Why Cursive Writing is Good for the Brain

Cursive writing samples by Ellington Montessori students ages 4 to 11

Handwriting is being dropped in public schools in favour of proficiency on a keyboard.  While we agree that proper typing skills are critical, research in psychology and neuroscience tells us that it is simply too early to declare handwriting a relic of the past.


Dr. Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris explains: “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated… There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.”  In other words, handwriting is actually good for the brain.

2012 study led by Dr. Karin James at the University of Indiana found that when children drew a letter freehand, they showed increased brain activity in the three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write. (The brain activity was significantly weaker when the children traced or typed the letter.)

In a separate study conducted by Dr. Virginia Berninger at the University of Washington – typing, printing and cursive writing resulted in distinct and separate brain patterns. When children wrote sentences by hand, they produced more words more quickly and consistently than they did on a keyboard. They also expressed more ideas. For example, when the children were asked to come up with ideas for a story, the ones with better handwriting showed greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory.

Bottom-line: Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they are also better able to generate ideas and retain information.

And as for cursive writing in particular? Dr. Berninger goes so far as to suggest that cursive writing “may train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not”, and some researchers argue that it may even be a path to treating dyslexia. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

While we believe that proper typing skills are critical, we also believe that learning to write is ever more critical; So why not teach both?


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