Monthly Archives: February 2012

Writing on the Brain

It’s no surprise that technology is something most of us have come to rely on from day to day. We here at brown ink are obviously thrilled we can inspire others through the web. But what are we missing with the absence of handwriting?  I had always assumed handwriting is good for the brain even before I began to investigate. Once I started looking into it a little more I was blown away. Researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aide fine motor skill development. And that’s just the beginning.

Certain research highlights the hand’s unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Washington, states “handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.” She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory. One recent study of hers demonstrated that in grades two, four and six, children wrote more words faster and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus using a keyboard.

A similar study at Indiana University asked one group of children to practice printing letters by hand while the second group just looked at examples of A’s, B’s and C’s. Then both groups entered an MRI machine disguised as a spaceship which scanned their brains as the researchers showed them letters. They found that neural activity in the first group was far more advanced and adult-like as compared to the second group.

Thankfully, most schools still include conventional handwriting instruction in their primary-grade curriculum. However, according to Zaner-Bloser, one of the nation’s largest handwriting-curriculum publishers, it amounts to just over an hour a week. Not enough time if you ask me!

And it’s not just our school kids who are benefiting. Adults studying new symbols, such as Chinese characters, might enhance recognition by writing the characters by hand. And some physicians say handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age.

Ann Mangen, Associate Professor at the University’s of Stavanger’s Reading Center, questions if something has been lost from switching from pen to keyboard. She believes the process of writing involves a number of senses. When writing by hand our brain receives feedback from the motor actions as well as from the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These types of responses are significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing a keyboard.

Not surprisingly, technology has found a way to support the movement. Apps such as ABC PocketPhonics instructs kids to draw letters with their finger or a sytlus. Your child won’t even think they’re learning (isn’t this a good thing?).  For the adults who’ve never adapted well to the keypads on small devices look no further than the WritePad application. It accepts handwriting input with a finger or stylus, then converts it to text for email, documents or Twitter updates.

I understand that electronic support for handwriting is well-intentioned but why do I still flinch when my son reaches for my iphone to play iWriteWords, a seemingly innocent handwriting game? It’s the old fashioned side of me that would rather stop what I’m doing and sit with my son to practice writing with a pencil and paper. I’m hoping this attitude lasts through our third child’s high school graduation.  Fingers crossed.

Cupid is Sharpening His Arrow

The day after Christmas I ran to Paper Source to check for their annual holiday sale where I always stock up on cards, invites, and gift tags. Although the sight of the welcoming Valentine’s Day section made me gasp,  I shouldn’t have been surprised. Approximately 144 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged every year (not including packaged valentines for classroom exchanges), making Valentine’s Day the second-largest holiday for greeting cards. Hallmark first offered Valentine’s Day cards in 1913 and currently they create more than 1,400 Valentine’s Day greeting card designs. Let’s just say you have no excuse for not finding the perfect card for that special someone this year. So here go my favs this year.


If you are anything like my husband and gravitate towards the blank cards so you’re able to create your own message, then this card is for you. Created by MarMar Superstar, you can check them out online or stop by Gallery 360 in Minneapolis.


I found these postcards on my new favorite site, Ship & Shape, and knew they would be dynamite to mail to friends. Who doesn’t want to look at the world through rose colored, heart shaped shades most days of the week?


For the Valentine’s Day card that keeps on giving, send your sweetheart an actual wooden heart to hang and remind them of your enduring love. This mail-friendly construction kit from Finland includes everything they need to enjoy the European designed heart.

J.Falkner has created a line of cards using bright Palm Beach colors with chic images and playful phrases. This Valentine’s Amazed card will bring out the lighthearted side in anyone.



And then comes the kiddos. It’s hard for me to deny them their love of Star Wars on this particular holiday especially when each of these Valentine’s comes with its own pencil. That sealed the deal for me. Target always comes through. But where’s the creativity you say?



Look no further than Paper Source of course. I’m not sure who’s looking more forward to making the Love Bugs, Puppies and Kittens Cards, the boys or me. Emmett was with me one afternoon when we stopped at Paper Source and he went crazy for these cards. Lots of opportunity for the boys to be clever and use their noggins when creating and scribbling out their own Valentine’s greetings.

Lastly, I need to give another round of applause to Paper Source for these sweet letterpress tags. Rather than use them for gift tags, why not write multiple messages to your beloved and hide them all around the house, car, or wallet. I understand Valentine’s Day is a bit commercial but why not shower the person who rocks your world with the attention they deserve? And while you’re at it, buy some chocolate for yourself.