Do you want your children to read faster, have more active brains, and be more creative? And do you want to retain more of what you learn? There's a simple activity that helps with all this and more: writing by hand instead of with a keyboard. 

Multiple studies have shown that handwriting improves brain function in various ways, and cursive handwriting (writing connected "script" rather than printing each letter) is particularly beneficial. For example, in one study researchers from the University of Washington followed Seattle children over five years, observing their development. They found that those who wrote by hand, whether they were printing or writing cursive, were writing more words and expressing more ideas than those who used keyboards.

And that's not all. Various studies have shown that children who learn to write by hand also learn to read faster and show more creativity. And cursive handwriting (script, rather than of printed letters) may even help treat people with dyslexia, some researchers say.

Findings like these are one reason that handwriting instruction is making a comeback in schools across America. In 2010, the number of state school systems that explicitly required handwriting as part of children's education dropped to six, but since then, handwriting has made a comeback, with 18 states now requiring that children learn to write by hand as part of their education. 

But there's another, more basic reason. Young people who don't learn to write cursive script may not be able to read it either. In Louisiana, a bill requiring schoolchildren to learn handwriting recently took effect. That bill was introduced after a state senator heard from some constituents that local high school students couldn't read handwritten documents required for their summer job--or even old family letters.

Writing by hand increases retention.

All this explains why children should learn handwriting at school. But why should adults, who are well beyond that stage, practice handwriting on a regular basis? Because there's a good amount of evidence that writing notes by hand will increase your comprehension and retention of whatever you're writing about.

In one group of studies from Princeton, researchers compared students who took notes by hand, and students who took notes on laptops. What they found was that the students who used laptops tended to write down whatever the professor said more or less verbatim, while those who took notes by hand listened to what the professor was saying and analyzed it for important content, "processing information and reframing it in their own words," as the researchers put it. This is likely because typing is quicker, and it's not possible to write down everything someone says unless you're versed in shorthand. Interestingly, researchers found, when asked conceptual questions about the contents of a lecture, students who'd taken notes by hand were better able to answer those questions than those who had typed their notes.

Perhaps in recognition of this difference, handwriting is making a comeback for adults too. A variety of new products allow users to take notes by hand onto special paper and other surfaces and then capture images or even text versions of those notes. The explosive popularity of the Bullet Journal, which depends on taking handwritten notes, is another indication that people want and sometimes need to write things down by hand.

I inadvertently experimented with this myself on a business trip earlier this summer. Part of the trip was spent at a conference, where I took notes on my laptop, and part of it in one-on-one meetings with clients, where typing on a laptop would feel a bit impolite, so I took handwritten notes in my Bullet Journal instead. Sure enough, I remember more of what was said in those one-on-one meetings than I do from the conference where I typed my notes. Next time I think I'll write my notes by hand even when I don't have to.

Published on: Jul 24, 2019
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