Pen pals! What a fun idea! It’s always more interesting (and motivating!) to write to someone specific, rather than to have our “pretend letters” (a.k.a. school writing assignments) filed into a drawer.
Why Write Letters?
Letter writing encourages conversation skills while allowing children to practice grammar, spelling, and composition in a relevant context. They learn not only the correct format for letter writing, but also the social aspect of correspondence—teaching children how to “catch” a “conversation ball,” then how to “toss it back.” Your child could learn about another culture and be encouraged to study more in that area. Plus, most kids love to receive mail!
Pick a Pen Pal
- One obvious choice: relatives. Whether your children write to grandparents, aunts, or cousins, you know these folks and can determine the safety and security of your child’s information.
- Let your child write to a missionary’s kid or a missionary from your church or your area. They are so happy to get letters from home and may be able to share some faith and foreign culture with your child.
- “Adopt” a service member.
- Connect with the child of someone from a sister homeschool support group across the country.
- If your family sponsors a child, your children can correspond with the sponsored child. This helps them to understand how other children live and what other cultures are like.
- Residents of a local nursing home or senior center might enjoy getting letters from young folks, and these folks have so much history and experience to share.
- Kristen Chase provides some insights at The Pioneer Woman’s blog on how to find a pen pal.
And as always, you’ll want to take steps to ensure your child’s safety and the security of his personal information, if applicable.
Paper and Postage
While much of this can be accomplished via email, there’s just something friendly and special about receiving a “real” letter on “real” paper. Your child can choose special stationery, or even make his own cards or decorated postcards. (I found that a postcard designed on Canva can be printed with a click of a button there for about $15 for 50.) Who knows—maybe this will spark an interest in improved or embellished penmanship!
You can also take this opportunity to learn more about the history of letter writing, the postal service, and the history of stamps. In recent history, there was even a meaning behind the placement of the stamp on the envelope! (See ”The Language of Stamps.”)
- You could make this a group activity by collecting the names and addresses of several children and having them do a “round robin” sort of letter: One child writes part of a letter (or a story!) and sends to the next child, who adds his part, then sends to the next. One benefit of this is that if one child grows weary and drops out, there are still others to continue the fun. And if a few children sensed kindred spirits, they could write separately.
- Your child could minister to others through a card ministry: Take notes in your next church service to determine who might benefit from a card—this could motivate your child to pay attention during prayer request time! Then he could send a short hand-written note of encouragement. While he may not hear back, he will have connected with the recipient.
- When I was a young girl, living far from our extended family, my aunt started a tic-tac-toe game via mail. She would send the board with her X on it and include a separate little note. I would reply with my O and a little note; and so the game would go. Although we never did live near each other, I always felt connected and important. This could be done with a game of hangman, Mad Libs, a crossword puzzle, or any other activity your child might enjoy.
- If letter writing is too laborious, or if you just want the social or geographical benefits, you could arrange a postcard swap. Many folks are now arranging this through the parents’ online groups—again, be sure you are familiar with the other participants, for your child’s safety.
- As an elementary school student, I wrote to the (still living) author of a book I enjoyed, and — to my amazement — she wrote back, words of kindness and encouragement!
- Even your youngest kiddos can get excited about “writing” to a pen pal — grandparent or cousin, maybe — whether it’s in a discernible language or not! They’ll learn that writing to others can bring joy.
A Local “Pen Pal”
When one of my granddaughters was almost 2 (and very verbal), I began a years-long tradition of calling her each week, drawing her out in conversation, helping her to learn and practice the “catch the conversation ball and toss it back” concept. At the end of the call, we would always sing a song of her choice—usually a hymn she thought of from church that week—and we closed by praying together.
When she moved closer and grew old enough to write, we started the Ariel-and-Grandma notebook in which I would write her a note with comments and questions, left in a spot for her to find. She would read it and reply, leaving it for me to find. In it, she has shared requests, ideas for things for us to do, gratitude for things we’ve done, and her thoughts about life in general.
This has been, for us, the local version of a pen pal. But the result has been a stronger relationship because it is often easier for us—as for many—to share our thoughts on paper than in person.
And isn’t that what pen pals are all about? Connecting with others through letters.
Do you have any memories of a pen pal? Or ideas to share with those looking for pen pals?
Adapted from a newsletter by this author on this topic originally published at www.hslda.org