Why We Should Keep Letter Writing Alive
We think it’s time to bring back the dying tradition of exchanging letters. (We’re not the only ones.) Letter writing can be practical or personal, businesslike or poetic, but all forms hold a lot of value. And teaching your kids to convey themselves via the written word has benefits beyond not having to worry grandma will accidentally Google porn on the way to Gmail. Here are five reasons why letters are the new LPs—older than us, and better than digital.
Perfectly crossed t’s and dotted i’s
Unlike test answers and homework, that can now be submitted via e-mail, a letter is a piece of communication that still relies on pen and paper to get the message across. While most Indian schools haven’t gone completely digital yet, the rest of the world is certainly headed in that direction. However, a pretty script is not the only thing that will take a hit if handwriting is phased out, say researchers, as quoted in this New York Times piece. Putting pen (or pencil) to paper activates a unique neural circuit that has a positive impact on reading and learning abilities, as well as idea generation. The inconsistencies in hand written scripts also force the brain to learn every possible version of a letter, which makes recognition much easier than looking at the same shape repeatedly. Which means there’s more to it than just pretty penmanship!
A lot of formal education these days relies on memory or rote learning; there is very little room for the imagination to develop. As a result, creative writing skills seldom flourish, either. Describing the movie she just watched or her family trip to the Maldives in a letter to a friend is really a hidden exercise for your child to tell a compelling tale. She’s had the experience—but finding her own words and using them correctly to convey it to another is just as important.
Keepsakes for later years
So much of our lives rely on ephemeral digital technology. Emails, digital pictures, and Skype conversations don’t translate into tangible keepsakes. A written letter is more than an outdated means of communication; it can be a keepsake to someone you love. Somehow, the sight of a child’s favorite font isn’t going to elicit the same nostalgia as the sight of some lovingly scribbled words.
Tune out the clutter
The digital clutter in our lives makes it hard to focus on one thing at a time, especially for a young mind jumping from TV to tablet to phone. At a time when overstimulation is a serious concern, the simple act of letter writing forces one to stop, slow down, and tune in. It demands undivided attention for your child to decide what he’s writing to his cousin and how to phrase it. In most cases, he’ll tune out the noise for the time it takes to compose the letter.
What happens behind the scenes.
When you introduce your child to letter writing, it isn’t just about putting words on paper. There’s a whole new world out there that they will learn about in the bargain: the stamps that must be affixed to the envelope; the post box where the letter is dropped to be picked up; the post office, if you choose to visit it; and of course, the post man. Kids who grow up in the digital age can learn about the number of people and processes it takes to get that one piece of paper across cities and states to it’s intended recipient. This understanding isn’t limited to letters; it’s sure to get kids thinking about the food on their plates, the products they use, and how these came to be available to them.
We’re not suggesting kids shouldn’t learn to be adept at email. But once in a while, it might be good to look back, see what we’re missing and bring a little bit of it into our lives again. Not just for our children, but often for ourselves, too.