08/28/2015 12:49 EDT | Updated 08/28/2016 05:59 EDT

Why You Should Get Your Kid to Handwrite

Jaeden Alvarez practices cursive writing at Cleveland K-6 School, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, in Dayton, Ohio. In years gone by, penmanship helped distinguish the literate from the illiterate. But now, in the digital age, people are increasingly communicating by computer and smartphone. No handwritten signature necessary. Cursive writing is not being taught in many schools as some 45 states have adopted Common Core standards, which have eliminated the teaching of cursive writing. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Adult colouring books have taken off, reaching bestseller status on Amazon, and that's for many weeks now. While colouring may be relaxing, real benefits accrue whenever we apply pen to paper. So in an age characterized by digital everything, don't be surprised that some people are trying to get your kids to pick up a pen.

Author Adam Holt is one such person. When he visits classrooms, he tells students that creating a "writer's notebook," literally a handwritten journal, helps improve concentration, harnesses creativity and allows young writers to "shut down the computer and reboot the mind!"

Recent research confirms that those bringing pen and paper back into daily life are on the right track. A study performed at the UCLA showed that jotting notes by hand improves a student's ability to conceptually understand material covered in a lecture, as well as to recall facts, compared to students who took notes on a laptop. Another study, performed at the University of Washington, determined that children who wrote by hand used more words, expressed more ideas and did all this more quickly than children who used a keyboard. Handwriting, it turns out, provides a good workout for the brain and helps the brain learn better.

Too bad many schools are not teaching cursive anymore. Parents, when you take your kids for school supplies this year, you might want to guide them to a quiet aisle where the humble pen awaits, a helpful remedy for kids who need to build concentration skills.

But how to get kids to use them?

What if we bought kids personalized note cards and motivated them to write letters each week? What if we wrote notes to them, dropped into lunchboxes, under the pillow, left for them when they sleepover at Gramma's? Could we introduce the experience of both sending and receiving handwritten letters? Can we have kids write out their commitments? It's a technique that social worker Deb McLachlin uses with her therapy clients to help them better remember priorities and set an intention for follow-through.

Lynette M. Smith, author of How to Write Heartfelt Letters to Treasure, suggests having kids write notes of gratitude after birthday parties or other good experiences. What if each child had to write several such letters each month?

Think of buying your kid a cool pen. Ever seen a pen made with magnets, so junior can make interesting sculptures (at lunch, of course). Or fiddle with a pen that has tools on it, for the kid who might, say, need a screwdriver on hand to do a quick locker repair. There are pens with lights, USB ports, cutting blades, 3-hole punch . . . you name it! Or, maybe keep things practical: buy a pen like FriXion, with ink that erases perfectly clean. No sir, pens today, new and improved, are worlds beyond those of days gone by!

With the start of a new school year, set your intentions now. Our kids need to learn firsthand an idea recently articulated by master penman Jake Weidmann: "The hand empowers the pen, but the pen empowers the man." And there is only one way they can hope to learn that truth -- hands on.


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