. . . the beauty and nobility, the august mission and destiny, of human handwriting.
—George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion
January 23 is National Handwriting Day—celebrated on the birthday of John Hancock, the founding father who, with his identifiable flourish, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Handwriting has long been a distinguishing mark of an educated person. Yet cursive writing is more than a means of personal identification or a legal promise. It’s a commitment to expressing one’s thoughts in one’s own hand.
Neurologist Frank Wilson, in his book The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, devotes a full chapter to the function of the opposable human thumb. The reciprocal, back-and-forth interaction of thumb and fingers required for cursive writing is essential to a child’s development of not only hand-eye dexterity but visual, auditory, tactile, and fine-motor integration.
Today handwriting is still included in the curriculum of many schools, although many are dropping it as well. There’s generally divided opinion about its importance in the modern classroom. Some educators believe that teaching cursive writing is too time-consuming and is out of step with our digital world of keyboards and texting. Others recognize that the act of learning to write in script plays a critical part in brain lateralization and neural development.
For more than forty years, I’ve been teaching learners of all ages and abilities to discover the critical importance of flow to the reading and handwriting process. My students learn to write and read their whole thoughts from the beginning. When they learn this way, comprehension isn’t a separate lesson. Students at any level can rediscover this flow through the rhythmic motion of such Brain Gym activities as Lazy 8s, Alphabet 8s, and the Double Doodle. They experience the written word as the fluid and expressive language that it is.
In fact, the joining of letters into a flowing communication probably calls on more of the human brain than any other activity, with the exception of speech—and so may be the single academic skill that most “grows” the intelligence.
(The theme of developing reciprocal movement for handwriting is addressed in several Edu-K courses, including The Dennison Approach to Whole-Brain Learning, Brain Gym(R) 101: Balance for Daily Life, and Optimal Brain Organization.)
Early development of language by hand: composing, reading, listening, and speaking connections; three letter-writing modes; and fast mapping in spelling. Berninger VW1, Abbott RD, Jones J, Wolf BJ, Gould L, Anderson-Youngstrom M, Shimada S, Apel K., Dev Neuropsychol. 2006;29(1):61-92.
© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison; updated 2016. All Rights Reserved.
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