Handwriting vs Typing in Child Development and Role of School-Based Occupational Therapy

To write or to type? Or both? There is an ongoing debate and some educators even consider it very controversial to do one or the other. As a parent, which should you focus on first?

Both handwriting and typing have their own unique benefits for child development.

Handwriting is believed to help with fine motor skills, as well as cognitive development, as it requires children to physically write letters and words across a piece of paper in space. In addition, handwriting can also be beneficial for memory and learning, as the act of writing something down can help to reinforce it in the child’s mind. Each culture has unique handwriting specifics, such as directionality. In Western cultures, we write from left to right and read in this direction as well. What about typing? Is it replacing handwriting? After all, who writes these days, right?

Typing can be beneficial for children’s keyboard skills and typing speed. Typing or swiping on a smartphone or tablet is also a different set of skills than keyboarding. Typing in general allows children to access and use technology at an early age. Additionally, typing is often faster than handwriting, which can be beneficial for certain tasks, such as taking notes or writing essays.

It seems that both handwriting and typing are important skills for children to learn and develop. For one, this depends on the context and purpose to decide which one is more appropriate for children to use.

Many teachers argue and even some studies have shown that the act of writing by hand can lead to better understanding and retention of material, particularly for students in primary and secondary school. This is thought to be because the physical act of writing by hand requires more cognitive engagement and activates different areas of the brain than typing. Additionally, some experts argue that handwriting can be more personal and expressive than typing, which can be beneficial for children’s creativity and self-expression. From choosing a pen to the colors to the paper to the actual handwriting compared to “just typing it out” is the argument.

Some experts recommend that children should be taught to write by hand before they are taught to type. This is because handwriting is a more natural and intuitive process for young children, whereas typing requires more abstract thinking and understanding of the keyboard layout. You also go by feeling of the keys to type.

Another important aspect to consider is that some children may find it easier to write by hand or type, depending on individual preferences, learning styles, and abilities. For example, some children may have difficulty with fine motor skills, which may make handwriting more challenging for them. In such cases, typing may be a more appropriate option. But occupational therapy can be traditionally very helpful for developing handwriting skills. It had been well researched and practiced in schools.

When teaching handwriting, it’s recommended to use a multi-sensory approach, which includes visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic components. This can help to make the learning process more engaging, fun, and effective for children.

Similarly, when teaching typing, it’s recommended to start with basic keyboard skills, such as learning the location of letters and numbers on the keyboard, before moving on to more advanced typing skills. Staring with the homerow keys and then advancing one’s skills. Long before videogames before mainstream, there were games that taught typing. Now there are a wealth of games that may be more tailored and advanced to help typers type even faster through real-time feedback and advanced algorithms. This is called gamification. There is an entire community of keyboard enthusiasts and a culture of building your own keyboard by hand. One could argue that typing then is a form of expression as well. I remember going to Starbucks and seeing a college student take out a cool looking keyboard and attaching it to their laptop.

It is also important to be mindful of the technology and tools used in the teaching process, as well as the settings and environment. For example, using a proper ergonomic setup, such as an adjustable chair and a keyboard and mouse that are the right size for the child’s hand, can help to reduce the risk of injury and discomfort to prevent future problems. Not that handwriting doesn’t have its own issues if proper ergonomics are not followed, but it seems that typing can be done much longer in time than handwriting. And on the screen, even longer than on a keyboard.

Handwriting and typing should not be seen as mutually exclusive skills. In fact, many people use a combination of both in their daily lives, depending on the context and purpose of the task at hand on a day to day. For example, someone may take notes by hand during a meeting but type them up later, or they may write a letter by hand but use a computer to type a report. It’s situational and depends on individual preferences. It seems that handwriting is falling out of popularity though.

In education, it’s important to teach students the value and appropriate use of both handwriting and typing, so that they can choose the best tool for the task at hand. This can help to promote flexibility and adaptability in their learning and work. One limitation to this is access and funding. Not all schools may be able to provide such resources and opportunities.

In addition, handwriting and typing can also be integrated in the classroom in various ways to enhance the learning experience. For instance, students can take notes by hand, then type them up and submit them as an assignment. This way, they are engaging both their cognitive and motor skills and getting the benefits of both writing and typing. Best of both worlds.

Occupational therapists can play an integral role in this process as they can provide intervention in the child’s most natural setting – in their classroom at school.

Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession that focuses on helping individuals with physical, mental, and developmental conditions to perform daily activities, or “occupations”, as independently and safely as possible. OTs also work in the school setting. Handwriting is one of the many tasks that occupational therapists work on with their students.

In occupational therapy, handwriting is often used as a tool to help individuals improve their fine motor skills, visual-motor coordination, and overall function in daily activities such as school assignments. Occupational therapists use a variety of techniques and strategies to help individuals improve their handwriting, such as:

-Teaching proper grip and pencil holding techniques.
-Using adaptive equipment, such as special pens and pencils, to make writing easier and more functional.
-Practicing writing exercises and activities, such as tracing and copying letters, to improve muscle memory and control at school.
-Incorporating visual-motor coordination activities, such as drawing and coloring, to help improve the connection between the eyes and hands in an engaging manner.
-Utilizing technology, such as word processors, to support writing when needed.
-Addressing underlying conditions that might affect handwriting, such as attention or visual-perception difficulties.

Also, occupational therapy for handwriting can be beneficial for individuals of all ages and abilities, including children, adults, and seniors. It can help to improve the ability to write legibly, increase writing speed, and reduce the fatigue and discomfort associated with writing. This can be especially frustrating for students who are facing struggles in school.

In conclusion, both handwriting and typing are important skills for children to learn and develop. They should be seen as complementary skills, rather than mutually exclusive, and students should be taught the value and appropriate use of both. Educators may favor one over the other, but they should be holistic and consider both. Handwriting and typing can be integrated in the classroom in various ways to enhance the learning experience, as well as to promote flexibility and adaptability in students’ learning and work. A student can be strong with one and need more help with another and this is where occupational therapy can help, yes even with typing.