Reviving Letter Writing


“Did I get any mail today, huh Mom, huh?” my 10-year-old asked impatiently.
“What makes you think you’re going to get mail? Did you write someone a letter?” I asked as I perused the pile of bills.
“Well, uh, no,” she replied unenthusiastically.
“You have to write letters to get them,” I explained.

Let’s face it — letter-writing is a lost art. We live in the “I-want-it-now!” era, and most parents and children think, Why write a letter when you can just pick up the phone and call?
Yet, letters not only bring us and our children closer to friends and family who live far away, they also help improve our kids’ writing skills. Moreover, letters can be saved, cherished and reread. Here are some ways to incorporate the art of letter-writing into your child’s life:
• Provide a template. “I don’t know what to say,” is a common excuse used by children faced with the task of composing a letter. Avoid this problem by helping your child develop a template she can use in different situations. For example, a template for a short note might read:
Dear X,
Hi, how are you? I’m fine. I really miss you. This week I …. In school, we are …. My brother has been busy with …. I can’t wait until …. I’ll write more later. Love, Katie

• Compose thank-you notes. OK, it’s true. I’ve never met a kid yet who likes writing these perfunctory missives, but what must be done, must be done. If your child is reluctant, or doesn’t know where to begin, help him with the first one to get the ball rolling. Remind him Aunt Karen is unlikely to send a gift next year if she isn’t properly thanked.

• Send cards and postcards. It is sometimes less intimidating to add a message to a card than it is to stare at a blank sheet of stationary. Writing a short note to a relative who lives far away also is a good way to encourage inter-generational communication. Better yet, Grandma or Uncle Fred will write back … your child will answer that letter (perhaps with a longer letter) … and the cycle will continue.

• Write home. When you are on vacation, you also can encourage your child to send herself a postcard or letter about that day on the trip. She can record the sights, sounds, smells and adventures, and can relive them when she gets home again.

• Find a pen-pal. There is something magical about writing to another child the same age. You can arrange for your child to be pen-pals with a far-away cousin or family friend. You also can ask your child’s teacher for pen-pal recommendations. Consider an international pen pal so that your child can learn about another country via letters.

• Publish the news. Sometimes it’s easier for kids to write if they have more to talk about than just themselves. Let your child use the computer to compile a family newsletter of events and other happenings. Include news about each member of the family. Paste in pictures of vacation last summer, Jamie’s silly Halloween costume, the sad little Christmas tree Dad picked out and last month’s ski trip to the mountains.

• Be a fan. Surf the Web and find out the address of your child’s favorite sports figure or celebrity. Encourage your son to write a fan letter. He can tell the person how much he enjoys watching him play, or perform, and that he looks forward to the next game or appearance. And just maybe, your child will receive a response!
• Don’t overlook e-mail. It isn’t what we traditionally think of as letter-writing, but it does encourage communication between people. Granddad can be kept up to date on all of the happenings in your household, and your child can begin to develop and ongoing relationship that would otherwise not materialize. Encourage your child to use proper form, and check grammar and spelling before he clicks the “send” button.

Letter-writing, in whatever form it takes, not only is a useful skill, but it’s also an activity that brings many rewards. The next time your child wants to pick up the phone and call Grandma, ask, “Why don’t you write her a letter instead?” And then, when your child asks, “Did I get any mail, Mom?” you may be able to reply, “Yes Dear, you did!