Our 23 year-old is at Army Basic right now, training for the Nat Guard. Our only communication from him for several weeks, other than an awkward scripted phone call, has been writing and receiving letters. He has been faithful to write each one of us, and we have committed to making sure that we all write to him regularly as well.
In doing so, I realized that as a culture, we don’t write letters anymore. My 15-year-old wasn’t even sure how to address an envelope. She wasn’t exactly sure what went into a letter. It’s been an interesting, eye-opening opportunity.
Letter Writing in the Past
When I was growing up, letter writing was what people did. I have letters in the attic from my grandparents, parents, sisters and friends. Both Grandma’s wrote in the same exact, tiny, beautiful cursive. I had pen-pals around the country, some were daughters of my Mom’s college friends, some girls I met at camps; some I wrote to for years. My mom wrote to my Gram each and every week on a yellow legal pad, dated, with news of her only grandkids, work and what was weighing on her mind. They still talked by phone regularly, but Mom’s letters got mailed every single Friday, and I know they were a special, treasured gift upon receipt. While most of us write emails by the tens, a hand written letter is a rare commodity in todays electronic age.
Letter Writing as a Gift
Writing letters is a personal gift. This week, both the 18 year old and 15 year old spent over an hour thinking, mulling, writing, creating little doodles on letters, for their older brother. They didn’t write anything earth shattering but they did take time to tell him about our puppy’s latest antics, how the new trees are growing, about drama camp, and to remind him that they loved and missed him and summer wasn’t as great without him here.
My daughter and I found a funny card to send him this week-end, and it reminded me of the quirky little MailGram’s I would receive from my Grandpa when I was little. A funny little stuffed doll, with a telegram and $5. I still have one of those little dolls in the attic, along with letters from Grandparents whose love and care for me I took for granted as a part of life growing up.
Letter Writing in History
I started thinking about how much history we have as a result of letters. Abigail Adams’ letters to John are legendary, and as a team that helped shape and form an entire country. Martin Luther King Jr rallied for justice, writing letters from jail, quoting Paul, letter writer extraordinaire, as evidenced by much of the New Testament. Dwight Eisenhower, nine years before he became president, rallied the troops as they fought against tyranny on D-Day by exhorting, “Liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.” My brother in-law has a letter from a President, framed and proudly displayed, as would I! And there are so many more. If letter writing is a lost art, I hope that you take a few minutes to revive it this week. Write a hand-written note to a friend, or relative, or a young Army recruit whose family doesn’t. Few people get mail anymore and the very act of writing in your own hand conveys time and care.
How to get your kids started with letter writing?
Determine who you will be writing. If you can’t think of anyone who would enjoy receiving a letter, contact your local nursing home, or church or contact Operation Gratitude.
- Show them how to address a person on a letter. One usually begins with, “Dear ___________,”
- Talk about 2-3 things, 1 per paragraph. For instance, the weather where you are at, what birds or wildlife you are seeing, your garden, recent activities you have been a part of, what you are cooking, books you are reading, etc. Make it personal and engaging. Include humor or jokes if appropriate. Ask the recipient about how and what they are doing, share a memory.
- Show them how to end a letter, with a sign-off; for instance, Cordially, Sincerely, Affectionately, Love, Warm Regards, All the Best, etc.”
- Have them sign their name.
- Talk about the importance of legibility.
- Sketches and neat doodles add to the personal aspect of the letter.
- Teach your kids how to address an envelope. Their address in the upper left hand corner, the recipients in the middle with which part of the address on which line as well as where to place the stamp.
For inspiration, her are some works of epistolary writing (yes, it is it’s own genre!). Check out the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis to begin with and then check out this list of letters from Presidents, and a great list of other books based on letters.