Language and literacy are all about people reaching out to each other. This can be in an effort to get something or to give something, but it’s always about sharing, sometimes with our future selves.
This time of year, children are carefully composing, and colorfully illustrating December’s regular letters to Saint Nick. You may be reminded of the letter written by young Ralphie in the magnificent, classic movie, A Christmas Story. Every word had to be just right. Every phrase carefully constructed. It had to be just SO if he was going to receive his most cherished gift for Christmas–the “official Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time.”
Ralphie’s letter was composed as a class assignment. He was so proud of himself for having written a letter so perfect, so worthy of an A+, that Santa couldn’t possibly turn him down.
This kind of childhood rite could serve as a springboard to a child’s full understanding of the power and potential of carefully composed words to gain the full attention of someone else. Poems of affection for a sweetheart. Words of appreciation to a beloved uncle. Thank you notes for a special gift received. As a child matures, those same kinds of thoughtful language choices will lead to effective letters to the editor, appeals to a potential employer, or to ensure a positive outcome from a business.
This kind of maturity and power, however, doesn’t develop from writing one letter a year. If the only letter we encourage our children to write is that annual one to Santa, we’re doing literacy wrong.
Communication excellence does not develop in a vacuum. Maturing authors need maturing audiences. Powerful language develops not just through listening, but speaking, reading and writing. Reading well flourishes in the presence of terrific books full of beautiful language and images. Incipient growth in writing well suffocates without the fresh air of feedback from personally important humans on the receiving end.
The constant give and take between humans throughout life is what engenders precision and beauty in the effective communications of those who become leaders, and builds a large measure of thought and critical analysis in every consumer of legitimate news or outlandish online give and take.
So, how does that all start for the Ralphies and Virginias in our homes? They need regularly to send and receive letters (or emails or even text messages) and of course they must be raised to embrace any kind of reading, writing, art and other forms of communication as constant options for creating lasting and fulfilling relationships with friends, family members, business associates…and with Santa.