If you ever had a pen pal as a child, you might remember the excitement of seeing a letter with your name written on it. Even if you never had a pen pal, just think of how fun it was to receive a piece of mail that was addressed to you during the holidays or for your birthday. Surely it made you feel special to know someone far away was thinking of you and it might have even inspired you to write a letter in return. Writing letters is not only a way to show someone you are thinking of them, it is also educational and instills a little thoughtful discipline, too. All in all, the practice of letter writing reinforces good manners, friendships, and develops your child’s character in a positive way.
As parents, we want to foster well-rounded children. Our children need to be able to effectively communicate in both the written and spoken word, as well to learn how to relate to others. Writing is a way to cultivate good communication directly in the first way, and also to instill confidence in communicating the spoken word, too. Meanwhile, letter writing (as opposed to journaling) compels a child to step outside of themselves and to interact with the world and the people in it. While books and traveling can create exposure to the world in an oblique or intermittent way, letter writing can extend these experiences through sustained personal interaction. Letter writing also encourages patience and thoughtfulness during the composition process. It is a skill that develops incrementally and at the pace of each individual child. Finally, letter writing within our families and communities can really brighten the day of the recipient, especially in this age of electronic communication.
Who should we write to?
Writing to another person, whether it be a child or adult, not only teaches a child about other people’s lives, but it also helps children to learn to articulate their thoughts and to better phrase questions. By specifically writing to pen pals, children can really get the chance to engage in written conversations and develop a letter-writing relationship with people who might even be from a very different culture or walk of life. In essence, writing to a pen pal can help children gain perspective, to wonder, and to set the stage for future exploration. Pen pals can give them the opportunity to have conversations about subjects that they may not have the opportunity to learn otherwise. For example, an American child might learn that in Europe, school is attended 6 days per week in some countries, or that in Australia, Christmas is synonymous with summertime. Something your child may never have considered could open a whole new scope of thought in their mind. If your child has an international pen friend, you can read books from the library about their pen pal’s country and make it into an whole learning experience that they will never forget! Being a pen pal can even mean that your child becomes the foundation for another child’s dreams, too.
Thanks to national and international pen pal agencies (see our resource box below), our children have the opportunity to connect with other children their age from all over the country or even all over the world. With pen pals, the scope can be set from local to national to international. You may also decide to stick with a single pen pal, or add a second or third. As your child grows these pen pals may also become dear friends that are kept for a lifetime.
Pen pals do not have to be the same age as your child for them to enjoy the experience. If you are looking to get involved in your community, help your children write cards to those in assisted living or retirement homes with an adopt-a-grandparent program. These programs can give the benefit of your child seeing the example of good writing from another person with both wisdom and experience.
Another idea is to help your children write to one of the many military men and women who are deployed. You can make this into a family project, too. While your child learns communication skills, their time and effort may be greatly appreciated by someone going through a difficult time and is far away from their home.
Of course, one of the best things you can do to encourage your children to write is to let them see you writing, too!
Find a Pen Pal with the help of these resources: