Practice makes perfect penmanship

In this age of computers, does a 6-year-old really need good handwriting?

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'I don't want to do this," says my 6-year-old adamantly. I repeat my own mother's dialogue: "You will do this because I am telling you to." He obeys, but with a huge roll of his eyes.

We are debating the importance of good handwriting, and I am trying to get him to practice. Some may think he is too young, but I don't. He loves to make up and write out stories, but he writes so fast thathis lovely stories don't look lovely - or legible.

Growing up, I had no choice - practicing good handwriting was as important as learning addition or subtraction. Both my parents were very particular about that. My mother, an elementary school teacher, gave extra points to the kids in her class who had clear, attractive handwriting. "Good writing shows that you truly care what you write about, that you made an effort," she would often say.

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When I was a child, my father would read over my handwritten notes and say, "It looks as if you have smashed ants on the paper. Try it again. Beautiful handwriting is when words look like pearls strung together."

His handwriting was exquisite - like calligraphy without any special pens. I have saved letters he has written me, and somewhere in my heart I resent e-mail, which he now uses, because it has dashed the possibility of future handwritten notes from him.

When I was about the same age my son is now, my father and I came up with a plan to improve my handwriting. Every day during summer vacations, we would sit down together and he would hand me his favorite story that day in the local newspaper, The Hindu, and I would copy it down word for word on paper.

Sitting at my maternal grandmother's dining table - a ceiling fan blowing cool air around the room and a large glass of buttermilk to give me strength - I would start my practice. It was painstaking at first, copying each word and taking time to understand it. I could hear my cousins playing outdoors.

As the summer months wore on, my cousins' shouts from outside held far more allure than my handwriting sessions. I kept practicing, but reluctantly. Finally, one day about two years later, Dad declared that I had done it: I had good handwriting.

I still have good handwriting. It sounds strange to say in this day and age. Friends ask me to help address their envelopes and even help with their scrapbooks. I am a writer, and pride myself on my handwriting. I want my son to have the same pleasure.

I make him copy sentences from his favorite "Arthur" books. He loves to read them. He loves words. He spends hours creating and illustrating stories. Then he "writes" them down, as fast as he can, without a focus on the legibility of the words.

He does not understand my insistence on practicing writing. So I decide to show him. I make a card - I write out the words as beautifully as I can.

He reads it and smiles. In a childlike attempt to pacify his mother, he says, "Mama, what a nice job." He even comments on how good it looks. I am pleased. He is seeing the error of his ways. He understands why this is important.

He then turns to me and says, "Mama, I never see you write on paper. You are always typing on your computer. Why do I need good handwriting on paper if all I am going to do when I grow up is type on a computer?"

I sigh. First it was a battle over telling time using "real" clocks versus digital clocks. Then it was over regular shoelaces versus Velcro. It's a different world today. I am losing some battles, but I am hoping to win the war.

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