“The Lost Art” of Letter Writing

This photo was taken, when I was at sleep away camp, in July 1990 on the summit of Mt. Washington. (I climbed to the top of the mountain, along with some other campers and counselors, that summer.) I remember writing a lot of letters that summer (and even postcards from the top of Mt. Washington).

I was recently talking with a friend whose daughter was spending the summer at sleep away camp.  I was curious about how she was going to communicate with her since e-mail and texting are so prevalent.  She told me her daughter wasn’t allowed to bring a smart phone and that the computer lab wasn’t open to campers.  However, I wasn’t sure that all camps were like the one my friend’s daughter was going to attend.  It’s possible that there are sleep away camps where kids are allowed to use technology to communicate with the outside world, right?

Last week USA Today ran an article, “Can summer camps revive the lost art of letter writing?”  I was eager to read the article since I attended sleep away camp and was an avid letter writer.  But that was back in the late 80’s/early 90’s when I had never heard of e-mail and I didn’t own a cell phone.  As I read the article, written by Todd Plitt, I was enthralled by the fact that the girls in the story were using the same kinds of cutesy stationery I remember writing on when I sent letters home or to my non-camp friends.  However, I’m not so foolish as to think that hand-written letters are going to make a come back as a result of children spending time at summer camp.  I, for one, rarely hand write letters to friends.  I use e-mail or jot something on a friend’s Facebook wall.  It’s faster.  It’s easier.  And quite frankly, it’s cheaper.

When I taught fifth grade, I always taught a unit on persuasive letter writing.  The same unit continued when I transitioned to fourth grade, but a friendly letter unit was also added.  However, I don’t think we taught a friendly letter unit my second year in fourth grade since we had to make room for something else.  In hindsight, I think this may have been a disservice to the students since kids aren’t really receiving instruction on how to write letters to other people (A skill that’s important anytime you’re going to send an e-mail!) anywhere other than school.  Factor in the whole “addressing the envelope” issue and letter writing becomes even more important.

So, I’m wondering, is letter writing a unit of study (or even a mini unit of study) that should stay in elementary school writing workshops?  Or, is it more important to teach something else.  Please take the poll below and share your thoughts by leaving a comment.