“Daddy, look, I can write my name!”
It was a triumphant moment for my third grader, not because she finally figured out how to spell her name, but because she’d learned to write it in cursive. It clearly meant a lot to her, and helped me rationalize why kids were still being taught to write in a way that they would probably be barred from doing in the future if they had teachers like I had in high school. With the additional need to learn to type in today’s world, worrying about handwriting seems a bit outdated, but there’s some evidence that it’s more useful than I’d imagined. Even hand-written printing may help kids develop both motor and academic skills, even in an era of buttons and touch screens.
How penmanship helps expose problems
Older studies have linked handwriting to kids’ academic success, although it wasn’t entirely clear if snappy penmanship actually promoted good grades, or just correlated with them. While kindergartners with better handwriting were found to have higher math and reading scores in second grade, it was possible that both skills were the result of some other factor that promoted academic success.
Other studies have since tried to pick apart how better fine motor skills might improve one’s math and writing ability. Researchers have started to find that handwritten words require more than just motor skills, as language comprehension can play a role in one’s use of a pen as well. For instance, children with developmental coordination disorder (“dyspraxia”) will write fewer words per minute than their peers, but there will be no sign of motor impairment in the way they wield a pencil. When it comes to writing words though, these children often pause in the middle of writing a word, leading to poorly formed, and spelled, words. This doesn’t show a definitive cause and effect, but it does reveal another aspect of how the motor control necessary to write can have an influence on the expression of language.
Screen time seems safe
While most schools still expect kids to become comfortable with a pencil, there is growing concern about that kids’ use of touch screens will stunt their handwriting skills, thereby hurting their academic skills in the process. More data needs to be collected on this topic, but preliminary studies are finding no cause for alarm. If anything, young kids who spent time poking, scrolling and swiping at screens actually achieved hit fine motor milestones earlier than expected. This isn’t to say that more screen-time will make for increasingly superior students, but poking at on-screen targets might be a way for children to practice their coordination before they’ve learned their ABCs.
Source: We can't say if touchscreens are impacting children's handwriting—in fact, it may be quite the opposite by Melissa Prunty & Emma Sumner, The Conversation