My maternal grandmother was a devoted letter-writer. The buffet in her dining room was always stocked with pens and pencils, stationery and stamps, stickers, notepads and other odds and ends, like sparkly celebratory confetti, which she’d thoughtfully sprinkle inside an envelope to mark a special occasion. She wrote to her children, her grandchildren, her dear friends and other close relatives. Although she is no longer with us, I remember this about her fondly.
4th grade students at my school were recently asked to read a piece of text about a postage stamp that commemorated a famous person’s life. The students struggled to understand the text because they had no background knowledge about postage stamps. In the current digital age of electronic communication, old-fashioned letter writing is becoming a thing of the past.
When I saw this great idea for a writing center on one of my favorite blogs, I sought to create something like it we could use in our house for our oldest daughter, Nora.
Writing letters to family and friends has become one of Nora’s favorite activities. I keep the writing bin on a shelf where she can reach for it whenever she’s so inclined. In it we keep cards and envelopes, fun writing pens and pencils, and a small three-ring binder which holds pre-printed address labels, stamps and stickers. I just bought some really cute personalized labels from Etsy for Nora to use as a return address label. She loves that she can read and recognize her name on the sticker.
I put a stamp and some address labels on a spare envelope and taped it to the inside cover of the writing binder so Nora could use it as a model for how and where to place her stickers. I bought some pages with pockets in which to hold the address labels. Since she can’t yet read the labels, we taped photos of friends and family on the front of the sleeves so she can identify the labels. We just updated our photos by repurposing this year’s holiday cards. The cut-out faces of our favorite friends now line the pages of our book. She’s able to choose a person by photo, select the appropriate label, affix the stickers on the envelope, and stuff and seal the envelope herself. The only thing she can’t do on her own is write the message.
When it comes time to write the actual letter, Nora tells me what she would like to say and I simply scribe for her. This evening she wrote the following letter to my friend’s daughter, Mira, who lives in Boston (my friend also happens to be my husband’s cousin, so Mira is technically family).
I hope you come to my house soon when the snow is still here. I hope you have fun in the snow when you’re not at my house. I wish I could come to your house. Can I come to your house when it’s snowing? I really want to.
Your cousin, Nora
Nora insists on signing her own name to each letter. She also watches me to make sure her words don’t run too long. It’s a must that I leave some blank space on the inside of the card for her to draw a picture. I love that she is learning a craft that her great-grandmother cherished. Writing is also a great way for her to connect and keep in touch with family and friends we don’t get to see often. Lastly, it teaches her to be courteous (we send lots of thank you notes!) and encourages her to be thoughtful.
Our little Frances is proving to be just as chatty as her big sister—although not nearly as intelligible as Nora was at her age—so I’m sure this center is going to get lots of use at our house in the years to come.