As Occupational Therapists we are frequently asked whether learning to print or write in cursive is worthwhile when eventually all children will end up typing on a computer to complete their academic work. From my own professional experience, I can state that there isn’t a catch all approach that will work for every child.
Whether a child should be taught to print, write in cursive, and/or keyboard is dependent on their circumstances, abilities, and environment. If as a parent or teacher you are debating the best approach for a child, an Occupational Therapy assessment can assist in the decision making processing as to the best and most efficient approach of producing written work.
Here is a quick look at both approaches:
Keyboarding: A child with a motoric disability (for example, juvenile arthritis) who is required and is cognitively capable of producing large amounts of written output would benefit from learning how to keyboard for energy conservation and to increase efficiency.
Please note, that ergonomic principles need to be implemented in order to avoid chronic physical injury from keyboarding – even a child can experience headaches, neck pain or wrist pain secondary to repetitive strain injuries common in adult workplace environments. Although it is true that keyboarding offers a more efficient approach to producing written work, it is not necessarily the easiest skill to learn as it requires strong kinesthesia (in this case the ability to know where your fingers are in space without looking), finger isolation, bilateral coordination, and working memory (if keyboarding vision occluded is the end goal). In my professional experience, learning to keyboard during elementary years can realistically take up to 1 year to master for a child with minimal fine motor difficulties. Whereas, for the typical child with fine motor weakness and average attention span, they would be able to gain proficiency in printing and cursive writing in 2 – 3 months.
In some cases, keyboarding can be recommended as a back-up or secondary skill for children who are capable of learning the basic skills or printing or cursive writing, but are not able to sustain the production levels expected at their grade level.
Here is a handout from CanChild in support of keyboarding for a certain population of children:
Writing (cursive or printing): There is a debate on whether the best approach is cursive or printing when using a pencil or pen. This debate will be left for another blog (hint: I like to recommend cursive). There is research that supports the educational value in putting pencil to paper for learning over using a keyboard. Motor movement reinforces concepts learning during spelling tasks. In later years of academia, note taking supports the ability to focus on the material at hand, and the ability to memorize and recall information, particularly for visual and kinesthetic learners. I quickly learned that if I wrote out a passage 1 or 2 times while studying, that I could recall it almost word for word during exams. The words would seem to just flow out my hand.
Here are some links to support the learning via writing:
How Handwriting Trains The Brain – Wall Street Journal
Hm… as I proof read this blog, I am realizing that I’m a little top heavy on the “for writing” links. My original intent was to offer an objective arguments on both sides. Therefore I should reiterate that BOTH approaches have benefits, keyboarding has its obvious benefits of being more efficient once the skill is learned, and writing has its benefits when it comes to the actual learning process of writing (e.g. spelling, composing, and the creative process of writing). In an ideal world, all children should have the opportunity to learn both. If your child is having difficulty and you are not sure which approach is best for your child, an assessment by Occupational Therapist can provide guidance on which approach would be easier and most efficient for a child to achieve their academic potential.
Lizette Alexander OT Reg. (Ont)