By Guest Blogger, Shannon Blair
Spring showers bring… restless remote learners.
Need an indoor activity that can create a lot of sunshine during this season of solitude? Over the Zoom playdates? Need an alternative when school-provided work is just. not. happening.?
Try “Dear Senior: Connection in Isolation”, an intergenerational pen pal experience! My children had a fun time brainstorming questions, preparing them, and wondering what the replies might be.
And there’s no time pressure–we all have enough of that. Letters are collected and exchanged on a rolling basis as long as our nation is operating under social distancing.
– Bonus: Kids don’t think of it as “remote learning”, but it is.
– Added Bonus: Kids perceive it as extra “screen time”, but it’s actually a living history lesson.
– Biggest Bonus: Young people and senior citizens, especially affected by isolation, are able to interact in a safe and meaningful way–learning more about their differences (and similarities) in the process!
This exercise sprouted out of a 2014 initiative by Oregon Humanities, designed to connect Oregonians through letter exchanges.
Essentially, the process is this: give a letter, get a letter.
Ben Waterhouse of Oregon Humanities hosted a webinar for those interested (from California and Colorado to the Carolinas) to teach those of us interested in the ins and outs. He then encouraged us to consider ways we could implement the concept in our own communities.
Thus, “Dear Senior: Connection in Isolation” was born–right here in Charlotte.
How does it work?
– A young person (18 and under) writes a letter based on a prompt to a senior (60 and over) and sends it to me at my professional writing email address. Upon receipt, I ensure anonymity and parental consent, and select a senior from a different ZIP code to send it to who has signed up to participate.
– The senior receives the letter (seeing only the young person’s first name, age, and state of residence) and sends me an email with the reply within two weeks. I send the reply to the original letter writer (who sees only the senior’s first name, age, and state of residence).
– I facilitate all correspondence, using email@example.com as the only contact information. I also screen each letter and reply for appropriate content.
What to write?
Ask the senior recipient approximately 5 questions about what life was like when they were your age (Remember to state your age!). Consider areas of natural curiosity as a good starting point. Into science? Ask questions around discoveries and what was considered high-tech. Budding fashionista? Find out more about what the style trends were. All about sports? Seek to learn how the games have changed. Whatever you’re into, tap into that.
TIPS: Questions that do not simply result in yes, no, or 1-3 word answers are more effective. Words like who, what, when, where, why, and how are helpful ways to phrase inquiries.
NOTE: Even though exchanges occur electronically, participants may type or handwrite. If handwritten, scan or photograph the letter for delivery. Same goes for artwork should letter writers want to add extra cheer. Don’t fret either if a letter looks like it was written by a kid–it should if a kid wrote it! Practice with writing is how learners grow in skill and confidence.
When you were my age,
1) How did you celebrate your birthday?
2) What did you like to do after school?
3) Which supplies did you use to make art?
4) How did you spend your summer?
5) What was your favorite food, and why?
–Nora (age 7, NC)
PS: This is a picture of me and my brother enjoying a picnic at the park.
How To: For Youth Participants (ages 18 and under)
1) Complete youth participant form (parental/guardian consent requirement).
2) Email your letter for a senior to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3) Await your reply from a senior. If you choose to respond to the reply, you can email email@example.com to receive further instructions, but it is not required.
How To: For Senior Participants (ages 60 and over)
1) Complete senior participant form.
I’ll pair you with a young person who sends me a letter for a senior, ideally beyond your ZIP code. The letter will ask you some questions about what certain aspects of life were like when you were their age. You’ll receive their anonymized letter from my email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reply to the letter within two weeks, sending it back to me at email@example.com.
I’ll send the reply on to the youth who wrote to you using my email address. If they choose to write to you again, they will contact me to do so. This is not required.
Shannon Blair is wife to Sam and mom to Jay (10), Nora (7), and Tater (78 in dog years). When not teaching writing at Central Piedmont Community College, she can be found getting muddy in the garden, wreaking havoc in the kitchen, running and then un-running with a local craft brew, struggling to achieve Crow pose, reading, or trying to figure out which story to tell next. Stop on by and see how she can help you tell your stories too at pinkpenwriting.com.