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Pen vs. Device: How important is children’s handwriting in our digital age?

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A recent dinner with good friends, great food and even better wine, started out fairly innocently, with general chitchat and discussions about the weather. And then the conversation became even more interesting! The scintillating discussion turned to today’s tech savvy world and how yesterday’s world of pen and paper has morphed into today’s infinite array of devices.

But how important is the art of script? Should we even bother teaching our children how to pick up a pencil and write, when our digital natives already seem to be born with the ability to navigate touch screens and smart phones at the drop of a hat! And how early should children learn typing, given the rapid integration of iPads in schools?

Imagine a world where children wouldn’t have to learn how to write anymore, but would have to learn to type instead – everything would be an email, an e-note or a blog. I find that getting a letter in the mail these days feels rather vintage, but it does warm my heart instantly when I receive snail mail. While typing would take care of all those pesky handwriting issues, how is it possible to teach someone to read if you don’t also teach them how to write? Surely the art of typing is not as effective as picking up a pencil and mindlessly doodling for hours on end? And what would happen to all those gorgeous little notes that your little ones write for you? Imagine not having any of those memories with funny looking letters and tons of spelling mistakes… “I lav yoo mamee. U ar the best momy in the hol wurld”. It’s every English teacher’s nightmare, but every mum’s pride of joy (of course your wee one must be under 5 for you to enjoy this privilege!). Sure, they could type it instead and use spell check, but it seems much too clinical and like something out of Artificial Intelligence, rather than good old normal growing up.

While typing and using devices is the norm today, writing, like swimming, is still a basic life skill that you need for survival. Your device may not always work, but in desperate times, all you need to write with is something coloured (trust me, lipstick, a crayon, glitter glue — they all work). I can’t imagine not writing my shopping list on scrap pieces of paper or planning my day without my raggedy diary – typing may be more efficient, but it does take away the personal touch from small things.

So for me, while I admit that the world has definitely changed and I constantly struggle to keep up with the latest gadgets out there, one thing will never change. Writing will always be more important than typing – especially for children. Bad handwriting, spelling mistakes, rainbow coloured sentences – I’ll take it all. To me, those notes will always be more worthy and irreplaceable than neatly typed out notes. As for keeping up with the tech-savvy world… it’s best to cover the basics first. Just like you have to teach your child to walk before they can run, it’s best to teach them to write before they furiously pound away at a keyboard.

The digital world will always be there when they’re ready.

Ed note: If you’re looking for some great writing activities for kids the Childhood 101 website is packed with fun ideas for helping kids learn through play. Do check out their 10 Pre-Writing Activities for Kids Under 5 article or their Helping Children Learn to Write and 8 Activities to Get Them Writing piece for inspiration!


Priyanka ElhencePriyanka is a mama to 7-year-old twins, and moved to Singapore 11 years ago (and counting!). Having grown up in Kenya and lived in several countries around the world, Priyanka has always had a passion for the outdoors and travelling, reading and being a foodie. Now a published freelance writer, she is also currently writing a children’s book about her twins and their favourite teddy bear. You can read more about Priyanka here.

Top image sourced from Pinterest

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