A Case for Handwriting and the Written Word

As someone who was born in ancient times (1957), I grew up with reverent regard for the written word. 

In my elementary school years, penmanship was a staple; first manuscript printing and then cursive. I remember painstakingly practicing formations of the letters, trying to emulate what was portrayed in our handwriting manuals. I’m not sure I ever came close to such perfection, but I was proud when an “A” appeared on my report card for penmanship.

Through the years, there have been a plethora of studies documenting cognitive benefits of handwriting, cursive in particular, for people of all ages. In the Journal of Early Childhood Education and Development, there was a study showcasing 1,000 pre-K students. Those who consistently practiced handwriting, in one form or another, outperformed their peers in reading and math skills by second grade.

 It has also been noted that handwriting develops visual skills in children. They learn such spatial awareness as top to bottom, right to left, and what can fit on a line. Additionally, handwriting exercises the right hemisphere of the brain (the creative side) which does not happen when a computer is used. 

The benefits of handwriting extend throughout a lifetime. The Wall Street Journal published an article in which physicians declared that writing by hand engages various parts of the brain for developing memory and motor skills. Those who hope to keep their mind sharp, as they age, should put pen to paper. 

During my years as a middle school language arts teacher, I found that students could not write in cursive. The handwriting tools taught in third grade, if they had been taught at all, had been lost in subsequent years. Students had not been asked to employ the grace of cursive writing again until they reached my classroom. They had zero opportunity to develop their personal style of a signature. In fact, they could not have signed their name in cursive if their life depended on it.

 At some point, someone in education’s hierarchy determined it wasn’t important. As the years ticked by, not only did students demonstrate an inability to write in cursive, they could no longer decode it.  Important documents such as letters from Grandma and the Declaration of Independence became “unreadable.” 

Consider this: Handwriting is not only good for the brain, it’s good for the heart as well. I discovered early on as a half-pint, that creating notes and making up little rhymes, even if my stubby fingers couldn’t quite spell correctly, made adults smile. It was a way for me to climb into their hearts.

My mother was a note writer and she was intentional about making sure I frequently had a newsy letter, cartoon clipping, or simple happy-gram from back home when I was in college. Receiving such correspondence always made my day a little better. Thanks to Mom, I never felt like Charlie Brown who is still waiting to receive a love tap in the mail.

I felt it was imperative when I became a mom to carry forward such cherished lessons; thank you notes for my three children were non-negotiable. At the time, they may have grumbled and protested a bit, but each developed an aptitude and affinity for self-expression much to my delight.

Throughout the years, as my children were growing up, it was my custom to write Christmas letters detailing the fun and the funny events of the year. Each of these letters, added to the one before, became a Christmas memory book of sorts for each of my children.

 When my son Josh was stationed in Afghanistan as a young Marine, I took 18 years worth of those letters and retyped the paragraphs that applied to him and fashioned a long scroll. I sent it as my Valentine to him, telling him these were but a few reasons why I loved him. He later told me that he reread it several times, laughing out loud at the antics and Joshua-isms I’d recorded from his childhood. Those words from home were just what was needed at a difficult time. It wasn’t silver or gold. It was better.

For many years, I kept a handwritten note from my mother in my wallet. It was written in 1975 when I was a junior in high school. When I realized the note was showing its age, I took it from my wallet and framed it, hoping to preserve it further. Even now as I reread her words, I can hear her gentle voice and feel the love imparted in her picture perfect script. If you live long enough, you realize such a gift is beyond measure.

Without question, emailing and texting have a place in our lives, but if that’s the only form of communication our children are taught, I believe something of great value is lost. 

Long live the power of the pen.