What really happens when our children write

Today we all want our children to be tech savvy but while this is important, is it wise to forgo handwriting in favour of screens and keyboards? Science has revealed how writing by hand influences brain development, particularly in children whose minds are being shaped to learn and retain information, and prepare them for life. 

To understand the difference in how the mind works, imagine a child using their hands to create a figure out of clay, compared to making the same image appear on the screen with the touch of a button. Engaging the senses to create a shape, or a letter on paper, creates neural pathways that are not used to make the same image appear digitally. 

This circuitry becomes a lasting part of the brain and can be recruited for use in other hand-eye coordination tasks. The act of forming the letters with a pen or pencil, along with the visual feedback necessary for writing, creates a lasting impression in the mind which can be recalled when faced with a variety of writing styles, printed fonts, and even handwriting produced by others.(1)

Not only does writing by hand create broader mental connections, but it also helps to develop confidence, word recognition and comprehension at the outset of formal education. Marieke Longchamp, a cognitive scientist at Aix-Marseille University in France, discovered that letter-form knowledge accumulated by hand persisted, whereas typed learning dissipated.(2) She attributed this difference to the motor activity that writing by hand involves, and reading the text simultaneously.

Without these vital connections learning may only be short lived, with the ability to recall information curtailed from what it could be with the benefits of frequent writing in early years. In today’s media driven world where information competes for our attention, developing lasting methods of memory retention is more important than ever. Little hands hold big possibilities, so make sure the pencils are not far away.


  1. Klemm, William R., D.V.M. Ph.D, ‘Cursive Writing Makes Kids Smarter,’ Memory Medic, March 14, 2013
  2. Brandon Kim, ‘The Science of Handwriting,’ Scientific American Mind, September/Ocotber 2013