Is Typing or Handwriting Better for Kids?
The keyboard versus the pen. Which is better for children’s learning?
As laptops and tablets become commonplace in schools many parents and teachers are left wondering if note-taking with paper and pencil will become an obsolete skill.
Do young children still need to learn how to handwrite?
As adults we’re spending less and less time scribing things on paper and more and more time typing and using screens and gadgets to record our ideas. In fact a 2012 study showed that the average time since an adult last scribbled was 41 days.
So whilst we might be doing less typing as adults, it’s still a really essential skill for our digital kids to acquire. I’m here to say we certainly shouldn’t be packing away pencils and rushing to pull out keyboards. Handwriting is still an essential skill in the 21st Century. Kids still need to learn to handwrite.
Is handwriting really different to typing?
The two activities require different cognitive skills.
When we type, we simply tap a key. It’s relatively the same cognitive process each time. The movement is the same, regardless of the letter. It’s a skill that’s often acquired fast and easily.
By contrast, handwriting is a much more complex task. It takes years to master (if we think about all the fine motor skills little ones have to develop before they even grip a pencil). It requires muscle memories to recall letter formations. Unique neural circuits are automatically activated when we handwrite. It mentally stimulates the brain.
What impact does typing have on children’s learning? Do they recall more or less if they handwrite?
A 2012 study showed that children who hadn’t yet learned to read or write demonstrated increased activity in three areas of the brain (the same three areas which are activated in adults when reading and writing) when they attempted to handwrite letters on a blank piece of paper. In contrast, those children in the study who traced letters or shapes with dotted outlines, or those who typed the letter on the computer showed no such effect. Their activation was significantly weaker.
Do children learn better when handwriting or typing?
Preliminary research in the area suggests that handwriting may be better than typing for students’ recall of information. The video below outlines the benefits of handwriting.
However, the research in this area is not clear at this stage.
The research confirms that handwriting is the superior option (especially for older children in secondary school) as it results in better retention of information.
The research tells us that when children type they:
// Recall fewer details long-term. Studies have shown that students recall more information from handwritten notes after one week, than they do with typed notes. It appears that handwriting stimulates more memory cues as you form a context for the writing.
// Take copious notes and record verbatim. This mindless transcription means that they’re not consciously absorbing what they’re writing. Students are much more selective about what they write when they handwrite notes.
// It takes them a lot less time to record their information (if they’re a speedy typist) as compared to handwriting. So the extra time required to hand-write the information may help with their memory consolidation and subsequent recall. Handwriting also creates unique motor memories in the brain.
// Are more likely to get distracted by other tasks that you can do on a computer or tablet.
But this may not be the case with younger children
It’s important to note that the available studies at this stage have looked at secondary and college students. This means that the findings may not be transferable to younger children. For example, younger students whose fine motor skills are emerging, or for children with additional learning needs, typing may free up some of their cognitive resources that they’d otherwise dedicate to handwriting.
This is called “cognitive automaticity”. So typing may in fact allow them to focus on the content of what they’re writing, as opposed to focusing exclusively on forming letters and fine motor skills.
So before we toss out paper and pencils, we need to still foster children’s handwriting skills, even in this digital age. Whilst we don’t yet have a definitive answer from the research when it comes to young children and the handwriting vs typing debate, we know that handwriting requires different neurological resources and it’s probably still an important skill.
Do you prefer to handwrite or type? What do your kids prefer?