Writing Matters to PlanBee’s Becky Cranham because…
Posted by National Stationery Week
“…I have always had a relationship with stationery that borders on the unhealthy. Ever since I was very young, a trip to buy new pens, pencils and notebooks was cause for dizzying levels of excitement. Even now, I could quite happily spend an hour or more browsing in stationery shops for yet another notebook with a pretty cover, a new set of pens or a particular type of pencil (none of which I will actually need). Choosing my new diary every year is one of the highlights of November for me, which is followed swiftly by the important decision of which pen I will use in said new diary (black biro obviously…the only question is which particular black biro). My sister-in-law thinks it’s hilarious to write in my diary in blue pen. She is very wrong. It is pure madness to me to change pen choice halfway through a diary or notebook, or worse still, to have just one line or annotation in a rogue colour. When my colleagues use the wrong pen on the communal noticeboards in the office, they come perilously close to formal disciplinary action.
What makes me sad these days though is the lack of control I have over my handwriting. I used to have beautiful handwriting, I really did. Today, my handwriting muscles have withered and died, leaving my hand aching and cramped after writing for just a few minutes. Back in my uni days I could write reams of handwritten notes during a lecture without a twinge. I have notebooks full of creative writing ideas, poems and short stories from my early adulthood all handwritten in neat, consistent writing. Before the days of email and Facebook, my friends, family and I used to correspond by handwritten letter, all of which are now kept sentimentally in several boxes under the bed.
But my hand seems to have forgotten how to write. Since starting my company PlanBee back in 2009, I have spent the vast majority of my day tapping away on a keyboard, and the effect this has had on my handwriting is, sadly, catastrophic. Sometimes I can barely read my own writing. The muscles are just not used enough now to stop the pen from wandering uncontrolled across the page in fits and starts. Sometimes my letters form correctly but more often than not, they don’t. It’s the old ‘write and shake’ for me if I try and write for more than a minute at a time these days – write a few words then stop to shake my hand out to stop the cramp, write and shake, write and shake.
There are those today who think that handwriting is an unnecessary skill in our digital world. In the papers recently was the news that schools in Finland would be starting to phase out handwriting in favour of keyboard skills. My personal opinion is that this is both misguided and incredibly sad. When you stop and think about it, we use note-taking and jotting far more than we think we do. As well as being a very important practical skill in a world that is not perhaps as digitally permeated as we think it is, there is also something so much more personal about something, anything, written by hand. It becomes an extension of the person themselves, a means of expression that just doesn’t translate in the same way when typed on a computer, tablet or phone.
Teaching handwriting in schools is not only a great way of helping children to develop their fine-motor skills (and avoiding the pain of using under-exercised hand muscles when having to write anything more than ten words at a time) but is also a means of providing children with a form of communication that is at once personal and practical. When I read back through the handwritten diaries from my childhood and adolescence, there is a nostalgia I don’t think I would feel if I was reading a childhood blog. When I read back through the piles of notebooks full of scribbles and ideas and stories, there is a depth to the writing that is subtly different to the over-edited writing I produce on my laptop these days. Browsing through handwritten letters and cards from friends who wrote just to say hello or to share news is much more enjoyable to me than reading back through my emails and texts.
I hope there is never a time when handwriting becomes obsolete. I know I am not alone in finding stationery shopping oddly exhilarating and the thought of not being able to buy new notebooks and pens is frankly one I don’t wish to entertain, even if what is produced in them these days is not as neat and orderly as once it would have been. Do we really want to deprive children of that new-pencil-case rush at the start of the school year? Do we really want to deprive them of the experience of writing and receiving handwritten letters? Can we really dispose of notebooks made of paper not pixels and still hold onto our sanity?! Let’s not test it. Let’s keep writing.”
Becky Cranham is founder of PlanBee, a online resource for lesson plans. More information can be found at www.planbee.com
This blog item was posted on Friday, April 22nd, 2016.