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Handwriting SkillsHandwriting challenges or here at Special-Ism, we might call them Handwriting Isms.

My understanding is that you seek solutions to “isms”.  Toward that end, let us clarify the connotation of ism, as well as related prefixes and suffixes.

  • Rooted in Latin, _______ism refers to a process, practice, state or condition, or a belief.
  • Similarly, _______osis refers to a condition or a state.
  • Yet, _______itis refers to an inflammation. Whoops. I’m pretty sure we’re not this!
  • Then there is the prefix dys________ which means abnormal, impaired, difficult or bad.
  • More inclusively, un________, mis________, dis________, or im________ imply not, wrong, the opposite of, and even unable.

So if I am to address a compelling concern frequently impacting our young children, we could call it:

  • Dys-print-ism
  • Im-writing-osis
  • Un-handwriting-ism
  • Mis-manuscript-osis

All of which would be ridiculous descriptions for the state in which we find our children and our students,  namely problem printers.

Is Handwriting Instruction Still Important?

In this age of technology, is handwriting instruction still important? With all the gadgets that enable us to record thoughts into permanent records, isn’t handwriting an archaic skill?  Do we still need to use and master traditional writing tools? The bottom line question is >>> Is handwriting still relevant in the 21st century?

On the surface, your assumption of its’ lack of importance may be right.  It does seem counterintuitive to stress a manual skill that has been so ably replaced by technology. Certainly, one cannot discount the advantages or convenience that personal computers, smart phones, laptops and tablets have brought to our world. When it comes to volume writing under the right fingertips, keyboarding can be faster. Cut and paste editing turns rough drafts into final ones in seconds. Legibility issues…gone! And auditory feedback… if you turn it on, provides invaluable guidance to errant spellers and writers.

But that’s down the road.

Your Child is at the Starting Gate

We’re just at the starting gate. In fact, we’re still in the paddock, as it were. Preschoolers and early elementary students are just learning to think.  For your beginner learners, there is no better way to open the channels of inter-hemispheric communication than by putting pencil to paper.

And the research proves it.

MRI studies have compared the brains of children in the process of printing to those of children either keyboarding or working on letter recognition. (1-2) Following a period of intervention, the results were profound. In all the studies, there was a marked spike in electrical activity among those children who had been taught and were practicing printing. In fact, their MRI maps appeared comparable to those of adults.

In contrast, there was little to no change in the activation of the brains of the children keyboarding or those learning to recognize letters.

The implication is huge.

Learning How to Learn

When children are learning how to learn, it is essential that multiple memory sites be established in the brain. This is the genesis of recall, problem solving, creativity, inferences, and more. Heightened electrical activity suggests that superhighways are operating, or at least, under construction.

Even in older students, the effects on learning are enhanced by manual writing over keyboarding. In studies where the two groups of college students took lecture notes by either hand or via computer, the former showed a significant and sustained recall of information over the latter, and a huge advantage in their ability to apply the information. (3)

Yes, even in the 21st century, handwriting is a critical adjunct to learning, and instructing children how to print—an essential curricular lesson.

But How?

But how to instruct children how to print efficiently in today’s schools when there is neither time, money or know-how on the most efficient way to teach this?  What is an interested parent, teacher or therapist to do?

Stay with me on this journey each month.  I have some surprises in store.

Whether you are a parent, teacher or therapist, I am hoping the learning and sharing works both ways. I aim to give you the information you need while you tell me the information you want.  Please join me for discussion.  To access this private area, please register in the upper right hand corner of Special-Ism.


1) Kersey, Alyssa J., and Karin H. James. “Brain Activation Patterns Resulting from Learning Letter Forms through Active Self-production and Passive Observation in Young Children.” Frontiers in Psychology. Frontiers Media S.A., 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 July 2015.

2) Gimenez, Paul, Nicolle Bugescu, Jessica M. Black, Roeland Hancock, Kenneth Pugh, Masanori Nagamine, Emily Kutner, Paul Mazaika, Robert Hendren, Bruce D. McCandliss, and Fumiko Hoeft. “Neuroimaging Correlates of Handwriting Quality as Children Learn to Read and Write.Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Frontiers Media S.A., 19 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 July 2015.

3) Mueller, Pam A., and Daniel M. Oppenheimer. “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard.The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard. Psychological Science, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 11 July 2015.

4) James, Karin H., and Thea P. Atwood. “The Role of Sensorimotor Learning in the Perception of Letter-like Forms: Tracking the Causes of Neural Specialization for Letters.Cognitive Neuropsychology 26.1 (2009): 91-110. Web. 13 July 2015.

5) Wong, Alan C.-N., Gael Jobard, Karin H. James, Thomas W. James, and Isabel Gauthier. “Expertise with Characters in Alphabetic and Nonalphabetic Writing Systems Engage Overlapping Occipito-temporal Areas.” Cognitive Neuropsychology 26.1 (2009): 111-27. Web. 13 July 2015.