Literacy Via Air Mail
My son’s friend likes to play “air mail” whenever he comes over on a playdate.
It’s a great game and I know that it works on their literacy skills because I've seen improvements. It involves a bit of the adult’s time, but it’s such a fun game that I indulge them whenever they ask me to play.
Here’s the game:
- The kids run upstairs and hole up in their bedroom.
- They each, or together, write a note to me on a piece of construction paper.
- Then they run downstairs and throw the note in my general direction – and then run giggling, like criminals, back upstairs where they slam the bedroom door.
So we’ve got lots of good elements here. There’s some kind of “chase” which involves getting the note to the adult without being seen. The adult can add to the excitement by either pretending not to see the note, or suddenly flinching in the child’s direction as through he’s going to chase them.
The first note from the children will be something like:
“We want a snack!” or “Ask us a question!”
Then the adult writes a note on the other side of the paper. I usually try to get some kind of dialogue happening, like: “Ask the Oracle a mysterious question.” Last time, I tied two snack bags of jelly candy onto the note and then pitched it at their bedroom door where it made a very satisfying – and disconcerting – thump. That was the kids’ cue to gingerly open the door to see if I was still there (I wasn’t) and retrieve my note.
If you can picture it, there is a lot of silliness, giggling, whispering between the kids and slamming of doors. There’s a lot of running up and down the stairs and a lot of suspense about what the note will say, whether they’ll get caught sending or retrieving their notes and whether they’ll get a treat.
In the meantime of course, there’s reading and writing. And I don’t make it easy for them. I use big words and I make sure there’s a pay-off for reading and understanding each message.
For instance, in our most recent game “Ask the Oracle,” the kids’ second note didn’t include a question. I figured they probably didn’t know what an Oracle was. So my next note told them to look the word up in the dictionary to find out what an Oracle could do for them. There was a pay-off to using the dictionary (because Oracles are cool).
Sometimes I make my notes into paper airplanes and throw them at the bedroom door. Sometimes I load them with a treat or even carrot sticks. Usually there’s a payoff for them writing another note back to me—maybe it’s a knock-knock joke they’ll have to ask for the answer to. Or sometimes it’s a nugget of information that they have to ask for more details about. Just something to keep the game going and keep the kids reading and writing. And giggling.
Joyce Grant is a freelance writer and editor. Her non-profit children’s literacy blog is Getting Kids Reading.