Writing a letter or note is a great way to establish a connection.
By Erin Wetherell
Photography by Laura Jean Whitcomb
When I was a child, my favorite holiday tradition was going to Littleton, N.H., the day after Thanksgiving. We would have breakfast at the Littleton Family Diner, spend the morning at the Little Village Toy and Book Shop, and watch the annual holiday parade. On one particular trip — when I was 3½ — my parents told me I could pick out anything I wanted from the bookstore. After verifying with them that indeed I could pick out anything, I left to go browse. I was a voracious reader. The bookstore also had an amazing toy store with endless selection. Yet I came back and proudly announced what I had picked out: my very own box of envelopes. Normal, boring business class envelopes that you could find almost anywhere in the Upper Valley. Looking back, I think it was a combination of watching my mom pay the bills in the mail, and my dad corresponding with his writing students that sparked this idea in my head. Important business was done by mail, and I wanted in!
Now, in 2019, the ease at which you can compose emails and texts, Snapchats and Instagram messages means that most communication is done electronically. The art of writing a letter is disappearing. But the need for human connection is more important than ever, and writing a letter or note to someone — especially a hand-written one — is a great way to establish connection. For kids, taking a few minutes to be mindful and think of another person is also a wonderful way to build empathy.
A letter or note to someone doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as a birthday wish, or a recap of a recent trip, a thank-you or a haiku. If you start encouraging kids when they’re young, hopefully it will be a habit they continue into adulthood and something they come to enjoy. Letters are treasures. One of my friends has young boys and lives in Bozeman, Montana. Recently she let me know that the last birthday card I sent — a card featuring a snail whose shell had a small game spinner — ended up in her 7-year-old’s box of his favorite things.
If you are looking to get your kids started, two of my personal favorite stores are POST and the Little Spot of Red.
POST, located in downtown White River Junction, Vt., opened in the summer of 2016 and has a mission to encourage people to “Slow Down.” Pam Post stocks a beautifully curated selection of cards, writing utensils, notepads and art supplies. There is a section dedicated to kids, with stationery kits, markers and colored pencils. Be sure to check out the pen selection as they can be purchased individually and tested beforehand.
The Little Spot of Red, located in downtown Hanover, N.H., opened in 2006 and is owned by Laura Lichiello. In addition to kids stationery sets, fun stickers and camp journals, there is a paper bar where you can purchase blank stationery and envelopes individually. Parents and grandparents often buy bundles for their children and let them decorate as they please. Additionally, they offer stationery that can be personalized with your child’s name.
There are many other places in the Upper Valley that have wonderful selections of cards and writing implements. The Norwich (Vt.) Bookstore has a growing selection of cards and postcards. Bean’s Art Store in downtown Hanover is also a great place to find fun writing utensils, notebooks and supplies to get kids excited about letter writing.
Trust me: kids will enjoy writing letters! As mail is mostly exchanged between adults, kids will be excited to find mail in the box that is for them. A store associate at POST told me that she exchanges letters with her two nieces in California, and every morning they run down to the mailbox to check if there is mail. The 6th grade class at Lyme (N.H.) Elementary School has done a PenPal Project for a few years now, where students are paired up with community volunteers and write letters back and forth, culminating in a luncheon where they meet. Principal Jeff Valence says “The authenticity of the audience and the fact that they can learn about others in their community and build a relationship from this, is a valuable aspect of this project and whose benefits are equivalent to refining their writing.” If you look closely, the art of writing letters is alive and well, and by encouraging your kids to start when they’re young, it will be for years to come.
Erin Wetherell lives in East Thetford, Vt., and does her part to keep the USPS in business.