If you were a child of the 80s, you’d remember scented biros, letter writing sets and pen pals. In an era when snail mail ruled, it was so ace to receive something meaningful in the post from your friend. Let’s use the summer holidays to revisit our own childhoods with our kids. Are you up for the challenge?
Put the smartphones down people and step away from the keyboards. Do you remember a time when it was exciting to check the mailbox each afternoon after school to see what delights the postie had delivered that day. And by ‘mailbox’, I’m talking about that generally rectangular thing that stands pride of place on your front lawn. While it’s probably covered in spiders’ webs right now and tumbleweeds are probably building up alongside it, there was once a time when the mailbox’s main purpose was not just as a decorative structure to alert visitors to what number you are on your street. Unbelievable, right?
Back in my day (woah, did my mother just slip out then?!), the mailbox’s main purpose was as a vessel for receiving correspondence. Physical letters – not digital email. Real-life handwriting – not typing and autocorrect. Liquid paper and metal staples – not the ‘delete’ key and cyberspace paperclips. Pages and pages of reading bliss – not 140-character limits and questionable acronyms. Them there were the halcyon days of icky tasting lick-and-stick stamps. You can taste them right now, can’t you?
A summer holiday away generally provides our cherubs with brilliant opportunities to connect with interesting new kids and, yes, make themselves a pen pal or two. Once you’ve met the parents of your kiddies’ potential pen pal candidates, simply swap postal addresses with them and you’ve got your child a pen pal. Easy. For those weary of security issues, simply use your PO Box or your business mailing address instead of your street address and slip any letters you receive to those alternative addresses into your home mailbox when the kids aren’t watching.
The Australia Post website offers some informative tips for students on letter writing and how to correctly address an envelope. There are also some creative letter writing suggestions for newbie pen pals like how to write secret coded letters and other fancy things. The Australia Post website (www.auspost.com.au) even offers some bright and fun letterheads to download and print to make your child’s letters really shine. Girl Guides Australia also offers a lovely Pen Pals Postbox letter exchange program for members, helping them find real, old-school pen pals elsewhere in Australia or even in Europe, Africa and Asia. Bravo Girl Guides!
To make the act of letter writing enjoyable and exciting for your child, and to encourage them to keep writing, make sure you deck them out with some cool stationery. Spencil offers some totally fun (and inexpensive) fashion stationery items for this purpose such as designer notepads and multi-coloured gel pen packs. The Spencil online store (www.spencil.com.au) also stocks stationery giftpacks including coordinating notepads, writing tools and stickers to embellish written masterpieces. Pen pal bliss! And not a bad Christmas present idea either.
Whichever way you find your child a pen pal this summer, one thing’s for sure. The pen pal relationship is a special one. It could be a relationship that lasts your child a lifetime but, importantly, it gets your child away from a screen, gives them important lessons in communication and gives your mailbox a purpose again. If anything, do it for the lonely mailboxes out there!
It’s rather wonderful, I think,
When friends are made by pen and ink.
A piece of paper, blue and white,
Someone decides that she will write.
To someone she has never seen,
Who lives where she has never been.
A pen becomes a magic wand,
When strangers start to correspond.
It’s truly beautiful, I think,
The friendship sprung from pen and ink.
– Author unknown (courtesy of www.girlguides.org.au)