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Growing Research Shows Students, Seniors Benefit from Handwriting

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As more researchers and doctors recommend the benefits of handwriting for both children and senior citizens, two Kamloops, B.C., Canada, organizations--Summit Elementary School and the Berwick on the Park retirement community–have joined a new program called PaperPal.
Unveiled by Domtar Corp., Montreal, Que., Canada, in February, PaperPal connects generations through letter writing. It helps youths develop fine motor skills, spurs seniors to practice a useful cognitive exercise, and gives both groups enjoyable and enriching connections. 

Domtar tested the program in 2015 with a school and retirement community in Van Nuys, Calif., USA. The idea, chronicled in a short video, was so successful that the groups wanted to continue writing letters even after the initial two-month program officially ended. 

Since then, the program has spread to locations throughout Canada and the U.S. Volunteers at Domtar’s pulp mill in Kamloops pushed to bring PaperPal to their community as part of their work with the EarthChoice Ambassadors program, which encourages employees to make a difference. 

The EarthChoice Ambassadors now hope other schools and retirement centers in Kamloops join PaperPal. More information and instruction to receive a starter kit are available online.  . 

"Research about the benefits of handwriting shows why this program can be useful," said Mike Sun, the EarthChoice Ambassador spearheading the Kamloops plan. "But besides the educational and cognitive benefits, Domtar is excited about how it will spark smiles and hugs for both children and senior citizens. You see that in the video and other places where PaperPal is now running, and we can’t wait to see it in Kamloops." 
 Teachers at Summit Elementary were immediately drawn to PaperPal.
"This will be a fun way to help students grow academically," said Rena Murdoch, who teaches second and third grade. "The importance of purposeful writing experiences for children is what PaperPal provides, and knowing that this also benefits the residents of the retirement community makes us that much more excited." 

To understand more about the benefits of handwriting for different generations, consider the research and expert opinions cited in this Wall Street Journal article: 

Experts at Indiana University conducted brain scans on pre-literate children to determine whether printing letters, tracing them, or typing is the most effective method in the learning process. The children tried each method, and then received a functional MRI scan in a device designed to look like a spaceship. The results? If children wrote by hand, the experts saw neural activity in three areas of the brain that was far more enhanced. These areas get activated in adults when they read and write.
A study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience shows how handwriting can help adults learn new symbols—anything from music notes to Mandarin. Researchers found that if adults wrote the symbols, there was a stronger, longer-lasting recognition. 

Good handwriting can play a role in classroom performance. It can take a generic classroom test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile, while bad penmanship could tank it to the 16th, said an education professor at Vanderbilt University. 

Handwriting can be a useful cognitive exercise for baby boomers trying to keep their minds sharp as they grow older, according to a neuroscientist at Duke University. 

Children in grades two, four, and six wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand instead of with a keyboard, according to a study by a University of Washington professor of educational psychology. 

"Our residents can’t wait to share their stories with the children, and they’ll also be so happy to hear the voices of the students," said Paula Popadynetz, Berwick on the Park’s recreation manager. "It’s very heartening, and it’s very rewarding." 

Domtar is a provider of a wide variety of fiber-based products including communication, specialty, and packaging papers, market pulp , and absorbent hygiene products. With approximately 9,850 employees serving more than 50 countries around the world, the company’s annual sales are approximately $5.3 billion. Domtar's principal executive office is in Fort Mill, South Carolina. 


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