Handwriting has taken on a weighty, almost noble significance in the homeschooling community. I think it harks back in time to the nostalgic days of Laura Ingalls Wilder with rows of orderly, disciplined children making yet more rows of orderly and lovely letters. While I too am easily caught up in the schooling of yesteryear, I've come to believe that we can have too much emphasis on handwriting. For that matter, even in yesteryear, handwriting was far too elevated a skill. Many practitioners of beautiful script gave no worry whatsoever to the spelling of these lovely words.

So in our time, we should perhaps ask just how important handwriting really is. If it were essential for academic success, then almost every doctor I know should be considered a failure (just ask any pharmacist). Ditto for many engineers whose printing often requires a magnifying glass just to make it big enough to decipher. I also know that the vast majority of today's communication comes via a keyboard, not beautifully executed penmanship. My own husband, who holds a highly successful position with a major technology firm, still writes notes that require a decoder ring to understand. So in our house we decided to relax. For our oldest child, who really struggled with a pencil, we made a switch from a painful emphasis on "beautiful" handwriting to a more practical emphasis on "legible" handwriting. You too may find your push for perfection better placed elsewhere.

Give the tool of a tape recorder.

The headmaster of a local private school told me recently that this little tip saved his collegiate career. He had struggled with writing until a wise counselor suggested he get a tape recorder. He did. And from that point on he spoke his reports directly into the recorder and later transcribed them into print. Having the ability to think out loud without writing allowed him to unload his thoughts. Later, totally disconnected from the act of formulating thought, he did the mundane robotic task of putting these great thoughts onto paper. At this point he was able to complete the task of organizing and editing.

Be creative with spelling practice.

Writing out spelling words for practice is a tradition as old as the written word itself. But consider other spelling options. Spell the words by saying them out loud several times until a rhythm develops. Isn't that how we all learned to spell Mississippi? Use the fingerspelling alphabet. For the kinesthetic learner, this is golden. Many children who struggle with writing are not visual learners who can simply "see" when a word is misspelled. So have them memorize spelling rules ("i before e except after c," etc.), and teach spelling in word families that use these rules.

Include technical writing.

We spend so much time teaching creative and persuasive writing while often overlooking the valuable skill of technical writing. We may well be missing a highly marketable skill. Think about how often you read technical writing: training materials, travel guides, procedure guides, scientific papers, data books, catalogs, even cookbooks. Anything that provides directions is technical writing. A professional technical writer in the field of chemical research remarked that the goal of technical writing is very different from the goal of other types of writing. In creative writing, persuasive writing, even poetry, the goal is to be understood. In technical writing, the goal is to write in such a way that you couldn't possibly be misunderstood.

Start simply. Have your child write the directions to a simple task. Then, using his work, try to accomplish the task. Do your best to "misunderstand" the directions. In other words, look for a possible glitch in his directions that would result in an error on the part of the person trying to follow them. This skill of technical writing is not only valuable in our information- and computer-driven culture, but it also happens to be a skill area in which many of these otherwise reluctant writers excel.