By Karen Williams
As we spend more time at home, it’s increasingly common to feel isolated and lonely. Many of us, parents and children included, are spending less time socializing with our friends and families, and more time feeling more disconnected from others. This is especially true for older adults, particularly those in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
If you’re looking for an easy at-home literacy activity for your child, writing a letter or card to a senior is a perfect opportunity! Not only does it offer great motivation and practice for your budding writer, but it’ll also help make isolation a little easier to bear for someone who could use a friend. In the process, it builds kindness and mindfulness in children, allowing them to experience the transformative power of serving others.
If you don’t have a senior in mind already (or have a prolific letter-writer ready for more correspondents), there are several organizations that connect children to seniors and others who may be lonely. See the end of this post for a list of groups.
Who Benefits When Kids Write Letters to Seniors?
Everyone! There’s just something special about receiving a handwritten note or card in the mail. Letters can hold a sentimental place in our hearts, and unlike emails or texts, recipients can put them on display to cherish. For seniors who are isolated, receiving a hand-written note also shows that someone out there cares and took time to make something to brighten their day.
For children, letter writing is an engaging activity that lets them explore their creativity and learn to express themselves. My daughter loved to review her finished letters with pride as she prepared to share her creations with friends and loved ones. Along the way, they’re building and practicing key literacy skills.
Crafting cards and letters requires kids to create words and pictures, organize them in a meaningful way, and successfully communicate ideas to others. As your child sits down to compose a letter, they’ll practice handwriting, vocabulary, spelling, and self-expression.
Writing letters to seniors is also a great way for kids to give back from the comfort of their homes, as they learn the value of empathy and service through connecting with others. Getting out of their own heads, gaining perspective, experiencing gratitude, and learning the joy of giving will contribute to their own mental health and resilience for years to come—not to mention making them better citizens of our world.
The best part about this literacy activity is that your child can be creative! Even the youngest kids can participate, by drawing a picture and signing their name. Here are some topic suggestions to get your little pen pal started:
- Draw or color a picture to share your artistic talent.
- Share an original poem or short story.
- Talk about a recent event that was important to you.
- Send a card to celebrate a holiday.
- Recap your favorite book.
- Share a special memory or story.
If you’re writing to a senior through an organization, be sure to check their guidelines before you begin. Some offer one-way communication only, for example, and some request that you exclude the date. Others specify only cheerful, encouraging notes to lift a recipient’s spirits.
Love For Our Elders was founded in 2013 by a teenager inspired by his grandfather. To honor his grandpa’s memory, the teen started volunteering at nursing homes. He began writing handwritten letters to residents with no visitors. Since then, his one-person mission has grown to more than 50,000 volunteers across 70 countries working together to fight loneliness with love. Love for our Elders also created “Letter to an Elder Day,” celebrated each year on February 26.
More Love Letters is an international organization that uses the power of social media to get people to write and mail love letters to people in need all over the world. Volunteer writers can read nominations of recipients and choose which to respond to. You also can nominate someone who needs a little love and support.
Saffron and Shreya Patel founded Letters Against Isolation in early April 2020. As teenagers who had been calling their self-isolating grandparents every day, they sought to spread some joy to residents of assisted living facilities and care homes. Every other week, you’ll get a spreadsheet where you can sign up to send letters to care homes in the U.S. and abroad. Your kids can write as many letters as they like!