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Practicing handwriting is better than videos or typing for kids learning to read, study suggests

Though online platforms have become the norm, traditional handwriting is still important for learning key skills

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A new study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University suggests that practicing handwriting is an important skill that helps kids learn how to read

Although writing on paper may seem unnecessary now that computers and other devices have become so much more mainstream, researchers say practicing handwriting leads to better reading development than either watching videos or reading typed words.

“The question out there for parents and educators is why should our kids spend any time doing handwriting,” said researcher Brenda Rapp. “Obviously, you’re going to be a better hand-writer if you practice it. But since people are handwriting less then maybe who cares? The real question is: Are there other benefits to handwriting that have to do with reading and spelling and understanding? We find there most definitely are.” 

The benefits of writing by hand

For the study, the researchers divided over 40 participants into three groups to learn the Arabic alphabet. Participants either watched videos, typed the letters, or wrote them out by hand, and the researchers determined how well each group retained the information they were taught. 

In assessing various skills, the team learned that the participants that were writing by hand were the most proficient in the Arabic alphabet, and they became proficient much faster than participants in any of the other two groups. The handwriting group excelled in writing new words, recognizing letters, and decoding the most difficult words. 

“The main lesson is that even though they were all good at recognizing letters, the writing training was the best at every other measure,” said researcher Robert Wiley. “And they required less time to get there. With writing, you’re getting a stronger representation in your mind that lets you scaffold toward these other types of tasks that don’t in any way involve handwriting.” 

Though the study included adults learning a new language, the researchers believe that the findings would translate to children learning to read. The team hopes these findings can inform educators so that language education through handwriting can continue.

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