Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pen Pals

This morning, when I opened my mailbox, I was reminded of one of the great things we have lost to technology, letter writing.    I got this beautiful drawing and letter from one of my 3 year old Farm Campers. (Mommy transcribed for her)

It's full of love and excitement, telling me about the frog we found here and relocated to her pond at home.  There is something so special about holding a piece of paper, reading these words.It's just not the same as words written by computer or text.

When I was a girl, we lived in San Diego, while my grandma lived in San Jose. We had an ongoing correspondence from the time I started Kindergarten. She sent me pretty stationary to use, and I would excitedly wait for the mail every day. On birthdays and every little holiday, my letter would come with a package. It wasn't ever anything extravagant, but I lived for the outfits she sewed for me, using fabric scraps from other projects. When I came to visit in the Summer, my Mom would become my pen pal until I got back home.

When I was in school, I remember a time that our teacher assigned Pen Pals for us. They were kids our age, out of the country. They had committed to improving their English by exchanging letters with us. It was a lot of fun and we were able to learn so much about their culture and lifestyle.  It was a great experience.

Of course, now, we can jump on the information super highway and find out about any culture or land we'd like.  We're busy people and don't often get to see our friends or extended family, but we can communicate with them through Facebook, text messages and emails. It's all instantaneous and very effective. But is it the best? The only way?  Over the years that my kids have been in school, I've noticed a serious decline in the language arts expectations.  Penmanship doesn't count anymore. Teachers are even overlooking grammatical and spelling errors and grading work based on the idea and the fact that the work was done. I have been told that this is because most people now use computers to write, and have spell check, so the details of knowing how to spell don't matter once you have passed the level of 5th grade spelling tests.  Ouch. What about the love of the language?  The flow of the words?  Putting pen to paper?

Now, I'm no hypocrite. I adore the internet and all it offers. I use it many times a day, promoting my business, chatting with friends, doing research...but I also have a firm grasp on spelling (I never use spell check, so of course now there will be errors in this post) and sentence structure.  Even when I text I don't use fake words. It just feels wrong to me.  I worry that we have a whole generation of kids who don't know the basics of writing, the excitement of holding a pen and pouring out your ideas or thoughts to a friend or the anticipation of a response to the last letter you sent.  And I'm not the only one...
This from

"A considerable number of educators and children's advocates worry that James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, was right when he recently suggested that young Americans' electronic communication might be damaging "the basic unit of human thought -- the sentence."1 They are concerned that the quality of writing by young Americans is being degraded by their electronic communication, with its carefree spelling, lax punctuation and grammar, and its acronym shortcuts."

In the spirit of the "Slow" movement, I propose bringing Pen Pals back. Not Internet Pals, but the real thing. Have your kids write to grandparents, aunts, former teachers, friends.   A whole class could exchange letters with kids from another country or just another neighborhood.  An ongoing journal, between mother and child, will help to build writing skills and become a sweet memory book.  Let them dot their i with a heart and make big swirly letters.  Help them to learn to love writing and expressing themselves on paper. 
If we don't, who will?


  1. My mom is brilliant. My son wrote letters to all the grandparents, and was excited to get a letter back, until... His neighbor friend told him that if you write a letter to a grandparent you will get a present. He didn't get presents, just letters. He quickly lost interest. Arg!
    Then my mom wrote him a letter from Koko the gorilla. They have kept up this correspondence all summer, and my son is amazed that an animal is writing to him. I tell him "you're magic!"
    The improvement in his writing is amazing. I couldn't have created more interesting writing practice for him to do. Thanks, mom!

  2. gwen,
    HILARIOUS!! What a great trick! I have a 19 YO boy who would be beside himself if he got letters from KoKo...wonder if I can pull it off? LOL