Happy National Handwriting Day!!! January 23 2015

Handwriting is a gift, a gift of being human!

“If you can’t write, you can’t think.”
~ Northrop Frye , Blake scholar, literary critic, prognosticator

The great handwriting debate filling pages of news articles and research reports gives Waldorf teachers little pause. There is no sense in teaching reading before teaching writing. Plain and simple.

If we succumb, as we are prone to do in the United States, to the latest “trend” and rationally explain that with touch screens and keyboards, handwriting is a thing of the past, the losses just might be incalculable.

When a child writes with her own hand the letters of her name, she learns in her being, in her physical body, the reality of a symbol. The letters that make her name become for a moment her, herself! Ta da! Recognition ensues and leads the child to begin to understand that handwriting is s series of representations of pictures and of realities, like the child herself. If we skip that step, certainly a child will read but with a thinner comprehension level, with the step missed of comprehension of the context in which writing was developed, in the culture of markings, of symbols, of picture making to make sense of the world and of sharing that by means of meaningful communication. Reading then devolves into deciphering only or “decoding” as we like to call it now.

Neuroscientists have proven unequivocally, too, that those who learn to write by hand first before reading read more quickly and with greater comprehension. The stimulation in the brain when handwriting is engaged is unique the French psychologist, Stanislaus Dahaene, tells us. This unique stimulus he has discovered make all learning easier. Ingenious tests using brain scanners illuminated the fact that when children were asked to trace a letter already written on a card, or to type the letter on a keyboard or to copy the letter by themselves on a separate card, only   the writing children’s brains were stimulated in many places. In other words handwriting changes the brain and helps it to develop. Virginia Berninger of the University of Washington determined, “When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas,” and that handwriting children created greater neural activity and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.

Handwriting is the beginning of all thinking, as Northrop Frye knew well. The form, the formation, the discipline, the time it takes, the effort of will it takes and the meaning it prompts all point to its high value in being a human being with capacities beyond the animal kingdom worthy of cultivation. On handwriting day, we can all gather together and commit with Waldorf teachers to never give up on handwriting! It’s value, now being scientifically underscored, verifying what Waldorf teachers and human beings back to cave dwellers have known all along…it’s a human necessity to write, to make pictures, comprehend the meaning of our marks! Handwriting is worth it, indeed!


Additional reading material:
several articles on the website of The Research Institute for Waldorf Education.

A great book Teaching Children Handwriting is available here or here.