For the love of literacy: DIY gift idea for young children

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Over the course of this year, I have been observing how H and her same-aged cousin’s interest in literacy has been developing. There came a time, that whenever I saw my niece, she would be holding a pen and some sort of notepad or notebook, writing down “important” things. Like many children, she would draw squiggly lines to represent the words she wished to capture. As she got older, the squiggles started resembling letters and numbers.

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H’s writing development followed much the same path. She started by learning how to spell her name, and then moved onto “MAMA”, “PAPA,” her cousin’s name, her brother’s name and “RAMADAN.” Since I don’t believe in just making her memorize a list of pre-written words, I left her to her own devices (although one time, I did show her how to spell CAT and how that word can change into so many other words by replacing the first letter). Soon I found H copying the titles of her books and copying other things I had written. She eventually started asking me how to spell specific words and would often add written details to her pictures. She even decided to make her own hopscotch and write numbers.

To foster the girls’ interest in writing, I decided to create letter-writing kits so they could play and practice their letters before they headed to kindergarten in the fall.

To make these inexpensive kits, I included various types of paper and notepads, pencils with eraser toppers, a special pen, a sharpener, various types of envelopes, cards and some printables that would allow them to design their own postcards and stamps. I made up a custom wordlist with words that I thought would be personally relevant to H and her cousin and included a tin mailbox.

I had purchased H’s mailbox at a garage sale for 50 cents a few years ago- It’s been living among her dress-up costumes since. I found similar smaller ones at Target during Valentine’s Day when it was briefly open in Canada circa 2014. Since I genuinely enjoy gift giving and love DIY gifts, I bought a few and put them aside for the day I could make this gift idea a reality. I put the items together in a nice sturdy box (in case you haven’t been able to tell, I love re-purposing things. This red box was originally home to either a pair of gloves or a scarf and hat set). All of a sudden, I had a flashback to my childhood and remembered the book, The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters in which a postman has mixed up the mail for the residents (all fairy tale characters). The coolest part of the book is that it contains actual letters, cards and postcards that can be removed (the pages are bound together like envelopes). I remembered what joy that book had brought me- not only was it creatively bound, but in elementary school, I entered a writing contest based on the book at my school library and won a prize. I quickly ordered the book and included it with the writing kit.

I gave my niece the letter writing kit as part of her Eid gift along with a personal letter from me.  What followed was an exchange of mail between us. I could not believe how much time she must have spent writing and copying words and trying to express her ideas. It’s been so nice writing back and forth with her- a bond that I hope we can continue to develop as she starts school.

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I gave H the gift later in the summer and she got to work, drawing pictures mostly, and making cards and postcards. She seemed to care less about making letters and cards for actual people and instead used them as props in her play about mail delivery. In fact, she did create a postcard for her cousin but ended up keeping it so that she could play with it instead.

H made lots of pieces of mail (she also asked me to create some) and filled them in her mailbox. She then arranged her stuffed animals through the room and went on her rounds, delivering the mail to them. She turned one of Y’s ride-on cars into her mail delivery van.

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During the days her postal work play was unfolding, she received a special piece of mail, all the way from New Zealand! Prior to Ramadan, I had connected with some moms from different places with the hopes that our children could share their Ramadan experiences and traditions with each other.  Given H’s interest in different places (as blogged about here) I thought this would be a good connection. What arrived was a letter from a 4 year old boy about his Ramadan experience in New Zealand alongside a magnet with a map of New Zealand and stickers of the kiwi bird- what a treat! We are working on writing back to our new friend.

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Along with reading the Jolly Postman book (seriously, check this out if you haven’t heard of it before), we also read these books. H really enjoyed the fictional world of Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds and was intrigued by the real information presented in La Poste, a book from France that explains the postal system via the story of a girl who sends mail to her relatives in Nice, France and Quebec, Canada. Even if you don’t speak French, this book provides great pictures that visually demonstrate how mail is collected, sorted and delivered. It even shows historic methods and reasons for mail delivery. I was able to make a cool connection to Islamic history for H by telling her the story of letters that were sent (including the one to King Negus of Abyssinia, or modern day Ethiopia) and the importance of seals.

A few weeks later she drew this picture of two postal workers who are gasping because it started snowing while they were in their rounds.

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Both the kids love watching our mail being delivered (to a community mailbox) but I don’t think either have them have actually been to the post office with me. I suspect when we go to mail our letter to our friend in New Zealand, it will be a good field trip for H.

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