Have a kid who seems to have no interest in learning to read or write? Or just isn’t as excited about it as you hoped they would be? This kid has always been fascinated by books. He loves to be read to and loves to recreate illustrations from his favorite books so I thought for sure that when the time came to learn to read he would be super into it. Wrong. His first couple of months in Kindergarten, he fought me tooth and nail when it was time to do any lesson related to reading or writing. I bought him new books about things he was interested in. Nope. I promised him rewards for meeting certain benchmarks. Nope. I bribed him with candy and cuddles and extra math problems. Nope. Nope. Nope. He would do it eventually, of course, but it was always a fight and I was getting frustrated. Then one day I had him check the mail for me. He sorted through every piece searching for his name and it hit me: he needed a pen pal. But who?
At this age kids are still learning proper letter formation. Early on I realized that one of the issues Evan was having in recognizing words or even letters was all the different fonts out there. An “a” doesn’t always look like “a” and if it didn’t have a tail or if the top curled instead of standing straight, he would be thrown off and, therefore, discouraged. So I needed someone that would take the time to form letters simply. To form sentences simply. To add sight words and occasionally a new (big) word at just the right moment. Enter a grandmother.
Our first letter to “Nonnie”, who lives many states away, was a simple one: “Will you be my pen pal?” I ordered special paper for them to use, gave my mother a list of requests and specifications and waited for the letters to start. They did not disappoint.
She formed every letter perfectly. That handwriting I had come to recognize even more so than my own, was gone replaced instead with slow and deliberate pencil strokes. She had added those requested sight words but then upped the ante by adding illustrations, illustrations that acted as cues when he encountered those big, new words. Plus he had mail. A letter that came just for him. Everything fell into place.
In truth, he sometimes still fights me on the reading lessons, but not nearly as much as before. And most of the time it only takes a reminder about the need to practice now so he can read that pen pal letter from Nonnie to serve as a little incentive. It is also true that sometimes life gets in the way and there is a longer gap between letters than is ideal but we focus on what he is getting out of this. The reading and handwriting practice, of course, but even more so the bonding and the memories. The connection to a grandmother too far away. The gift of time that they are giving to each other and mementos that will be kept forever.