April 12, 2024

Nine students win the national handwriting competition

It is without a doubt considered the Super Bowl of writing tournaments.

The Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Competition, now in its 33rd year, crowned the 2024 grand champions on Monday, rewarding nine students from six states for their perfect letters.

Ten-year-old Zita Miller of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, took top honors in the fifth-grade category. Her winning entry was one of 80,000 entries in the competition.

“I love handwriting because it’s like art, drawing swirls, tendrils and curls,” Miller said, adding that she enjoys writing original mystery stories by hand.

Zita Molenaar.Thanks to Regina Miller
Zita Miller's entry.
Zita Miller’s entry.Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Competition

Namuun Baasanbold, of Carmel, Indiana, was named grand champion in the first-grade category and said she enjoys giving handwritten “love notes” to family and friends.

“Writing by hand makes me feel special,” she said.

The contest celebrates a centuries-old practice, but the wins come as handwriting is experiencing something of a renaissance in the US. In January, California became the 22nd state to mandate cursive instruction in schools — a significant jump from 2016, when only 12 states mandated it.

At the same time, several studies published over the past decade have detailed how writing with pencil and paper can benefit memory, cognitive development, reading comprehension, and fine motor skills.

“Handwriting is definitely having a moment,” said Sharon Quirk-Silva, a member of the California State Assembly who sponsored the bill. She said she had heard from people from across the country who had written “beautifully handwritten notes” in support of the new law.

“We live in a very polarized nation. There are so many issues that are controversial. But with this signature bill, we had full bipartisan support and goodwill. The importance of handwriting is something people seem to agree on,” she said.

Quirk-Silva said she supported the bill in large part because of her own experience; before becoming an MP, she taught primary school for 25 years.

“For years, technology has taken over the curriculum in schools, with many children dozing in front of the screen and using two or three screens a day. Now there’s a feeling of, ‘Let’s put pens and pencils back in the hands of children,’” she said.

Although California law requires first through sixth graders in the state to be taught cursive, Quirk-Silva said she believes writing by hand — in print or cursive — is an important language arts tool.

“It’s a way to slow down a little bit, take your thoughts from your brain to your hand and physically write,” she said.

Sophia Vinci-Booher, an assistant professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, said her research showed that writing by hand allowed preschoolers to form connections in the brain that likely support early letter recognition.

For that study, published in 2016, 20 children were asked to practice certain letters by writing them over and over, and others by pressing a button.

“Then we asked the kids to go into an MRI scanner and look at the letters they had practiced,” Vinci-Booher explained. Her team analyzed the children’s brain activity to assess the functional connectivity between different parts of their brains.

“We found that the connection was stronger with letters they wrote by hand than with letters they typed,” she said.

The research underlines the importance of the physical act of forming symbols, Vinci-Booher added.

“Writing by hand is a good thing for children because it supports early reading development and encourages fine motor skills, which are important for development,” she says.

A 2021 study measured people’s brain activity during a memory task, this time finding that University of Tokyo students showed stronger activity and better recall after writing down information on paper than when writing it on a smartphone or even with a stylus on a tablet. The researchers suggested that the physical act of writing on paper provides the brain with more details that activate memory, and concluded that using paper notebooks can help students retain information in part because of their “tangible permanence.”

A similar study published in January compared the brain activity of students at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who took notes by hand with the activity of those who typed their notes. The findings suggested that the students who wrote by hand had higher levels of electrical activity in a wide range of brain areas responsible for sensory processing and memory.

The results come as no surprise to many teachers.

“I have seen firsthand that the children learn more when they write by hand,” says Geeta Kadakia, who teaches second through fifth grades at DAV Montessori School in Houston. “The light bulb goes off on those achievements in handwriting, and handwriting leads to achievements in other areas, even math. When students format their grades neatly, their math scores improve.”

Laura Gajderowicz taught elementary school in Indiana for 33 years before retiring in 2022. She said she became concerned when she saw handwriting taking a back seat to technology in American classrooms in the early 2000s.

“Handwriting helps tremendously in developing a student’s hand-eye coordination,” Gajderowicz said, adding, “I’m not against technology – I just think there’s a place at the table for both technology and handwriting when it comes to learning.”

This year, Gajderowicz was a regional judge in the Zaner-Bloser competition.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see how many entries we had, especially from upperclassmen,” she said.

Gajderowicz selected the winners based on criteria that analyzed the mechanics and precision of the letters the students wrote, including their shape, size, slant and spacing.

Participants were asked to write the sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” because it covers the entire alphabet, as well as a sentence explaining why handwriting makes them a better reader and writer.

Namuun Baasanbold's entry.
Namuun Baasanbold’s entry.Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Competition

Baasanbold said she was “over the moon” when she found out she had won: “I screamed and celebrated with friends at a restaurant with pizza and an appetizer and a sundae for dessert,” she said.

Her prizes include a trophy and $500, plus bragging rights.

“I like to use my handwriting to impress people,” she said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *