You’re stranded on an island in the middle of the ocean with one hope of rescue: A bottle and cork, a piece of paper and a pencil — all the tools necessary to send out an SOS. There is just one problem. You never learned to write. You’re toast.

Such a scenario is not so farfetched when one considers that children these days communicate almost exclusively by texting, emailing and using touchscreen computers, among other devices. Handwriting instruction — printing and cursive — looks like it could become as obsolete for young people as paying by check or using a landline phone.  

And that would be too bad, according to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer today that cites education experts explaining why it is important that children learn to write. For example, studies at the University of Washington have found that “handwriting stimulates cognitive regions in the brain” and that elementary school students “expressed themselves more quickly in handwriting and had more ideas than children who used a keyboard,” the Inquirer article states, adding that learning to print and write in cursive letters also develops fine motor skills and increases hand strength.

According to Steve Graham, professor of special education and literacy at Vanderbilt University, handwriting is typically taught through the third grade, although different schools have different curricula. The Plymouth Meeting Friends School, outside of Philadelphia, teaches handwriting through sixth grade, while in Philadelphia’s Catholic schools, handwriting is taught through eighth grade and included as a grade on students’ report cards, the Inquirer article says.

No one is suggesting that schools cut back on ways to teach digital communication, only that it is balanced out with handwriting instruction. Some educators are taking steps on their own to insure that the balance is kept. One teacher cited in the Inquirer article has her pre-kindergarten children use chopsticks when eating their morning snack. The reason? It uses the same hand muscles that the students use when they write.