Letter writing has always been a favorite hobby of mine. I'd write them to my grandparents, my friends, heck, even to my future self (those are certainly entertaining to read!). Not only is writing healthy for your mind, but letters turn into great keepsakes for the receiver.
When emails became the next big thing, those somewhat took over because they took less time to send and sometimes I'd be able to get a response back in just a few hours. Sure, the phone is also a great way to keep in touch and nowadays everyone texts, but few things feel as good as sending or receiving an actual paper letter via snail mail.
Today, as I sit in self-isolation like the rest of the country and most of the world, I find myself getting restless and missing my family more than ever. I've picked up the phone a few times and have even done a few FaceTime sessions but I just want more. So, I did what I used to do and took out my favorite colored pens, some paper, found some envelopes in an old drawer and checked my purse for stamps. I'm starting a small pen pal program with my grandkids -- hoping they'll enjoy it as much as I do! I figure they will have great keepsakes within my letters and I will have some great momentos with what they return in the mail.
Since today is certainly a different time, pen pals and letter writing being things of the past, I want to make sure this process is fun and different. Here's how!
I. Include more than just the letter.
You know as well as I do that kids' attention spans are pretty short. Reading a multiple page letter may not be number one on their to-do list so packing a few surprises will help keep them engaged. Depending on the size of your envelope and weight of what you're sending (unless you have more stamps to use), you can have a lot of fun adding small things for them to hold and look at. Photos work best and will fit in the envelope without weighing it down too much. Try to find pictures of you from your childhood, or maybe even pictures of you holding your grandkids when they were babies. They will love to take a quick trip down memory lane and see pictures they may have never seen before. Make sure to jot down the date and summary on the back of the photo so they know what they're looking at.
II. Start With The Now
Rather than starting with forced small talk (how are you? etc), dive right into what you're doing. Keep the sentences short and simple -- remember those darn short attention spans -- while still filling them in on what you're up to currently. This will help paint them a picture of what you were doing and how you were feeling when you sat down to write them a letter. Since we're all pretty much up to the same thing (sitting at home LOL), you may not have a lot to include. But guess what... that's okay! Letting your grandkids know that you're doing the same thing they're doing will make them feel better about what's going on. Documenting how you're handling the coronavirus quarantine will give them something to remember and talk about over the years to come when this is a subject in their kids' history classes (crazy to think about, huh?).
You also may want to add a funny anecdote where it fits. For example, you can tell a funny story about how you were texting your cousin and had a silly typo or how you tried to make a craft but messed it up horribly (oh wait, just me?).
III. Tell Them About You
I remember growing up not knowing much about my grandparents even though I saw them and talked to them regularly. My mom told me when to wish them a happy birthday and I knew they lived close, but that's about it. It also took me a while to understand my family tree (wait, my great-aunt is my grandma's sister?). Including tidbits about yourself in a letter to your grandchild will help them connect the dots and learn things about you they may not have known. Feel free to go as in-depth as you want or you can definitely keep it simple. Your grandkids will appreciate it no matter what!
IV. Include Open-Ended Questions
So you've gotten them to read your letter but the tricky part is what's next. How do you get them to write back? Some kids may be totally into this idea while others not so much. Sure, you can ask their parents to sit them down and have them write but how can you ensure more than just a "hi, bye" response? By giving them some prompts, of course! End your letter with some open-ended questions and let them know you're excited to hear their answers.
Again, since this certain time is unique, feel free to ask them questions about they're handling quarantine. Giving them a safe space to talk about their feelings will benefit them in more ways than you may realize. You can also ask questions about their personalities, hopes, and dreams. Sure, you may already know the answers to some obvious questions like what their favorite animals are, but you know kids, their minds are always changing.
Happy letter writing!