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PenPals: Handwritten Letters to Support the Whole Child

When was the last time you wrote or received a handwritten letter? For thousands of years, handwritten letters have played a critical part in our lives. In this age of digital communication, handwritten letters are becoming a lost art. Emails and text messages can be sent instantly; however, the impact of a good old-fashioned handwritten letter can bring a lifetime of benefits and memories.

Encouraging children to write and read letters will improve their literacy and communication skills, as well as their social and emotional development. Writing can reduce anxiety and stress, as well as decrease depression. It’s especially important during this time of virtual learning and social distancing to provide opportunities for handwritten letters. Let’s explore the academic and mental benefits of being PenPals!

Handwritten letters improve writing skills. We know that reading and writing go hand in hand… but did you know that writing by hand is just as important as reading? By definition, literacy is one’s ability to read and write. Research confirms that integrating reading and writing automatizes those skills. From kindergarten standards of using a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts to twelve-grade standards of producing clear and coherent writing, all learners must be able to write to communicate ideas.

Handwritten letters improve reading skills. Research confirms that writing by hand activates reading circuits in the brain that promote literacy.  Additionally, research by McGinley and Tierney in 1989 confirmed that integrating reading and writing instruction leads to a higher level of thinking than when either process is taught alone. Providing opportunities to read a letter from a teacher or loved one will lead to improved reading achievement, better writing performance, and increased awareness of self, others, and the community.

Handwritten letters improve communication skills. It’s an old saying, but it’s true: Practice makes perfect. By habit, we mimic the voices around us – which is sometimes not the best grammar. Our speech is a direct reflection of our writing. Writing forces thought and articulation of main ideas while exploring main feelings. Letter writing provides an opportunity to improve vocabulary, knowledge, and sentence structure; and better writing creates a better speaker. What better way to practice and improve communication skills through writing than writing to someone you trust?

Handwritten letters improve self-awareness. Mental health and well-being are the core of who you are. Writing helps to clear the mind, recover memories and organization of thoughts, and refine ideas. Research confirms that a person can better understand his/her feelings more clearly when it’s written. Writing is a creative way to improve mental recall and well-being.

Handwritten letters improve relationships. In times like these, opportunities to connect with teachers and loved ones are important. Handwritten letters confirm the importance of relationships between educators and families with children. Daily writing opportunities provide deep connections while addressing reading, writing, and social development skills. Addressing the whole child is vital.


  • Use a dated notebook, versus loose paper, to keep track of how the conversation evolves. This notebook can serve as a journal, mental wellness check-in, calendar, planner, and keepsake for life (or not).
  • Do not edit children’s writings in the journal; however, provide additional opportunities to teach correct sentence structure, etc.
  • Always begin and end with something positive.

So go ahead, grab a pen and notebook, and begin creating memories while positively impacting literacy, communication, social, and emotional development, simultaneously.

4 thoughts on “PenPals: Handwritten Letters to Support the Whole Child”

  1. Sandra Walters

    Tonya, I like this! I do believe encouraging children to write letters is so educational! It will improve children thinking process as well as teaching children how to write. It also will make parents aware of their children grammar. Get on it….

  2. Dr. Debra Moncrief

    Writing is just as important as reading! I journal everyday! I used to have my students journal daily before I began class. We always started with a writing prompt. Students definitely should be encouraged to write. Writing improves grammar as well as speaking skills! Great article!

  3. Kristina Allison

    Awesome read! I will get my daughter to begin writing handwritten letters, and we’ll see if she get some in return. Thanks for the idea and creative way to improve writing skills!

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