letters you write and hearing the sound you make while writing. These sense experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better,” says Van der Meer.

She believes that her own and others’ studies emphasize the importance of children being challenged to draw and write at an early age, especially at school.

Today’s digital reality is that typing, tapping and screen time are a big part of children’s and adolescents’ everyday lives.

A survey of 19 countries in the EU shows that Norwegian children and teens spend the most time online. The smartphone is a constant companion, followed closely by the PC and tablet.

The survey shows that Norwegian children ages 9 to16 spend almost four hours online every day, double the amount since 2010.

Kids’ leisure time spent in front of a screen is now amplified by schools’ increasing emphasis on digital learning.

Van der Meer thinks digital learning has many positive aspects, but urges handwriting training.

“Given the development of the last several years, we risk having one or more generations lose the ability to write by hand. Our research and that of others show that this would be a very unfortunate consequence” of increased digital activity, says Meer.

Typing, clicking and watching occupy an increasing number of hours in the average child’s day. But brain research shows that writing by hand helps people remember better and learn more. The photo shows a EEG Geodesic Sensor Net with 256 evenly distributed sensors that was used to record EEG activity from the participant’s scalp during the research. Image is credited to NTNU/Microsoft.

She believes that national guidelines should be put in place that ensure children receive at least a minimum of handwriting training.

“Some schools in Norway have become completely digital and skip handwriting training altogether. Finnish schools are even more digitized than in Norway. Very few schools offer any handwriting training at all,” says Van der Meer.

In the debate about handwriting or keyboard use in school, some teachers believe that keyboards create less frustration for children. They point out that children can write longer texts earlier, and are more motivated to write because they experience greater mastery with a keyboard.

“Learning to write by hand is a bit slower process, but it’s important for children to go through the tiring phase of learning to write by hand. The intricate hand movements and the shaping of letters are beneficial in several ways. If you use a keyboard, you use the same movement for each letter. Writing by hand requires control of your fine motor skills and senses. It’s important to put the brain in a learning state as often as possible. I would use a keyboard to write an essay, but I’d take notes by hand during a lecture,” says Van der Meer.

“The brain has evolved over thousands of years. It has evolved to be able to take action and navigate appropriate behaviour. In order for the brain to develop in the best possible way, we need to use it for what it’s best at. We need to live an authentic life. We have to use all our senses, be outside, experience all kinds of weather and meet other people. If we don’t challenge our brain, it can’t reach its full potential. And that can impact school performance,” says Van der Meer.

About this neurodevelopment research article

Source:
Garvan Institute of Medical Research
Contacts:
Audrey van der Meer – NTNU
Image Source:
The image is credited to NTNU/Microsoft.

Original Research: Open access
“The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults” by Eva Ose Askvik, F. R. (Ruud) van der Weel and Audrey L. H. van der Meer. Frontiers in Psychology.


Abstract

The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults

To write by hand, to type, or to draw – which of these strategies is the most efficient for optimal learning in the classroom? As digital devices are increasingly replacing traditional writing by hand, it is crucial to examine the long-term implications of this practice. High-density electroencephalogram (HD EEG) was used in 12 young adults and 12, 12-year-old children to study brain electrical activity as they were writing in cursive by hand, typewriting, or drawing visually presented words that were varying in difficulty. Analyses of temporal spectral evolution (TSE, i.e., time-dependent amplitude changes) were performed on EEG data recorded with a 256-channel sensor array. For young adults, we found that when writing by hand using a digital pen on a touchscreen, brain areas in the parietal and central regions showed event-related synchronized activity in the theta range. Existing literature suggests that such oscillatory neuronal activity in these particular brain areas is important for memory and for the encoding of new information and, therefore, provides the brain with optimal conditions for learning. When drawing, we found similar activation patterns in the parietal areas, in addition to event-related desynchronization in the alpha/beta range, suggesting both similarities but also slight differences in activation patterns when drawing and writing by hand. When typewriting on a keyboard, we found event-related desynchronized activity in the theta range and, to a lesser extent, in the alpha range in parietal and central brain regions. However, as this activity was desynchronized and differed from when writing by hand and drawing, its relation to learning remains unclear. For 12-year-old children, the same activation patterns were found, but to a lesser extent. We suggest that children, from an early age, must be exposed to handwriting and drawing activities in school to establish the neuronal oscillation patterns that are beneficial for learning. We conclude that because of the benefits of sensory-motor integration due to the larger involvement of the senses as well as fine and precisely controlled hand movements when writing by hand and when drawing, it is vital to maintain both activities in a learning environment to facilitate and optimize learning.

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