At a swim meet last month, I overheard a coach talking to one of his young swimmers. Coach said, “I learned cursive in 3rd grade, and I haven’t used it since. It’s pointless.”
This word nerd gasped. Cursive, pointless? According to a New York Times article, the Common Core suggests teaching legible handwriting in kindergarten and first grade, and then moving quickly to keyboard instruction.
Does that mean that soon basic handwriting won’t get attention in school? In the dystopian novel Matched, by Ally Condie, the characters only use computer tablets. Hand written letters were abandoned as a silly artifact of the past.
All this leads me to wonder…
How important is handwriting?
Pen and paper work for me because…
- At the writing conference I attended this weekend, several writers, like me, took notes with pen and paper. I’ve always enjoyed the art of note taking, using colors and structural elements (indents, bullets) to organize information. That interaction helps me process and remember.
- Several authors at the conference said that their creativity flows better without a machine between their thoughts and the paper. One writer mentioned she does all her first drafts long hand with pencil and legal pads. (Wow!) She pointed out that with the first draft handwritten, she does an automatic edit as she types up her second draft.
Although I use a “to do list” app on my phone, during weeks like this one, when I’ve got twenty tasks to complete, I feel more composed writing everything down on paper. I also get more relief when I scratch things off. Paper is less stimulating, and therefore less stressful, than a screen.
- With the increasing use of email, texts, and messaging for communication, I worry that we will lose important connections with each other. My mother died almost 20 years ago, but I still have her handwritten notes and cards as a precious memory. Handwritten notes take more time and thought than an email or text, and that stands for something.
Digital works for me because…
- Those notes I took at the writer’s conference? They’re still in a bag on the floor next to my writing desk. I plan to file them into different folders, like “writing exercises” and “social media tips,”, but it’s my son’s birthday this week, and I’m leaving town for a swim meet, and I haven’t gotten to filing yet. If my notes were digital, they’d be organized and filed already.
- I’ve shifted from a paper planner to a digital calendar on my iPhone. The calendar syncs across devices, so my husband has all the critical information on his phone too. (However, I keep a paper calendar in the kitchen to track our monthly activities, color coded by family member .)
- For my writing activities, I use applications like Evernote and Scrivener to make notes and organize them into digital binders or digital index cards. With Evernote, I can access my notes from all my devices, so I can record or review my thoughts almost anywhere.
- In some areas, like health care, digital notes have improved the quality of documentation. I remember having difficulty deciphering patient care notes when I practiced physical therapy. Electronic medical records can make it easier to create legible and comprehensive records.
Research on handwriting
Forget my ramblings, here’s what some experts say about the significance of handwriting. According to an article from the New York Times, various researchers have found interesting data about learning and handwriting.
- Students learn better when taking notes by hand; it forces the brain to process and organize information, which improves memory about the information.
- Children who learn how to write by hand also learn how to read more quickly. They are better at creating ideas and remembering information compared to their peers who don’t learn handwriting while learning how to read.
- In two groups of children learning to write, those who had to copy a letter free hand showed more brain activation compared to those who had to trace a letter or type it.
- Children writing stories by hand produced more words and more ideas than those writing on a keyboard.
- Cursive activates different brain centers than printing.
All this tells me, yes, handwriting is important, and we shouldn’t abandon paper and pen for convenience. But that’s just me…
Where do you stand on the handwriting debate? Do we still need to hand write things, or can digital words replace everything?
Visit my Facebook profile to see a lively discussion on this topic.
Thanks for getting thoughtful with me.