Last night I had my children write Christmas cards to their dance teachers, school teachers, and church teachers. Writing Christmas cards with children is real world writing that can help to boost their writing skills and invest them in their own holiday good wishes to the important people in their lives. It’s can be a (secret) English class around the dining room table. Here are some tips for making it work:
1. BEFORE THEY WRITE: Talk to your children about how teachers often hear when students and parents are unhappy, but they don’t always hear about the good things. A Christmas card is their chance to tell them thank you for making a difference.
What I said to my children: “Please write SMALL. Don’t say, ‘Thanks for everything,’ say ‘Thanks for helping me learn that hard dance step’ or ‘Thanks for making math fun.’ Those little details are what are going to mean the most to your teachers.”
Together we brainstormed a few ideas of what they could say. It helps to write it out loud first, then the writing itself goes much easier.
2.WRITING THE CARD: Have them write in pencil so that they have lots of chances to erase if they need to. Be right there to encourage and help with spelling. Write the most common words they might need on an index card and leave it right by them.
Your older children might treat cards like a secret diary and seal up the envelope before you can even sneak a peek. Respect this and hope for a chance to help and read their writing another time. Your younger ones will probably be much more open and eager for your approval.
3. EDITING: When they finish, read the card together aloud. Keep the pencil in your child’s hand. When you notice grammar errors, gently ask questions like, “What do you do at the start of a new sentence?” or “Can you find a stopping place where you need a period?” You might find that they have forgotten a word. Reading it aloud will help them to hear the problem and they will most likely correct it themselves. Don’t worry about perfection, just help them to make it readable. Your goal for this experience (besides a sweet note to a teacher) should be to have a positive real world writing experience. Editing moments like this teach children ten times more than a worksheet in a classroom because it is a piece of writing they care about.
4. WRITING WITH PRESCHOOLERS: If you’ve never tried this, it’s makes the BEST cards ever. Simply prompt your preschooler with opening phrases and you be their scribe. Be sure to read it aloud to them when you are finished and let them add their own art.
This is my four year old’s finished letter to her pre-school teacher. The phrases I supplied are in bold:
Dear Miss Catherine,
“I love when you do groups with us. I love you because you’re so pretty. I love you that you do funny things to us like you have food monsters–but they’re not real. Thanks for helping me on the singing programs.”
I am careful to put these messages in quotes because I want her teachers to know that these are her own words. But in this message, I doubt there is a chance Miss Catherine will mistake her words for mine. (How would I know what a food monster is?)
This is a little more work than a “To and From” card, but it gives children a chance to invest in their holiday wishes for their teachers and try out their words in a forum that matters. In the end, I think my girls were excited about their cards and eager to share their thanks.