How Letter-Writing Can Nurture a Love for Writing in Your Child

by Rashmie Jaaju on October 4, 2011 · 28 comments

in Read & Write

Though English is my second language, I have nurtured a life-long love for it. As I child, I loved reading and writing and wrote all sorts of things – essays, poetry, diary, and sometimes stories. I won many prizes too. And yet, I feel that the way English was taught at school and later on in University, it failed to bring out the best in me. 

Today, when I look back, I feel there was so much scope – to nourish the interest of a student who was clearly 'into' writing. But, no, there was absolutely no focus on 'developing' a child's interest; tapping into his potential by providing him creative cues.

The only focus was on rushing through the curriculum; preparing us for the possible questions that we might face in the tests; having us swallow the best known vitamin pills then – called the guide books; and prompt us to mug up the "quotes" that we could unquote (read vomit out) in our answer sheets to show how well read we are and earn extra marks.

All these are my lessons learned that I want to never forget as a teacher to my child. Pari, I can see, has a passion for the written word. She loves reading and she adores writing.

But, I want to ensure I am not thrusting reading and writing in a way that it erodes her love, curiosity and hunger for it.

I want to make her interest in writing as enjoyable as possible. For, I know that enjoying what you do is the first step to ensure you will do it well.

Then come the tools and support to enrich her writing skills – and early on.

Even when Pari was just about two, she was very fond of collecting pens from around the house and scribbling on any piece of paper/note book/newspaper that she could lay her hands on. At 2.5, she would sit down with all seriousness and scribble in a proper notebook as if she's writing long sentences. While, she could not actually write more than letters and mock words, she would pretend as if writing all that she was speaking aloud. 

Having said this, inspite of her real interest in writing, I found that she never quite liked the school's text-book type of writing. For exp: a picture is given and you have to write the word against it; or a small sentence is provided and the child has to fill a missing word. That sort of closed-ended writing did not excite her. May be because she did not feel empowered. May be it came across as merely doing a 'task'.

Hence, just as we do with our art activities, I strive to make her writing activities as open-ended as possible. I use different ways that allow her to express herself freely – without being chained to a set pattern or a rule.

Ongoing Letter Writing

With an intention to encourage self-expression, articulation, interaction with friends and family, we started this ongoing letter-writing project an year or so back. 

For this, I bought her a beautiful leather-bound, spiral diary and we decided to write a letter in it to a family member, friend, a favourite actor/actress, a cartoon character – basically whoever she felt like talking to – that particular day. I would post some of these letters while others stayed on in the diary. 

Sometimes, she would just call up the person and read out the letter to him/her over phone! Initially, she wrote one letter everyday. Some days, even two. Over time, the frequency came down but always, the urge to write a letter came from within her. I always keep this diary visible and accessible to her.

More often than not, she really enjoyed it because this form of writing is personal and interactive. She knows that it will be read by someone who will then let her know how he/she felt after reading her letter. This is different from writing any other prose piece.

It can entice even a reluctant writer. If your child is not at the stage when he/she can write sentences, you can have him/her dictate to you. Or, the child can even 'draw' out his message.

Art + Writing = Greeting Cards

For festivals, birthday parties and other special occasions, the letters became greeting cards  – complete with drawings or flower prints or collaging – along side the long message inside. Well, her messages are always long. Repetitive at times but never will she let go without filling the page and often spilling over.

And, sometimes, e-mail over traditional letter

E-mailing is another writing tool that has added a new dimension to her letter writing. An year back, I opened an email account for her with an intention to have her write message to me and to other family members. 

This turned out to be a good decision. 

She loves typing on the keyboard and has started using both hands these days. On days when she's not interested in writing the traditional way, the idea of sending a mail to her uncle or grandma or Aunt inspires her to write. 

I don't know what the experts say about letting your child e-mail etc at such an early age, but I think, it really is a great extension to Pari's love for writing. More so because she's enamoured with the digital tools.

I am her pen-pal

Above all else, I love writing letters to Pari – the traditional pen and paper way and also the e-mail way. Sometimes, I ask her what she would like me to write and other times, I just send her a surprise message. The e-mail method is always interesting as she writes back and I reply and the chain goes on for some time. 

With my e-mail, I also like to send her some interesting pictures from flickr etc. to make it more appealing and visual.

I encourage a gamut of other open-ended ways to nurture her writing. I think I'll discuss all those ideas in a separate post.

What do you think of the good old pen-pal practice? Is your child engaged in any? 

If not, I would highly recommend this form of interaction and exchange within your own city, country or even across borders (if it's sustainable). 

As part of this, the kids can exchange small letters, greeting cards, cuttings from magazines, poems, drawings – whatever that can go in a regular-sized envelope

Recently, I also chose to participate in a Postcard exchange - an initiative by Deborah of Teach Preschool. Pari is excited to send posts to her pen-pal group in the US, UK, Australia and couple of other participating countries.

Pari wants to make more pen-pals.

If you are interested in having your child write to and receive post from Pari, please let us know in the 'comment' section. We will take it forward from there!

Receiving a handwritten or 'drawn' letter is pure joy! Isn't it?