Write On, Baby: Why I’m Smarter than My Kids


There was a moment in time when digital watches came on the scene in a big way. Ubiquitous Casios faced down analog timepieces in the marketplace to the extent that conventional wisdom (read: what my parents were saying) had analog going the way of the sundial. There was chatter among adults, I recall, that “it won’t be long before kids can’t even read a clock anymore.”

Today, I sometimes wonder whether handwriting will soon be written off. I don’t recall seeing my guys actually handwrite all that much while they were growing up. I did spy their notebooks and scrawl here and there, and I think I got one or two letters from camp, but it wasn’t like when we were young and wrote on everything we could get our hands on. I do see them typing. At least I think I do; their fingers move way too fast for me to know what’s really going on between user and keyboard. They text, too. I get their texts. I do not get “notes.” In any event, I just read this story about why I’m so much smarter than my kids!

Turns out, writing by hand makes kids – and adults, for that matter – smarter. This, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article by Gwendolyn Bounds, who cites a numbers of studies, including one based on magnetic resonance imaging. The upshot of the research, she says, is that handwriting “helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.” This is the good stuff that we need to nail down early on if we’re going to know our ass from our elbows as we get on in years.

Speaking of getting on in years, we adults also reap benefits from putting pen to paper. Bounds points out that “some physicians say handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age.” The Week adds to the mix a number of specific benefits, including studies that show that writing by hand “can get ideas out faster” and increases neural activity, which is always fun.

And in the perception versus reality department, good handwriting makes you seem smarter, as well: “Several studies have shown that the same mediocre essay will score much higher if written with good penmanship and much lower if written out in poor handwriting,” says Vanderbilt University education professor Steve Graham. “There is a reader effect that is insidious”¦ People judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting.”

While this all could lead to an unfortunate bout of tech bashing, consider, says Bounds, that “new software for touch-screen devices, such as the iPad, is starting to reinvigorate the practice.” I know that I got myself this little iPhone “paint” application that I read David Hockney uses, and I now find myself “coloring” again from time to time. Smarter me? Maybe. It makes me smile for sure.

So regarding my kids, I lied. My kids are way smarter than me. They certainly are when you put my 17- and 20-year-old self against where they’re at today. Beside their genetically endowed brilliance (had to), their access to and facility with information as they developed far surpassed mine in every way. The big question now is: Is information wasted on the young? Better jot that one down.

Oh, and neither of them even wears a watch.

Image: Caitlinator

Scott Adelson

Scott Adelson is EcoSalon's Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at scott@adelson.org.