Counsellor & Psychotherapist
Masters of Counselling & Psychotherapy UofA
Member of the ACA College of Supervisors
Level 3 Member Australian Counselling Association
There is no disputing that technology has bought many gifts to our every day lives. With any changes there are consequences, some beneficial, some not so - some still under investigation as to what category they fall into.
Studies are now investigating the impact that changes to teaching them how to write have on a child's developing brain. Are we neglecting writing skills in favour of the keyboard?
Our children are now incredibly technology savvy, which means that learning to use the keyboard has become an essential skill to acquire. The consequence of this is the developing school of thought that cursive or running writing is an ancient skill which is not applicable to the here and now. The days of hand writing have evolved from the ancient practice of learning to write and then moving on to the more complicated cursive writing. It seems that these skills are now seen as less important than learning to navigate the keyboard.
Scientists are now saying that minimising the importance of learning cursive writing may be a little premature. It not only has positive impacts on a child's cognitive abilities, but has impacts on the 'functional specialisation' capability of cognition.
What is functional specialisation? It facilitates the integration of sensation, thinking and movement control. Brain image studies conducted have demonstrated that whilst learning cursive writing, multiple areas of the brain are co-activated in unison, which is not the case in visual practice or typing.
Further benefits include the positive impact on fine motor skills, the development of attention, and the ability to focus on what they are doing. Most of the benefit derived from learning to write is from the mechanics of drawing the letters. This requires concentration and co-ordination.
Even if the child is just printing, the brain is getting the stimulation that it needs. This is due to the range of specific actions it needs to engage in. It will need to learn and remember the right size of each letter, then identify the appropriate slant of the character, then identify the location of each stroke in relation to the other strokes, as well as develop categorisation skills.
The benefits to young brains of learning cursive outnumber the benefits provided by learning to print. Cursive requires more complex movement tasks from the brain. The cursive letters are less uniform, faster flowing and offers the writer the opportunity to create their own individual flourishes.
Research identifies there is a unique relationship between the hand and the brain in the composition of ideas and thoughts. Cursive writing provides the opportunity to integrate visual, tactile information and fine motor skills.
The benefits to the developing brain is not dis-similar to what is achieved through the mastering of a musical instrument. You may not be able to afford a baby grand piano, but the humble pencil and paper is within the budgetary reach of most parents. For the parents who have been feeling really bad because they can't afford that computer, your children may not be as hard done by as you originally thought.
I think the message here is that just because something has become technologically superseded, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's value has also been superseded. Even if school curriculum has moved away from concentrating on hand writing, it seems that neuroscience supports teaching your children this 'ancient skill'.
The pre-school toys and games are now largely keyboard focused so it is important to keep the crayons on the agenda. The co-ordination required to hold the crayon, keep the paper still and apply enough pressure with the crayon to create their work of art are all good for brain development.
Children who have difficulty with writing may have further difficulties with note taking or taking school tests which are required to be hand written. This sets them apart and sets them up for feeling bad about themselves.
There is also a learning difficulty which goes by the name of dysgraphia. Children with this difficulty may have poor fine motor skills, visual spatial difficulties, and language processing deficits. This can co-occur with other difficulties but is addressed by learning how to hand write and the use of fine motor skill activities.
The message is clear, for optimum development of your child's brain, learning how to write by hand is essential. Computers are entrenched in our everyday lives and have bought much to the quality of our lives.
The important thing is that we do not miss out on key activities for brain development because we have become too lazy to research the consequences of not doing some things the old fashioned way.