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Handwriting Experience Influencing Brain Development

Reading and writing are simple tasks that most of us take for granted on a daily basis. The process of learning to read and write is one we all started early and have since then forgotten about. The skills required before handwriting can begin include: bilateral hand skills, body stability, hand and finger strength, thumb opposition, in-hand manipulation and development of palmar arches. The components required before reading can begin include: letter recognition, phonics, decoding, vocabulary, text comprehension and spelling/handwriting.

In a study completed in 2012, researchers compared free-form printing, tracing and typing letters, in preschool aged children, to understand which is the most influential on brain development when learning to read. The results of this study concluded that motor experience (printing & tracing) are more influential than typing, and free-form printing is more influential than tracing overall. Researchers believe this is due to the specific areas of the brain that are activated during motor experience (handwriting) that allows children to recognize letters. In conclusion, handwriting can help facilitate literacy in children (James & Engelhardt, 2012).

If your child struggles with reading, it is possible they could struggle with handwriting delays as well. Occupational therapy focuses on the fine motor and visual skills associated with handwriting. Occupational therapists can help your child improve their hand/finger strength, bilateral hand use, in-hand manipulation, visual scanning, visual discrimination and visual closure skills all associated with handwriting.


James, K.H & Engelhardt, L. (2012). The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in preliterate children. Trends Neuroscience Education, 1(1), 32-42. Doi: 10.1016/j.tine.2012.08.001

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