How Writing Can Strengthen Intergenerational Connections
How we communicate has changed a lot over the past century, especially since the internet and smartphones have come onto the scene. Hand-written letters have been replaced with quick texts or emails. Don’t get me wrong, being able to communicate with people around the world at any time, in just a matter of seconds certainly has many benefits. However, if you are like me, you must admit that there is something special about a personal card or letter greeting us as we peer into our mailboxes. We are inundated with so much “junk” mail, so many offers wanting to take more and more…more of our time, more of our money, and more of our precious resources. Receiving something that gives and shows care for our humanity refreshes the soul. In celebration of National Letter to an Elder Day, let’s look at how the art of letter writing can strengthen intergenerational connections.
“The idea of writing a physical letter might be an archaic concept, but it’s a skill worth cultivating in our children.”
(Mom Of All Capes)
What is National Letter to an Elder Day?
National Letter to an Elder Day is celebrated on February 26th, to spread love to seniors through the art of writing letters. It was started by the nonprofit, Love For Our Elders, to help seniors fight loneliness after the holiday season and to promote connections between generations. Many people struggle with loneliness and isolation, especially those who are older and homebound. “The stats behind social isolation: In 2020, 7.7 million community-dwelling adults age 65 and older in the United States were socially isolated, and 1.3 million were severely socially isolated. More strikingly, 43% of Americans age 60 and older report feeling lonely, which is shown to increase risk of dementia, heart disease, stroke, and premature fatality from all causes” (Love For Our Elders). Now, imagine how they might feel to receive a letter from someone, and have the joy of writing a letter in return. Words are powerful; having children write letters to elders not only helps them improve their writing skills, but also helps them connect with older generations.
Why Write Letters to Elders?
First, let’s look at the benefits of writing. The first point covers the benefits of writing by hand, but the rest of the points are applicable to both handwriting and typing.
- Handwriting – Our students are growing up in a world filled with keyboards, controllers, and touchscreens, leaving less time and opportunity for them to practice the skill of handwriting. While this skill may seem obsolete, it plays a very important role in brain formation. “Research suggests that the process of forming letters while handwriting activates neural pathways that are associated with strong reading skills. In fact, handwriting plays a crucial role in the formation of these brain networks which underlie the development of strong reading skills” (Diana Rigg).
- Vocabulary – For children to communicate effectively, they need an understanding of the words used in their language. When children write, it can provide opportunities for them to expand their vocabulary as they put into words the ideas they want to share. As children expand their vocabulary, it helps them to better express themselves.
- Creativity – Writing is the perfect opportunity for children to express their creativity and allow their imagination to soar. As they express themselves through their writing, it boosts their confidence and communication skills.
- Language Arts – Writing gives students hands-on practice with grammar rules, such as capitalization, punctuation, complete sentence structure, tense, word order, and more. According to OSU Writing Center, “The more time you spend practicing writing using proper techniques and grammar rules, the more you sharpen your grammar skills.”
There are many ways for children to practice their writing skills, so why spend time writing letters as opposed to the many other options? Here are a few benefits of letter writing:
- Different viewpoints – Corresponding with others gives children the opportunity to see the world through different perspectives, fostering understanding and empathy while reducing the likelihood of bias, judgment, and conflict.
- Learn about others – Through writing and receiving letters, we can learn a lot about another person in ways that may not come up in everyday conversations. The art of letter writing is slower and more thought-provoking. It gives a sense of stillness and calm that allows for deeper communication.
- Communication skills – Writing allows you to think about the purpose of your letter and the best structure to express your ideas. This practice makes your communication more effective, and with experience, it makes your verbal communication skills better as well.
- Personal connection vs. assignment – Writing can often feel like a chore to a large number of students, especially when they are asked to write about something that does not interest them. The great thing about writing letters is that it gives students a chance to make personal connections and invest in other people’s lives while improving their writing skills. Students are more likely to be invested in a project when it is personal and applicable to their lives.
- Special gift for the receiver – Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a letter in the mail that isn’t tied to an agenda? It is always nice to know that you matter to someone and that you are valued. This is especially true for people experiencing loneliness and isolation. Receiving a letter is a special gift that has the power to make someone’s day a little brighter!
The topic of intergenerational connections deserves a paragraph of its own. These connections are vitally important yet seem to be waning in our culture.
There are far too many benefits to list in this blog, but a few examples include:
“By getting to know ‘real, live old people’ children look beyond the ageist stereotypes. They become more comfortable with aging – which is really something we all do from the moment we're born. Children are also encouraged to look toward the whole of their lives. They have many models for adulthood, but far fewer for older adulthood. When they can see the whole of their lives, they are more motivated and see greater relevance between what they're learning in school and their future. Research shows that ‘planful competence’ – the ability to understand the life course and work toward goals – is key to student success in school and in life” (Legacy Project). The benefits are not limited to the children, their parents benefit as well through the help and support of an older adult being involved in their lives. The benefits extend to the elders as well, being able to invest in the younger generation and pass on a legacy. Intergenerational relationships are more likely to help elders stay away from isolation and loneliness, improve their brain health, help them to feel younger, and find joy in sharing their life experiences with the younger generations. Mentoring.org shares these stats:
“Young adults with a mentor are 55% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, 78% more likely to volunteer regularly, 90% are interested in becoming a mentor, and 130% are more likely to hold leadership positions.”
Intergenerational relationships matter, they have the power to change lives and make the world a better place. Through writing letters to elders, students can polish their skills and build relationships that have the power to change lives. If you need some ideas or tips for writing letters, check out these great resources:
- An Introduction to Letter Writing by My Child magazine
- Help Your Child Write to a Senior to Build Literacy and Empathy by Karen Williams
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