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 thought, 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.
The young students frantically waved their hands high in the air. They couldn’t wait to run to the front of the gym and participate in a game I call, “5 in Ten!”. I recently spoke with hundreds of students in different settings (urban, rural, and suburban) and they all enjoyed “5 in 10’!”. The gist of this interactive game is to name 5______ in ten seconds.
The catch is that the students do not know what I will ask them until I say, “go!”. For example, I will call someone up to the front of the class, gym, auditorium, etc. and immediately say, “Name 5 dances in ten seconds…go!”. I typically will have the audience be my shot clock and provide a whisper countdown…10…9…8….7…6…..5…4….3…2..1…Short Buzzer sound! The choices one can use are endless. I can ask participants to name 5 dogs, 5 birds, 5 pizza toppings, 5 songs, 5 movies, 5 shoes, 5 cars, 5 words that start with the letter “A”, etc.
I use “5 in 10” as an ice breaker for students, staff, parents, and families of all ages when I present. Similarly to “5 in 10”, I also use “3 in 5” and “1 in 3.” These are variations of the same “5 in 10” game with the exception that you have to name 3____ in 5 seconds and 1_____ in 3 seconds. Even in virtual environments, students. staff, and parents are excited to play these games!
It was a breath of fresh air to many who were struggling with the remote learning options that were very rigid at times. These fun games get students to speak in front of others. I use it to enhance listening. I use it to help with the correlation between listening, speaking, writing, and reading as well. Before I tackle reading, I typically get students to listen. Historically, stories were told orally (speaking) and the hearer had to “listen well” to pass the story on. Many of these stories were written and these words were read from papers and books. The correlation between listening, speaking, writing, and reading must be leveraged more.
Below are a few ways you can leverage the fun to get some reading gains!
- Try “5 in 10”, “3 in 5”, and “1 in 3”
- Tell a story and have your students continue where you left off. For example, “It was the first day of school for Anthony. He was so excited he ran out the door and forgot….” Have a student “continue” until you have a complete story! You can interject at times to get the story to keep moving.
- After the students finish their collective story, have them write down the story on paper. Allow them to change up certain parts as they see fit.
- Collect the stories and make a list of words that you want to highlight for vocabulary improvements.
- Encourage students to take these same ideas home and have their families do similar activities!
So here is my call to action for you! At the very least, please try “5 in 10”, “3 in 5”, and “1 in 3” with your students, colleagues, and families. Let me know how they enjoyed it! Remember to leverage the fun as you learn!
Reading and writing are skills that go hand in hand. As children develop, they learn to speak first. Reading follows, and then the ability to write in their language. Writing is a great way to reinforce the lessons they learn from reading. They start to mimic writing the words they see, much like they mimic hearing the words they hear on a daily basis. Introducing children to writing is a task that should occur early. It can start with items as simple as crayons and some paper.
Providing the opportunity to draw at an early age is one way of encouraging writing. Much like ancient cultures drew images that morphed into letters, the pictures that young children draw are their way of communicating. Getting them to put markers and crayons to paper is a way to encourage early writing skills. When they complete their drawings, you can have them tell you stories about them. As they get older, you can teach them that writing is very similar to drawing.
This playful approach to writing can be the perfect introduction to associating letters with sounds. Children can start practicing associating letterforms with sounds and words as early as the preschool years. During that time, they begin putting sounds together with the words they hear. They are starting to understand the connection between the letters they see and the sounds or ideas they represent. Picture books emphasize this connection as well, helping children to associate the images of the words with pictures.
As they become more familiar with what letters look like, those letters may start to emerge in their drawings. The letters will be random at first. Mostly they will be working on consonants and a few vowels. Each time they write down letters spend some time talking about them. What sounds do the letters make? What words are they part of? When the letterforms start to develop, they will eventually mimic the words they see in books. This is an opportune time to continue to teach them more about the words they are seeing as they begin to write them out.
Another way that young children are encouraged to write is by seeing their parents write. Children like to repeat what their parents are doing. Before computers became such powerful communication devices, there was more writing done at kitchen tables around the country. With fewer letters and checks written, it is essential to take time out of the day to show your children that you write. This is also a chance to teach them the importance of things like thank you letters, as well as their own creative works. When children tell stories about their drawings, write them down for them. Then have them read the stories back to you. They have created their own stories to share with your help!
Developing writing is a way to reinforce what they are learning when they read. They are learning the building blocks of reading, letters, and words, while they connect what a letter looks like to how it sounds. It starts with something as simple as drawing pictures, eventually turning those pictures into full-blown stories.
One of the strongest desires that parents of young children have is the ability to communicate with them. While they know a howling baby is uncomfortable in some way, they do not know why. Years are spent modeling speech to toddlers, saying words and pointing at objects to cement a visual link to the concept they are trying to teach. Toddlers, for their part, are incredibly amusing as they learn this skill. Every adult male becomes “Daddy”. Sometimes the family pet becomes “Daddy” as well. But they learn this skill through verbal demonstration and visual connection.
The writer is an explorer. Every step is an advance into a new land.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Teaching a child to read is a similar process. We sit a child on our lap, or lay them down at night, and read them a story. If they can see the words, their curiosity gets the better of them and they start asking questions. They learn to read in the same way they learn to speak; repeating what the adults say until they connect the word and the concept it conveys. The visual components to reading are letters and words. Teaching students at a young age to write improves their reading skills by helping them recognize the connection between the letters they see and the sounds the letter make.
Parents are instrumental in helping children link writing to reading and speaking at a young age. Like with speaking, they do not understand writing letters. They want to mimic what they are seeing on the page. This is how young learners start to write, known as emergent writing. Emergent writing is the way many younger students start writing. They start with scribbles, and over time hone those random slashes into letters. As they learn their letter forms, they are able to turn them into words. This adds another tool in their communication arsenal, linking the spoken and written word together. Adults help by encouraging this scribbling and guiding into letters. As young writers move from scribbling to writing poorly to writing well, they begin to move into other writing skills that are related to reading, like reading left to right and top to bottom. Understanding how punctuation affects what is read creeps into their writing.
Why start at such a young age? Early aptitude in writing is an indicator of a child’s reading ability. Up to middle school, children are sponges of information. They learn the things parents and teachers reinforce, like positive habits and important life skills. It is during this time frame that teaching them new skills are most effective. Helping them develop an aptitude for writing is a tool that will help them through their entire life, from taking notes in school to writing resumes and cover letters for jobs. It is important to keep them interested and enjoying writing while not forcing it. Pushed too hard, and they will get burnt out and frustrated. Writing becomes a chore, starting a bad relationship with writing and letters. This could start a bad relationship with reading as well, further hindering future prospects.
Teaching students at a young age to write improves their reading skills by helping them recognize the connection between the letters they see and the sounds the letter make.
Everything we can do as educators to build a strong relationship with the written word is important for a child’s future development. Giving students the tools to write the words they are reading is a major step to improving their literacy. Building their confidence in these abilities at a young age starts them on the path of being lifelong readers and learners. Kids Read Now knows the importance of building literacy at a young age. Reading to younger children supports their desire to learn to read and write, creating better students.