Bringing Back the Art of Letter Writing
Letter writing is often thought of as something from the past. But at Carmichael College in Morayfield, it’s very much in the here and now.
How long has it been since you put pen to paper and wrote a letter to someone? Long before technology took over our world and email along with it, handwritten letters were the best way to communicate with others. In a bid to see this once old-fashioned practice instilled into the next generation before it’s lost altogether, Keren Hampshire is working with students at Carmichael College to keep the art of letter writing alive. With thank you notes going to teachers and other staff, appreciation letters to parents and even short notes to their friends, the biggest highlight of the writing club so far has been the connection to Narangba Aged Care, as letters make their way back and forth between the residents and students at the school.
You can see the passion and enthusiasm coming from Keren as she speaks fondly about her love of letter writing. It all stems back to Covid, when everyone found themselves stuck at home during lockdowns. Keren thought of ways to help others who were feeling isolated and lonely, so she offered free letters of encouragement to strangers and was inundated with requests. Being able to share her experience with the children (both high school and primary school) at Carmichael College is just the icing on the cake.
“It’s a great opportunity for our students to be involved with and engaged in the local community.”
“I had friends say to me, why are people asking you to write letters for them?” Keren says. “I explained it’s not something that’s done anymore (writing letters), that people don’t write letters or they have never been taught or just simply don’t know how.
“So that’s where the letter writing classes came into it. I thought maybe I could start teaching people and holding classes. It began out of a little art studio at Margate called Revival Green with classes held during the daytime before I started being asked if I would hold classes during school holidays. Eventually, I came up with the idea to have the classes at Carmichael College during lunchtime and they loved the concept.”
Through her involvement with the school, Keren has now been able to connect a number of students with residents at Narangba Aged Care. Watching the kids write letters and then receive a response has been a heart-warming experience for her.
“A recent lesson we had, there were two young boys who came in - I don’t know who asked them or told them about the club - but they sat down and listened and then started writing a letter,” Keren says.
“They wrote a card to a man called Don, the only man we have on the list of residents, so they chose him. And then I heard them whispering to each other about coming back to the club again. They both said they would and I thought it was such a lovely exchange.
“They're at that age and stage where they don't care what the other boys outside are doing. And they've chosen to come into this little group, sit quietly and connect with this man they didn't know.”
Head of Upper Primary at Carmichael College Micah Payne has been overseeing the writing club program with Keren, in particular for students in years 3-5.
“It’s a great opportunity for our students to be involved with and engaged in the local community,” Mr Payne says. “What makes it even better is they are not here under compulsion, they want to be here. They get to develop new skills in writing while thinking about others, showing compassion and not just being focused on themselves.”
The first letter from the club went to True Fella, an organisation the school supported as their chapel fundraiser in Term 2 this year. The letter was used to thank the organisation for the work they do for young people in the community and how grateful Carmichael College was to support their cause.
“As the term went on, the club grew and evolved from that first letter and we opened it up to other grades within the school,” Mr Payne says. “It was initially for students in year five that were part of the student council, but we saw the opportunity to have other students come on board.
“Narangba Aged Care also approached us about an exchange of letters between students and their residents and it has evolved from there. One of the best parts about the club is how organically it has grown. Our students are excited to be a part of it, even if it is in their lunch break!”
So, what do the students themselves have to say about being part of the writing club? For Kenzi in Year 4, the chance to write to someone from a different generation has been an exciting experience.
“I have always wanted to talk to older people, hear their stories and find out what’s happened in their lives,” Kenzi says. “I’ve been writing to a lady named Amy and I can’t wait to hear back from her. I love writing, it’s fun and I’m looking forward to doing more writing with the club in the future.”
Theo and Ella (both Year 5 students) have been writing to 93-year-old Don at Narangba Aged Care. They have enjoyed getting to know more about Don through their letter exchange.
“I like being able to write to people, it’s really fun getting to know someone else by asking lots of questions and then waiting for the answers to come back,” Theo says.
“I like reading the letters that come back and finding out about the lives of the aged care residents,” Ella adds. “I chose to write to Don because I thought it would be nice to write to a man for something different. I found out that he played and coached many different sports.”
Year 5 student Willow has been part of the writing club since it started and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“I find it’s a really nice and peaceful club to be part of,” she says. “It’s also really exciting when the residents write back to us.
“For me, writing letters is a great opportunity to show others they are cared for and thought about by someone else.”
Keren provides the students with all the necessary cards, envelopes, stickers, flowers and even wax seals to complete the overall look and feel of the whole letter writing experience.
“Writing is really, really important,” Keren says. “I find some of the kids at the beginning are hesitant to write because they're not used to it or they say my handwriting is messy or I can't spell very well.
“But I tell them your handwriting is unique to you. I know you might not think it’s neat or you can't remember how to spell something, but handwriting is special. It is very special. And I think the more that they do it, the better they are going to become at that.”