We are in the summer days of hot weather, insects, spontaneous thunderstorms, and rain. This year, many communities have limited access to traditional summer activities. Many community swimming pools and parks remain closed, and summer camps are unavailable. For many families, summer will be spent at home. While for some this may feel overwhelming since they have been at home since early spring, others are searching for different activities to fill the days since school is now out for the summer.
There are many activities to do at home, in the yard, and with each other. I’d like to propose an activity for children, youth, and even adults--having a penpal--handwriting and mailing letters. Why on earth would I recommend handwriting a letter when texting, email, and other instant communication methods exist? There are many reasons.
Research shows several benefits of engaging the mind and the body to write a letter, especially when writing in cursive. When the mind and body are both engaged, brain activity and creativity increases, retention increases, cognitive function is influenced, and signing one’s name provides practice for a legally binding signature. In addition, it is fun to hear from others through a letter that is more than 280 characters. The wait time between writing a letter and receiving a reply can help build delayed gratification skills, which are the opposite of the immediate gratification of texting, or platforms such as Twitter, and Instagram.
How does one begin? The first question to ask is this: to whom should I write? Think of family members or friends who are out of town or in a different state, someone who is in a nursing or assisted living home such as a grandparent, aunt, or uncle; or someone who lives nearby such as a cousin, or friend who you may not see as much as you did in the past. Anyone who wants to try something different is a good person to partner with to write letters. For someone who wants to explore other ways to get a penpal, there are many websites, gleaned from an Internet search, that offer ideas for finding a penpal, including teacher websites linking students with other students, penpals with veterans, and others. See the links at the end of this blog post.
The next question to ask is this: what should I write about? The first response may be “anything you want”. Here are some ideas to get you started:
-daily activities (what you do in a day)
-all about your pets
-what you play with your pet
-favorites, such as foods, TV shows, movies, books, etc., music, subjects in school
-arts that you like
-musical instruments you play
-weather near your home
-what you like to cook
Depending upon whom you write to, you may also write about your family, although keep in mind privacy and security when sharing personal information.
A final question to ask is this: what questions can I ask my penpal? You may turn the ideas above into questions for your penpal, or consider new ones such as:
-where have you traveled?
-if you had three wishes, what would you wish for?
-what do you like about where you live?
-do you have a garden?
Why should gifted students bother handwriting letters when their minds work at warp speed and it is likely that their hands can’t write quick enough to get their thoughts on paper? Sometimes, the physical act of doing something different can be engaging and stimulate other actions and thoughts. To help with the fast ideas/slow writing dilemma, the student could write a list of ideas on paper or in digital forms so they can get ideas down quicker. Writing may provide a means for relaxing in a new and different way when it can be done in a comfortable setting.
I am a huge advocate for gifted students (and all students) having the opportunity to do schoolwork using technology and digital tools. Note-taking, annotating using digital books, and writing essays, papers, etc. are tools that help gifted students do schoolwork in a way that helps get their thoughts and responses “down on paper,” using technologies that may support and extend their abilities. However, there are times when gifted students can learn from doing a task that is hard for them or different from what they are accustomed to (such as handwriting); this will help practice delayed gratification, a necessary life skill. After all, waiting for a return letter in the mail takes time.
Mailing letters may pose a barrier for many families, due to the cost of postage stamps or lack of stationary. Fancy stationary isn’t necessary. Plain paper or lined notebook paper is just fine to use. A student may need to compose an email and send it to his or her penpal so that postage is not necessary. If families do not have access to a device, internet, or email, the public library has devices that are available. Another idea is to write to people in your own household and leave letters in a specified place that serves as a mailbox. Sometimes it is easier to write things down than to say it to someone in person, so there are additional benefits to having a penpal in one’s own family.
So, if you’re looking for a way to have fun this summer, try writing letters, however they are done, and discover the joy of connecting with others.
Pen Pal Tips and Ideas for Kids, 4/5/2020
A Simple Guide to Pen Pal Writing, Homeschool Notes, 3/22/18
Are There Any Benefits to Having a Penpal in the Digital Age?, Ivy Ngeow, 3/25/19
The Benefits of Handwriting for Young Children, Susan Brunk, 8/18/2016
Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments: Why Digital Writing Matters in Education
Paige Donahue, 5/18/2016
Articles and Educational Resources
Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age, Perri Klass, M.D., 6/20/16
Writing Letters to a Pen Pal, Lesson Plan by Scholastic
9 Powerful Apps to Help Kids Learn Cursive Writing
Ask the Doctor