Unplug the family computer. Tell your spouse to unhand the PDA. Give your child a pen and encourage her to use it. Today is National Handwriting Day, people!

For most kids, picking up a pen and writing a letter may seem like an antiquated way of keeping in touch. These days, electronic communication has become second nature, and email trumps good-old-fashioned penmanship on almost any occasion.

But it wasn't all that long ago that invitations came by post, rather than by inbox. And school papers were handwritten, with marks off for illegibility. Sometimes we forget just how much the world has changed in the past 20-odd years.

National Handwriting Day was launched by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA) way back when people were still wearing bell-bottoms and no one had ever heard of the World Wide Web. It's celebrated each year on John Hancock's birthday. Hancock, who would be 271 years old today, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence and is famous for his large, bold signature.

Need some ideas for cultivating an appreciation for the handwritten word?

  • Analyze your ABC's. Did you know that the study of human handwriting, especially in relationship to psychology, is an actual field of investigation? It's called "graphology," and, though its accuracy is questioned by some, it can be a fun way to explore the significance of handwriting. Sit down with your child and write each other a note. Then, analyze your writing together to find out similarities and differences. Look at such indicators as direction of slant (which is said to indicate emotional state), pressure on the paper, and shape of individual letters. What can you say about each other after a graphological analysis?
  • Pal it up. While most modern grandmas can email with the pros, there's no replacement for a handwritten missive once in a while. So consider helping your child turn a family member, friend, or international buddy into a pen pal. Strike up a regular correspondance using letters, or try sending a notebook back and forth. Your child will be able to read his pen pal's writing, and use the next page to write back. The best part? He'll have a conversation journal to cherish forever.
  • Go from scribbler to scribe. In Ancient Egypt, scribes were employed to document the goings-on of the land. Most of what we know today is due to records kept on papyrus, from which the word "paper" is derived. But what if the scribes' handwriting was as sloppy as, well, you-know-who? To illustrate the importance of clear handwriting, try playing explorer and scribe with your child. Take turns inscribing a piece of "papyrus" with important clues to lost tombs, and have the other person follow the trail. But watch out! If the explorer can't tell your p's from your q's, he might never find the buried treasure.

What better day to remind your children of the importance of the handwritten word than today? Take the time to describe to them how things have changed since you sat at a school desk years ago. It's a good excuse for some reminiscing. And not a bad time to remind them to write those delinquent holiday thank you cards.