Research shows that both children and adults learn and remember more when they take hand-written notes. Here’s what you can do for your child.
It’s been a long time now since people regularly sent handwritten thank you notes and left others hanging on the refrigerator. Today, you’re far more likely to get a text, even from your spouse.
But, if you can, encourage your children to take handwritten notes for school.
Research confirms earlier studies that both children and adults learn and remember more when they take notes by hand.
In the study, researchers in Norway recorded brain activity using an EEG that tracks brain waves. Twelve young adults (in their early 20s) and 12 children (around the age of 12) participated, wearing a hood with over 250 electrodes for 45 minutes while they wrote by hand or typed on a keyboard.
The brain scans showed that their brains were much more active while writing by hand. Human beings evolved by learning through their senses — the more senses they used the better. Your senses are activated when you press pen to paper, see the letters, and even hear the scratch of your writing.
Using a keyboard gives you less feedback. You use similar movements for each letter rather than employing the fine motor coordination involved in tracing out a cursive letter.
In separate research, researchers tested the impact of writing on 42 adults learning the Arabic alphabet.
Everyone saw videos of the letters being written while hearing audio of the names of those letters. One group also saw an on-screen flash of a letter and had to say if it was the same letter they'd just seen. Another group found the letter on a keyboard. The third group copied the letter with pen and paper.
It took six sessions at most for people to do this accurately. But the writing group learned more quickly, with some people being proficient after two sessions. Using their hands reinforced the information that came to them visually and by sound, these researchers said.
Finger movements involved in writing may also send specific, useful brain signals. In an experiment with five-year-olds who couldn’t read or write, the volunteers printed, typed, or traced letters and shapes. Later, when they saw those shapes while undergoing a brain scan, the results showed that a part of the brain linked to reading lit up only if they had printed the shapes — not if they had typed or traced them.
Writing notes by hand tends to increase your ability to focus and improves your retention and recall. So, a good strategy might be to give your young children crayons and pens and encourage them to write letters as part of their playtime, while saying the names of the letters out loud.
Writing may make you more creative
When you’re writing and want to be especially creative, it may help to start by composing on paper.
Even young children are more creative when they use a pen. In one study, second-graders wrote more words faster using a pen rather than a keyboard; fourth- and sixth-graders were more likely to write complete sentences with a pen. Other research found that kids produce more ideas when they write by hand. Essays produced by hand were more organized and insightful and had better grammar.
What about cursive?
Many American schools have stopped teaching kids to write cursive, or script, and many adults no longer use cursive writing. Yet, the fastest way to write is to combine cursive and print. Learning cursive also may be helpful for people with dyslexia.
The most important point: don’t stop using pens and paper. Or, second best, you might like using an electronic pen on a tablet.
August 12, 2022
Janet O’Dell, RN