Japanese children learn to write through rhythm

How do we learn to write? Associate Professor NONAKA Tetsushi (Kobe University Graduate School of Human Development and Environment) looked at the development of writing skills in Japanese first-grade students learning the hiragana script. By quantifying their pen movements, he revealed the process of learning distinct temporal patterns of movement in such a way to differentiate a set of subtle features of each symbol. These aspects of handwriting development have been largely neglected in research carried out in Latin alphabet communities. The findings were published on June 13 in Developmental Psychobiology.

Previous research based on the Latin alphabet explains the acquisition of writing skills during childhood as a combination of two processes: the acquisition of visual representations and the development of fine motor skills to produce the desired trajectory of the pen. This study looked at the development of movement dynamics of handwriting in 1st graders at the Kobe University Elementary School who learned to write hiragana, a phonetic script used for Japanese. He examined how their movements were influenced by the social norms of the classroom environment in which those 1st graders participated over the first three months of the primary school.

During the study, the children were repeatedly encouraged to pay attention to the specific requirements for writing each character, including stroke endings, stroke order and rhythm of movement. While he observed individual variation in handwriting development among six students studying in the same classroom, two common trends were quantitatively demonstrated. Firstly, the pen movements became clearly differentiated for each type of stroke ending (stop, sweep or jump). Secondly, a consistent temporal structure of movement gradually emerged for each stroke.

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