I have a weakness for greeting cards. They're so pretty, and fresh, and ready to write in -- and when they say just the right thing, it gives me a place to start my own personal message. Sometimes I leave my sweetie a note on the counter; sometimes I send a postcard to a friend who's on vacation (so they get it when they return home); sometimes I write a nice note to thank someone for a small favor. I don't do it as often as I could, but while we stayed home in 2020 and 2021, I realized how much it meant to connect with people "just because". Receiving little rays of sunshine in the mail felt great. There's no need to wait for Valentine's Day* -- any day is right to send a message to someone you love! Writing notes to friends and family -- or even strangers -- can be a meaningful activity for the whole family.
I picked up the habit from my mother of maintaining a small collection of cards for all occasions, so that when I realize it's someone's birthday or I need a special thank-you note, I have some options on hand. Of course, you can always make your own cards! These could be your traditional heart-shaped Valentines with doily edges and tons of glitter, or something a bit simpler, if that's more to your taste. I've been saving my toddler's fingerpainted masterpieces and cutting them down to size for "her" thank-you notes after holiday gifts and visits. Recycling plus personalized stationery plus family connections!
- Picture postcards -- available for less than a dollar if you want a souvenir for someone who doesn't get to visit our local vistas often. Or... print a snapshot of your own! As long as it's got appropriate postage and falls within some standard sizes, the USPS will mail almost anything; it's easy to choose any postcard-sized piece of sturdy paper (4x6 photo, index card, etc.) and write the address on the blank side with a stamp.
- Stationery -- In more of a letter-writing mood? You can find (or make) lovely envelopes and matching sheets of writing paper with your initials, favorite color or cartoon character, or fancy watermark; something that says "you" and brings a smile as soon as your friend sees it in their mailbox.
- Email -- Don't have a physical address for your friend? Want it to get there sooner? Just need the typing practice? Try sending a short email (attached photo or funny meme optional).
- Video -- especially for non-writers, a recorded message of a smiling face and a few kind words can make the same connection.
What to say? Well, what would you want to hear from this person? You'll know your pen pals best, but go ahead and start with some of these sentiments:
- I miss you!
- Thank you!
- You're awesome!
- This made me think of you!
- I wanted to make you laugh!
- Hope you feel better soon!
- How are you?
- What's new with you?
- Wish you were here!
Bonus ideas when including kids:
- Where is your letter going? Look it up on a map and see how far away it is from where you live.
- How long will it take to get there? Do you know what cities your mail will pass through?
- Talk about the parts of an address. Practice writing neatly and clearly. Did you know that most addresses are read by machines? What's a ZIP code? Do other countries use ZIP codes? Why would you put a return address on your letter? Where does it go?
- Talk about postage rates. What's a forever stamp? Why does it cost less to send a postcard than to send a package? When did U.S. postage last increase? How much was a stamp when you (or Grandpa!) were a kid?
- Once you've gotten comfortable with sending a note to your loved ones, consider reaching out a little farther from home, by writing to an elderly person or a servicemember. This is a great way to practice empathy or "walking in someone else's shoes". If you were away from your family for a long time, what would make you feel better? Could you be a friend to someone you don't know yet? When the library does another pen pal program, perhaps your family will join us!
*If you DO feel like sending Valentines, keep an eye out in February for the "Love Your Library" kits at your local branch. We'd love to get a love note from our frequent families!