There are people who love, love, love ink on paper: cards, letters, books, everything. Hallmark Editorial Director Emily A. is one of them, and she’s got a giant spot in her heart for teaching kids to write letters. She also hosts The Beginning of Your Life Book Club, a blog and podcast about the magic of picture books. We asked her how she passes along her love of letter-writing to her children.
I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover…but I did.
The book is Hug Machine by Scott Campbell. It’s a picture book about a little boy who hugs everything. I am a snail mail enthusiast, so when I saw a little boy hugging a mailbox on the cover, I immediately assumed that adorable, stout, metal mail receptacle was (obviously!) the hug machine.
Why did I assume that, you might ask (if you’re not part of the #snailmailrevolution like I am)? Because of that feeling I get every time I open my mailbox to find a card from someone I know and love. It’s that feeling I get whenever I drop a handwritten note (with just the right stamp!) into the mailbox to make its way to one of my people.
Those feelings are warm, fuzzy feelings. Kind of like a hug.
Falling in love with letters
Back when I first began to love letter-writing, we just called it “mail”—not snail mail. I was a teenager and had a pen pal: He was a friend of my aunt and uncle, and he was in the Peace Corps working above the tree line in Bolivia. Who knows what I wrote to him.
But in return I got letters handwritten on yellow legal pad paper and delivered to me in actual airmail envelopes with the charming red and blue striped edges.
Wasn’t that, like, eons ago? Sure feels like it. In more recent history—long after I had acquired multiple email addresses and a cell phone—I continued writing letters to my favorite pen pal of all time, my grandmother.
She never had an email address. Never had more than the one phone. She didn’t even have an answering machine. So to keep up with her after I moved away, I wrote to her and she wrote me back. A few years ago, after she passed away, I found a bunch of the letters I had sent to her. I even found a stamp I had made at PhotoStamps® with a picture of me and Mema on it.
Nowadays the more emails I send, the more I find myself gravitating to the pen and the paper, the note and the card, the stamp and the envelope. Especially with my kids.
Teaching kids to love letters
I have two kids—8 and 6 years old—and they’re both pretty good at writing and eager to connect with their family far away. They have four grandparents who live in three different places—two different countries, actually. And there’s never enough time to visit and hug IRL. So often we send cards or notes—and texts and Facetime, sure—but also drawings and artwork. Our fridge is full of that stuff. The grandparents’ fridges need a good dose of it, too.
When my kids were younger they’d create their own rudimentary envelopes (none were ever USPS-approved sizes or shapes) and they’d just write “Grandma Joyce” or “Abuelo” on the outside—no other information. They’d put it in our mailbox at home—outgoing mail for the mail carrier to pick up! Those notes never made it any further than my keepsake box at home.
Eventually I began to explain the whole address and stamp part of the process. And now that they’re old enough, I encourage them to write more than just their names (cute enough on its own, of course). Often I encourage them to write a little message, too.
I encourage them to write their thoughts or feelings, to say something nice, or to share a story. And in doing so, I’m encouraging them to use their voices and to make a connection with the people they love. That’s a good feeling for them, for me, and for their grandparents.
A good feeling that feels kind of like a hug.
Make sure your kids have everything they need. Stock an organizer with paper, envelopes, stamps, and stickers, and keep pencils, pens, and markers nearby.
Getting inspired to write
Emily and Think.Make.Share. Designer Kelly C., created this pen pal starter spinner to make teaching kids to write letters easy and fun. You’ll need card stock, a brad, scissors, a hole punch, markers, and a ruler.
1. Draw three circles—small, medium, and large.
2. Divide the larger two into sections—as many as you want, but they each should have the same number. (We just wrote “pen pal starter” on the little one. You could personalize it with a kiddo’s name, too.)
3. Around the edge of the larger circle, write options for recipients: family, friends, teachers, public figures or favorite characters. For more imaginative letters, add things: pets, stuffed animals or everyday objects. (Make sure you leave room for the medium circle in the middle.)
4. On the medium-sized circle, add topics your kids would enjoy writing about.
5. Poke the brad through the center of the smallest circle, then add the other circles one at a time.
6. Spin the circles to match up a name and topic, then start writing.
Bonus reading list
Check out Emily’s top ten favorite picture books about mail:
A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Dear Juno by Soyung Pak, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung
Dear Panda by Miriam Latimer
Frog and Toad are Friends: The Letter by Arnold Lobel
The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Love, Mama by Jeanette Bradley
Snail Mail by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Julia Patton
Ten Thank You Letters by Daniel Kirk
Never Mail an Elephant by Mike Thaler, illustrated by Jerry Smath
Emily lives in Kansas City, MO, with her partner, two kids, two dogs, and lots and lots and lots of stamps.
We’d love to get your thoughts about teaching kids to write letters. Let us know what you do in the comments below! And it’s still National Card and Letter Writing Month…so show us your snail mail and tag it #pswritebacksoon.