In the digital age, do we need to teach children handwriting?

Veronica Grow, the founder of Old School New School Design and Typography. Photo: Daniel Pocket.


Our handwriting may be going the way of the dinosaurs, thanks to the encroaching digital age, but at least one Melbourne school is swimming against the evolutionary tide.

Old School New School for Design and Typography at Abbotsford Convent holds regular classes in copperplate script, that flowing form of cursive writing that readers of a certain age may remember from a classroom long ago.

Old School’s founder, graphic designer Veronica Grow, is convinced poor penmanship is destroying creativity.

“Typing on a keyboard is killing our neural pathways,” she says. “It’s doing a lot of damage.”

To back her claim, Grow cites neuroscientists and thinkers such as Ken Robinson, who believe the link between the body and the mind is crucial in human development.

“It’s important to maintain those neural pathways because they’re associated with making new ideas and thinking, and if we stop using those pathways, they will die. We should be building them.”

Grow conducts about 10 copperplate classes per year, mostly for adults, but also teaches calligraphy, typography and signwriting.

Recently, Finland made headlines when it announced teaching handwriting would become optional in schools.
And in the US, several states no longer require children to learn cursive writing, opting instead for a greater emphasis on keyboard skills.

However, good penmanship is still taught in Australia.
In this state, primary school students learn Victorian modern cursive script, beginning to “join up” their letters in grade 3.

“The Victorian curriculum includes advice and expectations to schools regarding handwriting, and students are expected to learn to write using clearly formed joined letters and develop increased fluency as they progress,” a Department of Education and Early Childhood Development spokeswoman says.

While some schools may choose to “go digital” by introducing computer keyboards or tablet devices, she says it’s not “common practice” for schools to rely solely on digital writing tools.

At Brighton Beach Primary School, leading teacher Kim Ancrum says teaching handwriting helps her charges build fine and gross motor skills, as well as supporting the understanding of how words sound.

Since the introduction of electronic tablets as a learning tool, she hasn’t noticed any deterioration in her students’ handwriting.

Two years ago, she recalls one of her prep students confused a Times New Roman letter “g” with what he termed a “google”. (This font was for a long time used in the search engine’s branding.)

“To me, it really signifies that importance of teaching the handwriting and the correlation between the sound and the letter; it’s something that continues to be an important thing.”

Back at Old School New School, Grow maintains that reconnecting with handwriting is more about reconnecting with discipline and focus in a time when distraction is just a smartphone swipe away.

“I think it teaches mindfulness. It helps people connect to their bodies, it helps people pay attention and it helps people concentrate.”

Read the original story originally published online at The Age on 2 January, 2016, here.