Exchanging letters enhances child development

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Exchanging letters, written by hand, can have a positive impact on child development, yet as many as one in five children surveyed in the UK have never received a handwritten letter – according to a new survey commissioned for children’s charity World Vision. 

The survey also found that:

  • Boys are less have likely to have a received a letter than girls; and twice as likely to have never written one.
  • In the last year, more than a quarter (26%) of children have not written a letter and 43% of children have not received one.
  • In contrast, in the last week alone, almost half (49%) of children had either written or received an email or message on social networking sites.
  • Half of 11-year olds are not sure how to lay out a letter; and one-third of 14-year olds feel the same. 

 Child education expert, Sue Palmer, said: “If children do not write or receive letters they miss out on key developmental benefits. Handwritten letters are much more personal than electronic communication.  By going to the trouble of physically committing words to paper, the writer shows their investment of time and effort in a relationship. That’s why we tend to hang on to personal letters as keep-sakes.”

“The effort of writing is a very real one for a child,” Sue continues.  “Painstakingly manoeuvring the pencil across the page, thinking of the best words to convey a message, struggling with spelling and punctuation.  It is, however, an effort worth making, because it’s only through practice that we become truly literate – and literacy is the hallmark of human civilisation.”

“If we care about real relationships, we should invest in real communication, not just the quick fix of a greetings card, text or email.  What’s more, if we care about civilised human thought, we should encourage our children to invest time and energy in sitting down to write.”

The children’s charity commissioned the survey to emphasise the power of letter writing – a key aspect of their Child Sponsorship programme connecting families in the UK with children and communities in the developing world.

Kate Nicholas, Associate Director at World Vision, said: “We know that literacy is one of the main ways to fight poverty in the developing world, but it’s also a key concern for the parents and teachers, up and down the UK, who sponsor with World Vision. Many of them see Child Sponsorship as a win-win situation. It allows children to improve their literacy and build a personal relationship through letter-writing, while understanding more about the world and giving children living in poverty the chance to access education themselves.”

Helen Smith, Headteacher of Lum Head Primary School, Manchester, is a child sponsor with World Vision and a champion of the role schools can play in getting children to write: "Schools play a central role in child development and we should always be thinking of new ways to get children writing. This is a great way to help enhance their literacy development. Exchanging letters through Child Sponsorship not only helps the younger generation develop their literacy skills - it provides us all with an opportunity to see how our support can help change lives in the developing world."