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Handwriting Letters and Notes Offers Cognitive, Creative and Social Benefits

Research shows that handwriting letters and notes enhances cognition, creativity and social skills. Learn more about why you should put pen to paper.

When was the last time you sat down and wrote something by hand? At one time, handwriting letters, class notes and to-do lists was part of daily life, but now people rely on email, texts and voice-recognition apps to communicate with others and take notes.

It might be time to step away from the keyboard and pick up pen and notepad. Numerous studies have shown that the act of handwriting letters and notes offers cognitive, creative and social benefits that are hard to ignore.

Handwriting Is a Smart Move

Handwriting boosts brain function at every age. Researchers have found:

  • Individuals engaged in handwriting or reading display a distinct brain activity pattern that involves three regions of the brain. Children learning to write letters exhibit the same type of brain activity; the pattern does not show up when typing or tracing.

  • Elementary schoolchildren write more words, write words faster and express more ideas when handwriting than when typing.

  • Students who do not develop adequate handwriting skills experience difficulty with spelling, extracting meaning from text or lectures and interpreting the context of words or phrases.

  • Handwriting, specifically handwriting letters in cursive script, enhances reading skills among children with dyslexia.

  • Students in grade 7 through college prefer handwriting notes when studying and say they learn best by taking or reading notes on paper.

  • Handwriting letters and notes helps adults improve their ability to learn and recall information.

  • Handwriting engages 14 abilities, including memory recall, mental attention, visual focusing, concentration with awareness, and eye-hand coordination — skills that we need throughout our lives. Handwriting letters and notes can help keep these skills sharp as we age.

Handwriting Is Creative

Did you know that some of today’s most popular authors write some or all of their books by hand? Stephen King, J. K. Rowling and James Patterson, among many others, prefer handwriting their books for a variety of reasons. But the real answer may be more scientific than they realize.

Handwriting letters, notes, books or just about anything on paper stimulates creativity. A joint study by Tufts University and Stanford University found that fluid movement, such as that associated with handwriting, is linked to creative thought.

Handwriting is also linked with improved ideation, punctuation, planning, spelling and grammar, all of which help boost creativity when writing. It helps influence reading, language use and critical thinking. And because it stimulates motor planning, eye-hand coordination and physical movement, the benefits of handwriting can extend beyond language creativity into other areas, such as art, music and dance.

Handwriting Is Social

Before computers, email, texting and social media, handwritten letters were a way for people to stay connected when they weren’t able to see each other. Even though people don’t send them as much as they used to, we still enjoy opening our mailbox to find a personal note from a loved one. It creates a social connection that isn’t easily replaced by other media.

That’s why we created the PAPERpal™ program, which encourages students and senior citizens to connect through a fun and engaging letter exchange program.

Handwriting letters helps teach students important skills, including how to share their thoughts on paper, how to address an envelope and how to read and respond to cursive handwriting. For senior citizens who participate in the program, handwriting letters helps sharpen their mental and motor skills and gives them an emotional and social connection with their PAPERpal.

“The PAPERpal™ program encourages cognitive and social benefits with two age groups that can benefit the most: children, who are developing their brains, and the elderly, who may be losing some function,” says Ann Nathe, who coordinates the PAPERpal program and serves as strategic marketing and research manager at Domtar. “It also gives them the opportunity to share experiences from completely different generations.”

The PAPERpal™ program goes beyond exchanging letters. In 2017, students from the Trésor-du-Boisé elementary school and seniors from Les Verrières du Golf retirement center in Montréal spent six months handwriting letters to each other. Then they had the chance to meet in person. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Take Time to Put Pen to Paper

The evidence is clear: Handwriting letters and notes can sharpen your mind, expand your creativity and connect you with friends, new and old. So the next time you start to send an email or a text message, consider sitting down and handwriting a letter instead. Your brain and your loved ones will thank you.

Visit PAPERpal™ for information about starting a program in your community.

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