If you want to light up your brain, sharpen your handwriting skills.
Today is National Handwriting Day, an event started in 1977 to celebrate the importance of handwriting, specifically cursive writing. It's observed every year on Jan. 23, the birthday of John Hancock. His bold, stylish signature is perhaps the most recognized on the Declaration of Independence.
On National Handwriting Day, and year-round, a nonprofit organization called Campaign for Cursive raises awareness about the value of cursive writing. Campaign for Cursive believes all children, and adults, should learn cursive writing because of its power to aid in learning, memory, brain development and abstract thinking.
Handwriting seems like nearly a lost art in today's era of texting, keyboards and voice-recognition software. Yet, for children and adults, the seemingly simple act of writing with a pen or pencil on paper could actually make us smarter.
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“Writing is the way we learn what we’re thinking,” said Dr. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington. Berninger studies the effect of handwriting on the human brain.
“The handwriting, the sequencing of the strokes, engages the thinking part of the mind," she said in an article for UW News.
Berninger co-authored studies on handwriting and followed the same children every year for five years to track their development. The results showed that, until grade six, children who wrote by hand, versus a keyboard, wrote more words, wrote faster and expressed more ideas.
Cursive handwriting specifically stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres. University of Washington research shows that cursive writing "lights up" areas of the brain that affect learning, language and memory in ways keyboarding and printed writing don't. This is great news for adults, who will have an easier time remembering and processing information they write by hand, according to research in a Psychology Today article.
Impassioned supporters of cursive writing are finding high- and low-tech ways to convince people to take pen to paper. A new game, Cool Cursive, uses flash cards to help kids learn the basics. Meanwhile, TED Talks from artists, calligraphers and photographers tout handwriting's benefits.
Cursive writing gives us an important link to history, as well. Holly Yamada, principal at Black Hawk Elementary School, said cursive writing "is not gone" at her school.
"(Cursive writing) is not a specific (Common Core) standard, but we still introduce it in third grade and practice it in fourth grade," she said, noting that some children seem to gain more benefits from it than others. "It depends on the way children write, the way they process writing. For some, they feel successful. For other kids, it's more of a challenge. ... We do think it's important for signatures and that type of thing."
Though Yamada couldn't say whether — or how much — other elementary schools in Rapid City include cursive writing in their curriculum — she believes reading and writing cursive is a relevant skill for her students.
"We believe it's still important so that students are able to read historical documents. It's not required that they write in cursive, but in fourth grade they practice reading documents written in cursive," Yamada said. "The Constitution is written in cursive, for example."