Encouraging Reluctant Writers – Happy Mail

Happy Mail

If you have a reluctant writer, you know that getting your child to get even a sentence down on paper can be an exercise in extreme frustration for you both! I explored lots of different ways to get the not-so-enthusiastic writer in my family to write, and one thing I found that worked was to have him write letters! I arranged for my son to write letters to everyone from the president, to family members, to restaurants. He worked hard to get his letters just right and was always excited to get a response tucked in our mailbox. Over the years we saved the letters he received back, and some of them will always be treasures, like the letters from his beloved grandfather who has since passed away.

While working on my up-and-coming language arts curriculum, I was looking for some books to get students writing in a creative way and stumbled across Happy Mail. I will be adding it to my curriculum schedule in the writing assignments. The writing portion of my curriculum is being designed to be a gentle, non-pressure introduction to writing for grades 2-6. I’m taking my experiences with students who both LOVE and HATE to write and incorporating these into my book and resource choices.

Happy Mail is the perfect book to get kids and young teens engaged in the old-fashioned art of letter writing and card making. It starts out with an introduction to letter writing tools – all the fun stuff the artist in me loves like felt-tip pens, card stock, and even the humble black crayon. Some of the supplies call for a craft knife, so an adult will need to supervise or assist with a few of the projects.

The next section covers letter writing basics: parts of a letter, salutations, how to address an envelope, and so on. After that there is a section of simple writing prompts (perfect for kids who would otherwise stare at a blank page for hours), as well as a 30 days challenge with plenty of letter writing activities and ideas for your budding writer.

The next section covers lettering styles. Each letter style shows a complete sample alphabet and is followed by a lined practice page like this:

Letter writing for kids

There are 5 lettering styles:

Paper Cut Alphabet, Brush Lettering, Open Alphabet, Ribbon Alphabet, and a Storybook Alphabet

The book emphasizes that there is no need for perfection, and kids are encouraged to add their own touches and styles to their lettering.

After playing around with some hand lettering, there are several projects that are shown in detail with all of the needed supplies listed. Some of these projects are:

Cut Paper Love Notes, a Quote Note, Emoji Note, I Love You More Than…, a List Letter, Birthday Card, Wildly Grateful Thank You Card, Salty Pretzel Sorry Card, and plenty more for a variety of occasion like holidays, congratulations, etc. There are even simple instructions on now to make a homemade envelope. I like the Letter to Your Future Self idea. It’s something I did when I was a kid, and it’s fun to look back as an adult on some of my younger self’s ideas and dreams!

Letter writing ideas for kids

The last section of the book has some pre-designed cards, notes, and templates with cute and full-color art, along with some black-and-white samples your child can color in.

card projects for kids

Happy Mail is a good book to get your child off the computer and into the world of pens, pencils, and the excitement of sending off a letter or card the old-fashioned way!

Fun Fall Vocabulary Activity

I got this fun fall vocabulary activity idea from the Words on the Vine Vocabulary workbook. We were studying words that have the Latin root foli (which means leaf). The page said to cut out the little pictures of leaves directly from the workbook, but they were tiny and wouldn’t have looked very nice with text from the next workbook page printed on the other side.

Instead, I printed out some free leaf templates from Enchanted Learning onto some thick, smooth paper and pulled out our box of crayons. Otter and I got to work (gotta love having an excuse to color). Coloring on that slick paper was a joy. The crayons went on in a heavy, buttery layer. Even my 21 year old daughter came over and helped color the leaves. It was like having a little homeschool flashback to when we’d all sit around the table working on a project (way back when I was teaching 3 instead of one!). Of course I had to tease her though! She looks pretty when she blushes. Wink

After coloring and cutting the leaves out, Otter wrote his vocabulary words and definitions on the blank side of each leaf:

Then he punched holes on the stem side and strung the leaves up on some yarn. We hung the vocabulary leaves on our fireplace as a fall decoration.

I can’t believe we’re already seeing signs of fall! The leaves on our front yard tree are steadily falling and we saw our first V’s of migrating birds numbering in the hundreds just the other day.

If you’d like to do this activity, you can use your own vocabulary words or you can use words with the root foli in them.

I love doing activities like this. They help break you out of the regular routine a little and make schoolwork a bit more fun (and they give you a good reason to break out those crayons, even if your youngest is a teen). Wink

Now every time Otter looks at our fireplace he can be reminded of the words he studied and we have a nice decoration to celebrate the first signs of fall.

Amigurumi

I’ve been on the lookout for projects that Otter can work on during the new school year – things like recipes, crafts, and other fun things for him to accomplish. During the process I found something fun for ME to do: amigurumi. Amigurumi comes from the Japanese words ami, meaning crocheted or knitted and nuigurumi, meaning stuffed doll. These things are CUTE and some of the simpler ones are pretty easy to make. I think they’d make great stocking stuffers or presents this Christmas for kids and anyone else who likes cute things.
I went from not knowing how to crochet at all (unless you count crocheting a chain stitch when I was in about 5th grade) to making this bunny in about about 2-4 hours worth of practicing and learning the proper crochet stitches (that includes hunting around on the Internet for the proper instructions).

CUTENESS WARNING !!!

Amigurumi
If you have daughters (or sons!) who are looking for a fun craft, (or if YOU yourself simply can’t resist the cuteness) here are some great tutorials to get you started as well as the link for how to make the bunny.

What you’ll need:

  1. Some yarn -I used a worsted weight acrylic from Wal-Mart.
  2. A crochet hook – I bought a very small crochet hook, as these are what is recommended for making amigurumi. I got a size E, which is 3.5 mm, but you might also want a larger hook to first learn with so you can better see how the yarn is being grabbed, etc.
  3. Stuffing – I bought a $2.50 pillow and took the stuffing out of it
  4. Something for eyes – I bought rounded, black buttons, but you can use any buttons you have on hand OR you can use thread/embroidery floss to sew some eyes.
  5. Needle and thread for sewing on button eyes
  6. Tapestry or yarn needle for attaching amigurumi body parts
  7. Scissors
  8. Optional: embroidery floss (for sewing on a mouth and/or eyes), or another color of yarn to use as a mouth. If you use yarn as a mouth, you’ll either need to sew it on or glue it on.

What you’ll need to do/learn:

  • How to crochet This very clear video shows you how to make a slip knot, make a chain and then how to do a single crochet, how to add an additional row, how to fix a mistake and how to finish. These are the very basics that will get you started on your amigurumi journey.

Once you have the basics down you can start learning the next few skills:

  • Learn how to make a magic ring (If any of these instructions don’t do it for you, google a video. I watched several videos before I got the knack for it. As with anything, people have their favorite ways of approaching it.)
    1. Picture instructions
    2. Video instruction
  • How to increase (scroll down for the video)
  • How to make an invisible decrease
    This is an important skill for keeping your stitches looking good without gaps when you decrease. You have to learn how to decrease to make a ball shape (like bunny’s head).
  • How to read patterns and your first project of making a ball
    I had a little bit of trouble wrapping my brain around reading patterns at first, but things clicked after awhile. This video helped! Like anything, it just takes getting familiar with it and having your brain learn how to do the translating!
  • Your second project: Chibi animal – I made the bunny, but you can also make a kitty, bear, dog or alien following the same basic pattern.
  • Additional amigurumi video tutorials I haven’t gotten to these yet, but these tutorials should be helpful for more difficult patterns!

If you have a younger child who might be interested in crocheting, you may want to have him/her crochet a dishcloth or something a bit more straight forward to get the ball rolling. Just do a chain stitch and single crochet a square.

Making amigurumi is a lot of fun once you get the basic crocheting skills down and there are LOTS of free patterns on the web. It’s great to see a finished project that is so darn cute and really wasn’t that hard to learn and do. I am NOT a crafty person, so if I can do it, I’m sure you can too!