Why your child needs to be multilingual by hand

Source: www.colourbox.com
Source: www.colourbox.com

Just the other day, my almost-nine year old daughter giggled,

“Mum, I think your phone has got four owners! Me (herself), Jona (her three year old brother), Mali (her eighteen-month old brother) and YOU!”

And I think she was just about right; in that very order too! I often observe my kids and the ease with which they manipulate tech gadgets (i.e. smart phones, tablets, laptops, TV, remote controls & game consoles)  and I can only concur that, ‘Surely, the times, they have changed!’

Granted, the younger two are currently fascinated by the audiovisuals and games more than anything else but hey, their inherent tech-savvy genes are undeniable!

My daughter, on the other hand, is fairly proficient with a number of on-line activities, apps and gadget-functions (both on the phone and laptop) and her touch-typing is way better than mine was in my early teens. Even as I write, I am aware that her cyber-tech abilities may only be scratching the surface when it comes to the tech-savvy abilities of today’s digital kid!

What therefore threw me back the other day was when she told me that they are learning cursive writing at school! Cursive writing?! That’s like Stone Age, right? I mean, when was the last time you actually used a pen and paper –never mind writing in cursive! And where in the world is she going to apply cursive writing in this e-era? Well, that definitely got me wondering why a 21st century school would bother about cursive writing or even just plain handwriting in this day and age!

With more and more schools in South Africa and Africa, going paperless and adapting to e-centred learning, is there really still a need for our children to learn how to write? Are they not better off learning touch-typing skills from the onset? Could there be any other writing benefits to a child’s academic development, than simply the ability to put pen to paper? What are the implications of a child developing touch typing skills over handwriting skills, or, vice versa? Could there be a win-win? What is the best approach for a parent to take on these matters, for their 21st century child?

Why touch typing skills are absolutely necessary for the 21st century child


With the screen fast usurping paper –in the arenas of communication, education, information dissemination, entertainment and work –the need for children to become digitally literate has become as basic and as necessary as their need to become literate (yes! The ability to read and write). Becoming e-literate is no longer just an added skill that one can draw upon, as and when needed; it has become the basic modus operandi for operating and thriving in this ever advancing technological era!

However, before we go on to grooming our kids to be able to take on the future –which will require proficiency in ICT skills such as coding, data analysis and artificial intelligence –they need to be equipped with basic e-learning tools (such as the ability to touch type and research on line) for their learning process, from primary school right up to tertiary level. Here are three reasons why your child needs to learn to touch type as early as they possible can:

  1. With more and more schools and tertiary institutions turning to the use of tablets and laptops, touch typing needs to become a very comfortable and natural activity for your child as they will spend a lot of time drawing on that ability. The earlier they start, the better. Touch typing skills will be needed for:
    • taking notes during lessons
    • researching online
    • compiling essays, project reports and assignments
    • taking exams
  2. Touch typing is a faster, cleaner and easier way to document and store information, than writing by hand.
  3. The ability to touch type and a sound knowledge of the keyboard are a basic requirement before a child can go onto develop other necessary digital literacy skills such as robotics and coding/programming.

Having pondered a little over the necessity for a 21st century child to become comfortable with touch typing from as early as they can, you may probably be wondering: Is learning to write by hand therefore still necessary? And if it is, how and when is it needful for your child?

Why writing by hand is STILL necessary for the 21st century child


Learning to right by hand, whether in cursive or print, is particularly necessary for a child during his/her foundational schooling years, though this ability will always be useful, even in their greying years. The following are reasons why your child still needs to be comfortable with pen and paper in the 21st century:

  1. During early childhood, writing letters improves letter recognition. When we write by hand, we have to execute sequential strokes to form a letter—an activity that has been shown by brain scans to activate the regions involved in thinking, language, and working memory. This aspect of cognitive development is crucial for early foundation phase learners.
  2. The process of writing involves a number of “low-level” skills (i.e. handwriting, spelling and grammar) along with a number of “high-level” skills (i.e. organization, strategy and compositional skills). When students aren’t proficient at the low-level skills and have to work hard just to get words onto the paper, they often don’t have enough brain power left to execute the high-level skills. But when students have fluent handwriting, they are free to concentrate on the high-level skills, whether they are writing or typing. Children, therefore need to be well grounded in the basics of handwriting.
  3. Several studies have revealed that children (and adults) learn better when taking handwritten notes than typing on a computer.This is because the process of writing things down is slow, therefore, one cannot write down every word a teacher/lecturer utters. A student needs to synthesise and process whilst summarizing, use keywords, sketching diagrams and paraphrasing the notes according to their own understanding. This act of writing enables a child to assimilate the information presented more effectively. It also has the dual effect of activating semantic memory, which results in a child better remembering, what has been written by hand.  Touch typing on the other hand, is much faster transcribing process which requires no critical thinking and hardly engages the brain’s faculties, even when digital note-taking software is used. The learning process is therefore more effective when writing than when typing because the brain is more engaged.
  4. Writing keeps the brain active and lowers the rate of cognitive decline when a person gets older. Writing (especially in cursive) has also been found to be helpful for children with learning disorders such as dysgraphia or dyslexia because of the “connected letters and fluid motion” of cursive handwriting.

These benefits are just a couple of examples out of many others, why your child still needs to write by hand in the 21st century. The best approach therefore, would be to ensure that your child is multi-lingual by hand from the onset and continues to engage both faculties as they learn. This will ensure that their ability to learn and think is not compromised as they develop in digital literacy.

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