Develop Your Child’s Mind-Body Connection via Handwriting

By | June 22, 2024

When was the last time your child sat down to actively write something on paper? While it may seem trivial, emphasizing the importance of using a pen can nourish their mind-body connection. These include fine motor skills, information processing and creativity, all of which come into play when your child holds a pen to write something down. Sadly, this essential life skill may be going the way of the dinosaur.

According to a report1 from National Public Radio (NPR), handwriting among children is becoming more problematic, especially with the introduction of computer classes at an early age. When handwriting is left by the wayside, it can affect children’s ability to learn.

Children’s Literacy May Be in Danger

According to educational neuroscientist Sophia Vinci-Booher, Ph.D.,2 handwriting may be one of the most complex movements a child can make that can hone their mind-body connection. “Your fingers have to each do something different to produce a recognizable letter,” she says. As your child performs each stroke with the pencil, their brain refers to mental images of the letters they’re writing, “making adjustments to fingers in real time to create the letter’s shapes.”

Published research supports this hypothesis, such as one study3 in Frontiers in Psychology involving 36 university students. Using an electroencephalogram (a device that measures electrical activity in the brain4), researchers noted that handwriting showed significantly higher brain activity compared to typing on a keyboard, especially in the parietal and central regions:

“Existing literature indicates that connectivity patterns in these brain areas and at such frequencies are crucial for memory formation and for encoding new information and, therefore, are beneficial for learning.”

In another study,5 researchers recruited two groups of 38 children aged 3 to 5 years old and tasked them to copy the alphabet by hand and keyboard. After three weeks of teaching the alphabet to the youngsters, they compared the participants’ ability to recognize letters for each group. Results showed that children who were taught handwriting “gave rise to a better letter recognition than the typing training.”

When children begin to rely more on keyboards than pencil and paper, their brains are not fully stimulated, preventing them from reaching their full potential. In fact, it could lead to other problems, such as changes in behavior. According to a 2023 study published in Cureus, poor handwriting may lead to poor grades and low self-esteem.6

To prevent an educational crisis from worsening further, the state of California has already started requiring elementary schools to incorporate cursive writing into their curriculums. Kentucky, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Indiana have also proposed similar bills.7

Could Cursive Handwriting Be the Solution?

Cursive is a form of handwriting that emphasizes joining letters to help increase both the speed and ease of writing. The philosophy behind this approach is reducing the frequency of the writing hand lifting from the paper.8

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Following this train of thought, teaching cursive to your child may be a viable way to hone their mind-body connection. In a study9 published in 1979, the benefits of cursive handwriting were already noted, as it allows children with spatial disorientation to combine writing, reading and spelling together — three areas of learning that are typically taught separately in school. To teach the children, researchers created this setup:

“The manuscript letter is written on the chalkboard and the class is asked what sound the letter makes. If the letter name is given, it is accepted as correct, but the sound is emphasized at all times. The class repeats the sound and the teacher asks for words beginning with it. She then superimposes the cursive letter over the manuscript already on the board. This can be done for nineteen of the letters.

For the remaining letters (e, r, s, f, b, v, z) the cursive is written next to the manuscript. In either case, both should appear on the board to allow the child to develop an association between the letters he reads and those he writes.”

The researchers10 concluded that children may have an easier time focusing on their handwriting by writing in cursive rather than manuscript. That’s because cursive engages multiple senses, and a child may still have success despite having problems in different areas, such as motor coordination and sound-blending (the ability to build words from sounds11).

In another study,12 this time published in 2018, similar findings were observed. The study population comprised 141 first-graders from four schools in southern Italy, which were divided into two groups — the experimental group received training in cursive handwriting, while the control group received a combination of cursive and writing.

For an entire school year, all students received 40 training sessions from teachers while being supervised by a child psychologist. Results showed that children who practiced cursive developed better handwriting, indicating a higher potential for text composition and better working memory.13

10 Strategies to Help Develop Your Child’s Handwriting

Evidently, teaching cursive to your children can have a significant impact on their mind-body connection. But how do you approach and encourage your child about it?

In a guide published in the learning platform SplashLearn, schoolteacher Amy Paige outlines 10 steps that parents can adopt to encourage their children practice handwriting, thus gaining its benefits:14

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1. Select the right paper and pen — Using the right tools for the job can go a long way in helping your child develop their handwriting. Take your time in choosing the right pencil and/or pen for your child, selecting the appropriate size and shape. Paige writes:

“A pen or pencil that is too thin or too thick can easily be the cause of your child’s messy handwriting. Instead, select a pencil that your child can hold properly. For example, toddlers have small hands with a less firm grip, so a thick and short pencil is perfect for them.”

Also remember to select the appropriate paper, as it goes hand in hand with the correct writing instrument. Choose the right thickness and texture that your child prefers, which may help them write legibly.

2. Help your child grip the pencil properly — Your child’s way of holding the pencil can determine how their handwriting looks. Thus, teaching them the right grip from the start creates a strong handwriting foundation.

For preschoolers and kindergarteners, Paige recommends the “tripod grasp.” Here, your child holds a pencil between their thumb and index finger. Then, let the pencil rest on their middle finger. The remaining two fingers curl to the palm, acting as support.

To help your child develop their tripod grasp, Paige recommends using small crayons first. You can also let your child do other activities that make use of the tripod grasp, such as finger-painting, playing with building blocks, threading beads or using tweezers.

3. Guide your child’s hand — Teaching your child to apply the right amount of pressure on the desk can help them write properly. If you find that the words they wrote are stamped into the next page of their notebook, it may indicate a heavy writing hand. If too much pressure is applied, it may affect their mental state, and thus their handwriting.

If you notice this problem, it would be wise to guide their hand. In addition, show them the correct pressure so they can relax their hand while writing.

4. Reach an ideal writing speed — Pay attention to how slow or fast your child is writing. Speed is an important factor, as if your child goes too fast, they might not form legible letters. On the other hand, if they go too slow, they might not be able to submit their schoolwork on time.

To help your child hone their writing speed, let them relax first. Allow them to process the writing task at hand before they begin writing. As they get used to writing legibly at a slower speed, you can encourage them to speed up the writing.

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5. Create an engaging environment — Writing should be a fun activity for your child, not a nervous one. By creating a positive environment for your child, they’ll always feel encouraged and confident. If you notice that the pen-and-paper combo isn’t working, changing the environment can make things fresh.

For example, use crayons and other art materials to encourage writing. Getting them appropriate tables and chairs for optimal ergonomics can also help foster a positive environment.

6. Identify underlying issues — Is your child struggling to write legibly? To encourage your child to write clearer, don’t just force them to do it. Paige recommends sitting down with your child and figuring out which areas they’re having difficulty with.

Poor handwriting can stem from numerous reasons, such as low confidence. They might be using ineligible writing to hide spelling mistakes. They may also be suffering from a sensory disorder, making it hard to write.

7. Work on your child’s motor skills with other activities — Allowing your child to hone their mind-body connection is key to good handwriting. Practicing their fine motor skills can help them keep a steady hand, which you can do with other activities such as:

Using child-safe cutlery

Playing catch with a baseball

Making clay figures

Play family friendly games such as Jenga

8. Get familiar with the shape of the alphabet — According to Paige, children usually have an inconsistent penmanship, resulting in uneven letters and spacing. Therefore, helping your child familiarize themselves with the alphabet can create a strong base for their handwriting.

She encourages parents to sit beside their children and teach them to write each letter of the alphabet, paying attention to the size, spacing, curves and slants of each letter, both in uppercase and lowercase forms.

9. Read more to help write more — Encourage your child to read more books and other learning materials that interests them. This can help familiarize themselves with various sentence structures, which can also help expand their vocabulary. Eventually, this may translate into their handwriting, allowing them to spell correctly while paying attention to letter formation.

10. Remember to practice — The only way to get better is to practice, but your child may have a hard time grasping this concept. Paige recommends using innovative approaches to encourage your child to write daily, such as using nonpermanent markers to write on walls or boards.

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