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? 

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Phyllis at All Things Beautiful October 4, 2011 at 2:06 pm

We would love to write to Pari!
Phyllis at All Things Beautiful’s recent fabulous post..Snapshot Summary, September 26-30, week 4

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Rashmie Jaaju October 5, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Phyllis,
So good to hear from you and delighted that you guys are interested in writing to us :)
Today was a crazy day (lots of guests at home) and hence could not send you address details etc. I will write to you soon regarding this. :)
Rashmie Jaaju’s recent fabulous post..How Letter-Writing Can Nurture a Love for Writing in Your Child

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patricia October 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Such good ideas here, Rashmie! You really understand the power of kid-driven learning. There’s nothing like letter-writing to inspire writing–because it’s authentic, and it invites response. The fact that you are her pen-pal says it all. So many parents don’t know how to inspire their kids to write, and don’t consider the fun of simply writing letters to them.

Pari is so lucky!
patricia’s recent fabulous post..learning from thor and lego space marauders

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Rashmie Jaaju October 5, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Patricia,
So glad you stopped by to share your comment :)
And, this compliment coming from you means a lot because I know you are yourself so passionate about encouraging kids to write. And, I love reading your ideas too.

You’re right about how letter-writing invites response. There’s nothing more encouraging to a child than receiving live response from the target audience.
Rashmie Jaaju’s recent fabulous post..How Letter-Writing Can Nurture a Love for Writing in Your Child

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Marna Sobel October 4, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Hi Rashmie,

I have a five year old daughter who would love to be pen pals with Pari.
If you are interested, please e-mail me to set something up.

Thanks,
Marna

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Rashmie Jaaju October 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Marna,
I am genuinely pleased that you want your daughter to be pen-pal with Pari. I would love to get this going. Will write to you soon regarding this. I have been on my toes since last one week because we have guests at our place! :)
Rashmie Jaaju’s recent fabulous post..How Letter-Writing Can Nurture a Love for Writing in Your Child

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param October 4, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Now this is one opportunity i wud not like to miss my dear Mrs Jaaju:)))Pen pal idea simply great. My kids wud luv to have pari as their friend. Rashmie, woh bhi kya din the, jab hum khat likha karte the..gosh, how could i forget my love for writing letters….i am feeling nostalgic now…all those sweet memories….waiting for the postman, literally grabbing the letter from his hand, reading each n every word over n over again:) Koi Lauta De Mere Beete Hue Din, Beete Hue Din Woh Mere Pyaare Palchhin….

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Rashmie Jaaju October 5, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Param,
I am totally excited about your kiddos becoming pen pals with Pari! This takes our friendship to another level :) Will send you details soon!
Yeah, you’re right – those days were something else – writing letters was such a part and parcel of our lives and the postman was the most coveted person in the world!
And, for this song that you shared (koi lauta de mere bite hue din…) – a big rainbow hug, my dear :)
Rashmie Jaaju’s recent fabulous post..How Letter-Writing Can Nurture a Love for Writing in Your Child

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Ashu October 4, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Great ideas to explore writing talents of kids and nuture the same.
Yes even miss the time when we used to write long letters to freinds 7-8 pages,now these internet age has put end to it.I guess that fun was different…agree with u even with emails develop the hidden thoughts and writing skill with kids.

Loved the idea…thanks.

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Rashmie Jaaju October 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Ashu,
Yeah, you’re right – it feels so out-worldly now to think that we used to write those long – 7-8-9-10 pages long letters! I remember clearly – the longest letter that I have ever written was a 16-page one to my bro!

Thanks for being here my dear and for taking this conversation forward :)
Rashmie Jaaju’s recent fabulous post..How Letter-Writing Can Nurture a Love for Writing in Your Child

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JDaniel4's Mom October 4, 2011 at 7:46 pm

This is such wonderful idea! I know people must love getting the letters.
JDaniel4′s Mom’s recent fabulous post..Pause Life for a Moment- Galit Breen of These Little Waves

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Rashmie Jaaju October 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm

@JDaniel4′s Mom – Yeah, receiving letters and cards is pure joy! This idea can work beautifully with kids… :)
Rashmie Jaaju’s recent fabulous post..How Letter-Writing Can Nurture a Love for Writing in Your Child

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Melissa @imaginationsoup October 4, 2011 at 11:56 pm

you are so right – and such an amazing mom and teacher!! I love this post!!
Melissa @imaginationsoup’s recent fabulous post..Jumpstart, Mom Approved Virtual Game World – Giveaway

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Rashmie Jaaju October 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Melissa,
Thank you, dear, for stopping by and for your lovely words.
You are yourself so passionate about nurturing reading and writing for kids. I love the thoughts that you share on your blog on this topic.
Rashmie Jaaju’s recent fabulous post..How Letter-Writing Can Nurture a Love for Writing in Your Child

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Grily October 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I think that any kind of activity, that i child is supposed to learn should be made in a form of game. I loved the idea with pen-pal! Really innovative and lot more interesting than writing letters to Santa. One thing is sure, she will receive a reply and she will continue writing. Amazing idea!:)
Grily’s recent fabulous post..It is autumn comming… what shall I eat…

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Rashmie Jaaju October 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Grily,
Yeah – so true – when learning happens in a playful way, it stays with them for ever.
The fact that letter-writing invites a response and helps the child learn so many other lessons in the process, is why I love this form of writing. Not only does the child learns to express herself, she also builds relationship, understands the value of giving, caring, sharing (love).
Thank you, dear Grily, for stopping by. I hope to see your here often with your thoughts and ideas. :)
Rashmie Jaaju’s recent fabulous post..Land Art: Ephemeral Beauty, Eternal Bliss

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Natalie October 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Oh, how lovely! We would love to write to Pari too – Anna just now has developed interest in writing and wants to start writing letters. I warn you though – it might be hard to decode since her spelling leaves a lot to be desired :) We were going back and forth on letting Anna use computer for typing but decided against it at this point. She does struggle a lot with letter formation and we are somewhat worried that typing will offer her an easy “way out” of learning how to write properly.
Natalie’s recent fabulous post..Cooking in the Park

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Rashmie Jaaju October 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Natalie,
Anna is such a sweetheart. Her exchanges with you always crack me up! I am sure, if she writes to Pari, we will enjoy reading (decoding) her one-liners and witty remarks. So, yes, let’s please start this interaction between the two girls :)

I think you are right about not introducing the computer at this stage when she’s just about getting the hang of letter formations.
I will write to you about the letter thing. Thanks, Natalie for being here :)

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Chhavi October 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Hello…I dont think u know that Vasavi and Pari are already pen-pals (the email way!).

Vasavi too has been into writing letters and mails to family and her friends. Besides the creative writing aspect, it also gives vent to the child’s feelings. Infact, at times when she is upset with me or her dad and is not in a mood to speak it out (very rare though), she’ll just pick up her pen n pad and there she goes….

The best is that these are lifelong memories….when u read these dated comments, notes etc. after a year or two….oh how overwhelmed u feel!

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Rashmie Jaaju October 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Chhavi,
Of-course I know! How can I not?! :)
You are so right – these letters are life-long memories and treasures. Just like seeing old pictures of your child is sheer joy; reading their thoughts and mind through their letters a few years later will be a unique pleasure and revelation!
Thanks Chhavi, for being here and for sharing your thoughts and stories about Vasavi. :)
That story about she venting out her mind on paper brought a smile to my face! Signs of a budding writer :)

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Vinod October 9, 2011 at 7:17 pm

amazing info sharing…thanks for the same…!!
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Rashmie Jaaju October 17, 2011 at 4:41 am

Welcome to Mommy Labs, Vinod, and thank you for stopping by. :)

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Elaine October 10, 2011 at 8:03 am

This sounds fun! I would love to introduce this to my 5-year old daughter. She does not know anything about penpal yet.

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Rashmie Jaaju October 17, 2011 at 4:43 am

Welcome to Mommy Labs, Elaine. I am so glad you want to introduce pen-pal activity to your daughter. And, thank you for connecting here. :)

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Anu October 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm

This is wonderful, Rashmie!! I remember I used to enjoy writing so much that I used to write to everyone… and so did the same thing with samhith too… unfortunately, times have changed, and when we did send letters, eevryone called up to talk to him, and he was discouraged.. so we started sending postcards instead,, after joining Postcrossing.net and now he is more enthusiastic about writing, though his excitement lasts only for the length of a postcard, not a whole letter… the idea of writing to an imaginary character is great though! i did it while writing my diary, but didnt think of getting to write samhith to one! will try it out! btw, we have just got a couple of people interested in exchanging letters with samhith, and we would love to send and recieve letters from Pari too! Samhith has seen so many of your creative efforts, that he does know a bit about her, and he would be thrilled to get letters from her! and this may give him the much needed boost for writing too….. also, about email, i think it s a great idea! i contemplated abt it at one time, but decided not to, because of his school group… i would not be able to restrict his interaction only to the family, since the first people he would want to be in touch with would be his friends from school.. while i would be happy with his writing to some of them, there are many others i wouldnt want him to get too close to, and spend even his ‘home’ time with! he spends all his school time with them anyway :( as of now, since almost our whole family is on facebook, and online most of the time, when we are both free, i allow him to chat with some of them, so he types in himself… sends messages and so on.. with me looking over from a distance….. he knows a couple of others too… but knows he is not allowed to send a message to anyone and everyone…
Anu’s recent fabulous post..Nine Days – Nine Goddesses!

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Rashmie Jaaju October 17, 2011 at 5:01 am

Anu,
Sorry dear, about my tardy reply. I’m not able to log in these days due to tons of things to manage at home. Moreover, I have my in-laws here these days so I want to spend as much time as possible – with them.

First of all – I would love for Pari to be pen-pal with Samhith. :) Will send you a mail right away regarding this.

It’s nice to know Samhith used to send postcards etc to his family and friends. I can understand that for young children, writing a full fledged letter may not entice much and it’s perfectly fine. As long as they are writing willingly – even if it’s just a few lines – the seed is sown. This love for writing will gradually lead to more. Actually, sometimes, they may just feel forbidden to do the ‘writing’ part even if they may have ideas to express. In such a scenario, we can let them dictate and do the writing for them. I do this sometimes for Pari.
The email dilemma that you talked about – yeah, I can understand. With Pari, it is not at that stage where she is exchanging email id with friends etc. So, it’s basically with family members and couple of friends who I know and approve of.
And then, there are other digital tools that we can use – for a child who’s fascinated with such media – to encourage writing.

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Fauzi January 18, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Hi there,
I always enjoy your blog, i have a 6 yr old daughter, she loves to read and draw write, we wold love to get an email or a letter from pari.

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