When I was a kid, I lived for letters. Visiting the mailbox was the highlight of my day, only slightly surpassed by the thrill of throwing open the lid to peer inside, eyes dancing with anticipation. Would there be a note from a camp friend? A penpal? An old friend from school who had moved away?
Sadly, much has changed in the last thirty years. Opening the mailbox now is akin to torture. Bills. Circulars. More bills. Ads. Even more bills.
At least the credit card company loves me?
Letter writing has become a lost art, what with social media and smart phones making personal connection (or, at least, the appearance of personal connection) nearly instantaneous. I think it’s worth bringing the letter back, though, and I’ve got a painless way to get started:
Write at home: Start with immediate family members. If your children are familiar with letter writing, leave stationery, envelopes and writing utensils in a central location and encourage them to write notes to one another. Messages can be placed in conspicuous places (such as on top of pillows or desks) or kept in a special “mailbox” you create as a family (decorated shoeboxes work well for this – think grade school Valentine boxes). If your children haven’t had much experience in this arena, set aside a few minutes to teach the basics: salutation, body and closing. Talk about possible contents, then write a few letters together. You can also take this time to review different types of letters, like thank-you notes, letters to the editor and business inquiries.
Write to yourself: As your comfort level grows, turn your letter writing into an introspective pursuit. Think about where you are now and what your hopes and dreams might be for the future. Include a few concrete goals that can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. Write a letter to yourself, then seal it, self –address it, and give it to a trusted family member or friend to hold the letter for a few weeks, months, or even years. Ask the keeper of the letter to mail it to you at a designated time.
Write to family and friends: To take letter writing outside the home, reinstate the practice of keeping a pen-pal with friends and family. To keep in touch with friends, encourage your children to trade mailing addresses and write to friends both far and near. Additionally, try sharing daily adventures with extended family and friends to strengthen bonds and practice communication skills. If you need a less writing-intensive option, let children pick out postcards they would like to send to grandparents, cousins or next-door neighbors. This element of choice promotes ownership of the process and adds to the activity’s meaning.
Maybe it’s just me, but getting an email in my inbox isn’t as exciting as finding a handwritten note in my mailbox. Let’s share that joy with our children, too, and bring back the art of the letter.
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