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Writing by hand boosts learning and memory

National guidelines should be established to make sure that children continue to receive traditional handwriting training, according to a study led by Professor Audrey van der Meer of NTNU. The research confirms the findings of previous studies that both children and adults learn and commit more to memory when writing by hand versus using a keyboard.

The study is the first of its kind to evaluate the benefits of handwriting among children. The researchers used an EEG to track and record the brain wave activity of the participants, who wore a hood with over 250 electrodes attached. When the brain is active, electrical impulses can be detected by sensors in the electrodes. 

The experts found that the brain was far more active when the volunteers were writing by hand compared to when they were 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,” explained Professor Van der Meer. 

“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.”

According to Professor Van der Meer, the findings emphasize the importance of children being challenged to draw and write at an early age, especially at school. She believes that there are many positive aspects of digital learning, but urges that handwriting training must be kept in schools as well. 

“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.”

“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.”

Many teachers have argued that keyboards create less frustration for children, and that students 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,” said Professor 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.”

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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