The Cognitive Benefits of Handwriting: Embracing the Power of Pen and Paper

Nowadays, schools often replace the art of handwriting by the convenience of typing on keyboards and touchscreens. However, recent research suggests that it is not only the tradition that is lost when abandoning this practice. Unsurprising to Waldorf educators, handwriting offers important cognitive benefits that can enhance learning, memory, and overall brain development.

Handwriting is a complex motor skill that deeply engages the brain in a way that typing or dictating cannot match. As Marieke Longcamp, a cognitive neuroscientist at Aix-Marseille Université, explains, “Handwriting is a complex motor skill that deeply engages the brain.” The act of gripping a pen and forming letters requires a truly complex coordination between the motor and visual systems, creating a neurobiologically richer process that supports learning.

…handwriting offers important cognitive benefits that can enhance learning, memory, and overall brain development.

For children, the benefits of handwriting are particularly profound. Studies show that children who trace out letters by hand show better and longer-lasting sound-symbol correspondence and letter recognition compared to those who simply type them. These skills lay the groundwork for complex literacy, language comprehension and learning, as handwriting seemingly reinforces the link between written symbols and their corresponding sounds and meanings.

The cognitive advantages of handwriting benefit not only children. For adults, one of the main benefits is improved memory and recall. When we write by hand, the areas in our brain involved in motor and visual information processing act in unison, thus deepening the processing of information. This deeper cognitive processing can lead to better retention and understanding of the material at hand.

Handwriting also offers a unique tactile experience that can further support learning and memory. The feel of the pen on paper, the smell of the ink, and the physical act of forming letters all contribute to a multisensory experience that can aid in the encoding and retrieval of information. This sensory richness is something that digital devices struggle to replicate, making handwriting a valuable tool for those seeking to optimize their learning and cognitive processes.

At Green Meadow, our students’ literacy journey always engages the students’ volition through writing, drawing, painting and hands-on activities. All of our students begin their handwriting journey through an exploration of the forms and sounds of letters, connecting them to pictorial representations that make sense. They go on to learn cursive handwriting, first with pencil and then with fountain pens, enhancing their perseverance, patience, problem solving skills, and attention to detail. Furthermore, handwriting engages the students actively, allowing them to create deeper connections with language and content. 

To read more about this topic, visit this NPR article.