Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash
I know, I know, the children should write letters; we’ll get to it!
But no! For your grammar school students, I say letter writing should be a part of their homeschool curriculum, not a side activity to fit in once in awhile. It’s too important to miss, plus it’s a great way to teach writing!
It is important for the children to write letters to Grandma. Think: Is it more important for my child to write answers in some homeschool curriculum describing what a tree is like, or to write to his grandmother? When you think of it, the answer is obvious.
What could be a better way for my child to work on his writing skills than for him to do it while building a loving relationship with another person?
And children are also more motivated to learn how to write when they are writing letters, compared to when they’re answering questions in a workbook. The way that creative writing was taught in the days of classical education was different from the modern approach we see today. It’s all so bothersome to most young students, when workbooks assign these questions and answers. But when children are writing a letter to someone, it doesn’t seem so dull anymore; they usually quite enjoy it!
Your child loves to tell you all about the beautiful leaf he found outside, and will go into minute detail about it, right? But let his homeschool curriculum ask him to write a paragraph describing a leaf he found outside, and he may completely shut down. Mom, if that is happening, there is nothing wrong with your child; that is completely normal.
God did not design children to be able to come up with creative content on demand; He designed children to mimic. As they grow toward adulthood, the “muscle” for harnessing their creative powers and being purposeful about creative work will develop naturally. But in the meantime, there’s no need to burden our young children with daily creative writing assignments, and this was never done in classical education. In Grammar of Grace, we have the children do daily copywork assignments, and the older students (ages 10 & up) also write short summaries of their reading assignments. They don’t have to come up with creative answers to practice expressing themselves, but merely think through and repeat back what they just learned about.
But… there is a low-pressure, natural way for your child to practice some creative writing. Your child is excited about writing to his grandparents, or cousins, or the friends who moved away. He knows that someone he loves will be receiving his communication, and he can write about whatever is on his mind. These things free him up to express himself, and as he writes, you can use this natural writing as an opportunity to teach him.
But don’t miss that Letter Writing is also important in itself. Our children need to know how to write letters as adults. They need to be comfortable writing letters. Teaching your children letter writing when they’re young will prepare them for a lifetime of epistolary competence.
In our homeschool (and in the Later Knowledge Guide curricula), the children write one letter a week—often enough that they get plenty of opportunities to write, but not so often that it becomes laborious. I usually tell my children to whom they should write. (For one thing, each week I make all of my children write to the same person, so I only have to use one stamp…!) But I also want to make sure they don’t skip folks to whom they really need to write, like the bedridden sick loved one whose day would be made a little brighter by a sweet letter, or the missionary friends living in a remote village in Africa, happy to hear from some of the folks back home.
When we’re starting out, I keep it really easy; my little ones usually don’t even know what to write, so I’ll just tell them to write something like, “Dear Aunt Sue, I love you. I liked it when we went to your house. Love, Timmy”.
When they’re ready for a little more, I’ll ask the child, What do you want to tell Grandfather about? If he can’t think of ideas, I’ll help him: Why don’t you tell Grandfather about your piano recital on Friday? I like for each child to write his letter on his own (if he can), and then bring it to me to check.
Now comes the teaching part—correcting my child’s work!
I don’t want the assignment to become a big, long, tiresome ordeal, so I point out and have the child correct only the worst of the mistakes, explaining why each correction was needed. If after several minutes’ worth of editing there are still more mistakes, I’ll just let the letter go like that. The recipients usually think the mistakes are cute anyway. Week by week, year by year, the child will keep learning more, until he understands how to do everything right. No rush.
Now, I understand that some of our recipients might be… hmm, how shall I say it?… We might want some of our letters to look absolutely perfect, to make a good homeschool impression on the recipient. In special cases like that, if the child is young and still makes lots of mistakes, I sometimes limit the child to writing only a short letter, so we can make everything perfect without it becoming too long of an assignment. But, to my thinking, more important than what each recipient might think about homeschooling is that I not frustrate my child by setting my expectations too high.
When it comes to correcting, you’ve got something wonderful working for you: Your child wants to get it right! He wants to learn how to put periods and commas in the right places; he wants to spell words correctly and capitalize the right things; he wants to write intelligibly. As you help him with each missive, and explain what needs to be better, sooner or later he will begin to remember these things, and learn the fundamentals of writing. In fact, as the child gets older, you can use letter writing to teach the finer points of writing, too! Just, as always, use your judgment as your child’s personal tutor to help him get a little better, to learn a little bit more, with each epistle.
In case you’re thinking that your children don’t have anyone to write to, here are a few ideas to get you started…
First and best, it is so good for children to write to their relatives, particularly to grandparents and any relations who especially love getting those letters! That gets its own paragraph. You might be surprised how much a particular aunt or cousin enjoys getting letters from your little cuties. God gave us our families; start there.
In our home, I also have the children write to folks who are suffering for Christ, who might really enjoy a sweet letter of encouragement now and then.
For example, we write to a dear sister in Christ who is desperately ill, a brother who is imprisoned for the faith, and a missionary family working on Bible translation overseas. These letters are more difficult than letters to grandma. I teach the children to pray first and ask the Lord to help them to think of what to write, that would be encouraging to the recipient. Sometimes the children write something that I think would not be encouraging at all, and then I help the child to imagine how he would feel, if he were the one suffering in this particular way, and then if he received a letter saying (fill in the blank).
I think that doing this has taught my children about how to be careful with their words, and also how to consider the feelings of others. But mostly, they’re learning that “Whatsoever ye would that men should do for you, even so do ye to them.” I teach the children what Jesus said about when he will separate the sheep from the goats, and that he teaches us that we must visit the sick and those in prison. I tell them, that for these folks who live far away from us, this is a way that we can “visit” them and obey Christ’s command.
They can also engage in their duties as citizens-in-training in their letter writing. Last year, I had the children write to President Trump to ask him to pardon that brother who has been unjustly imprisoned. Don’t you think it would just bless your local sheriff or mayor’s socks off to receive some sweet letters from his little constituents?
When I was a child myself, my father was a Naval officer, and we moved every couple of years, so I had quite a few penpals, my friends from the places I’d lived in the past. Keeping in touch with friends who’ve moved away is a great way to enjoy letter writing, and as the one who did the moving away, let me say that it’s really encouraging to know that those friends still care about you.
I think you’re starting to see that the possibilities are limitless!
Quick note about these epistolary relationships: For what it’s worth, in our family, my husband or I read the letters the children send out, and we also read the letters the children receive. We keep an eye on their friendships here in town, and it seems like a good policy to keep that same eye on their dispatches as well.
Letter writing may seem like a lost art these days, but bringing it into your homeschool not only equips your children for a lifetime of proficient correspondence, but is a fun and effective way to teach them how to write. If you haven’t already, add letter writing to your curriculum; your children will bless you for it, one day!
What is your experience with letter writing—whether writing letters yourself, or teaching your children to write letters? Tell us about it in the comments!
Thanks for dropping by; please keep us in prayer!