A lost art

Reconnecting kids and communication—back to the basics with writing and phone skills 

By Sara Ericsson

Header image: Love Struck Lettering calligrapher Lyndsay Hubley has published a workbook to help kids learn to write in cursive.

Communicating used to take one of three forms: talking in person, chatting over the phone or corresponding through hand-written notes and letters. The family phone was a hot commodity, with parents and their children competing for access so they could phone friends and talk about nothing in particular, and the mail arriving brought with it the exciting prospect of opening a personally written letter. 

Communication looks a little different these days. The family phone has vanished since the advent of the BlackBerry in 1984 and the PalmPilot in 1996, devices which were followed by pagers and cellphones weighing more than a kilogram. And now, children use smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other smart devices where, with the tap of a few keys or buttons, they write out and edit texts and messages before sending. 

It’s been a long while since we or our children have kept in touch with more traditional forms of communication and, the more time passes, the less familiar we become to these. Reconnecting with communication can be as simple as penning a thank-you note or phoning a friend, so consider one of the following lessons to get started.

Make the call

Mary Jane Copps has made a career out of teaching people to speak on the phone as The Phone Lady, and this is thanks to the number of people in need of a phone-skills refresher. Whether smart or landline, making a phone call is a fast fading skill. 

“It’s a skill that takes time to develop, but with the family phone having largely disappeared, people are starting careers and finding they suddenly have to use the phone for the job when they are completely without any knowledge of that skill,” she says.

Copps says this is a drastic change from past generations for whom the family phone was an institution, and using it to connect with friends and family wasn’t a skill, but rather a given. Copps says this has slowly started changing since the BlackBerry’s launch in 1984 and, with young children now having access to their own smartphones, people have become more comfortable using phones with their fingers rather than with their voice.

“When communicating over messaging or email, we have time to edit, whereas in real-time conversation, everything is spontaneous, and this causes stress,” she says. 

But while this disconnect has never loomed larger, Copps says getting kids comfortable with phone conversation needn’t be complicated, and can start with a parent or guardian reconnecting with it themselves, as an example for the child to look up to. She recommends that families set up something like a Sunday family phone call, or a three-day no texting challenge, to get started. 

“A conversation is how we create ideas, share jokes and really stay in touch. In the world we currently live in, where people are more and more isolated [due to COVID-19], a conversation is a fabulous way to really stay in touch with people,” she says.

Duly Noted Stationery owner Nicole Smith says she has noticed more people engaging with writing over the past couple years, and among them parents who are reconnecting their kids with writing. 
Photo: Sara Ericsson

Note it down

A sense of nostalgia has long kept people attached to the notion of hand-written notes and letters. And while the practice has generally dwindled, there has always been a small percentage of people who’ve kept it going. Those people, these days, are largely millennials, according to Duly Noted Stationery owner Nicole Smith, who’s seen a spike in sales at her Halifax store over the last few years that she credits to people reconnecting with hand-written notes and millennials in particular, who she says “are supporting the stationery industry as they purchase more greeting cards than their previous generations.”

But the practice also seems to be on the rise in other age groups, as Smith has also noticed parents buying writing-related products from her store as they encourage their children to write. She says more should consider getting back in touch with sending personalized thank you cards after receiving gifts, mailing a friend a postcard, or writing notes in birthday cards. It’s a trend she feels will continue for the foreseeable future, as a greater reliance on tech—including children using laptops or tablets for school—means people will continue searching for ways to disconnect from it and reconnect with things like penning letters. 

“It’s a way for kids to do something a bit more personal, and it’s showing them something a little more old-school. It’s a turn back to something that has a different kind of value, something you can hold onto. You can’t hold onto a text in the same way,” she says. 

Lyndsay Hubley’s niece, 10-year-old Brynn Mykietiuk, practises writing in cursive.
Photo: contributed

The art in writing

The next nostalgic step in reconnecting with writing personal notes would seem to be learning cursive, which Lyndsay Hubley has loved ever since she watched her grandmother write letters and cheques. 

“I fell in love with the art of writing, and that was it for me,” she says.

Now, she works as the calligrapher behind her Love Struck Lettering business and has published a workbook teaching children how to write in cursive. 

The workbook, available for order online or digital purchase and download through her Love Struck Lettering Etsy page, is something she’ll share with each of her four kids, including 11-year-old daughter Willa, who has already mastered some cursive writing. Hubley says that in addition to the motor skills and language comprehension that cursive writing promotes, she feels strongly that children should learn the practice as it requires concentration and separates kids from their devices. 

“The workshop I taught had these kids so engaged. Cursive writing is an artform: it takes focus and concentration, and you have to be present while you’re practicing,” she says. 

Her second main reason for teaching her own children is so that they too can one day watch in awe as the grown ups in their lives write notes in curvy script, and so they can read the hand-written cards her grandparents send. 

“In this digital age, kids are growing up in world where they don’t carry those same memories that we do of watching a person sitting down with paper and pen,” she says. “This is why cursive will always win out: there’s a human element attached to something that’s handwritten.”

Foster creativity with kindness

Foregoing technology isn’t always the answer to reconnecting with communication, according to freelance writer and editor Stephanie Domet, who has been teaching kids how to write over video calls during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Domet teaches her Tiny Empire Writing Workshop, which fosters children’s writing interests with writing prompts and personalized feedback on their stories, and has grown the workshop from a small number of kids to two different age groups: one for kids under 11, and one for those who are 11 and older. Domet now teaches children from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and attributes this growth in interest to moving her classes online, which is a move she says has also revealed how writing has acted as a creative outlet to help relieve kids’ stress. 

“During the pandemic shutdown, writing was doing for these kids what it does for others: giving them a place to work out their feelings, whatever their anxieties might be. This is one of the gifts reading and writing can give us: it teaches us about being human,” she says.

Loving the loops

Willa finds the fun in fancy letters

Willa Hubley, 11, started getting curious about cursive at the age of four. She has since learned to write and has perfected her name, with her favourite letters to write being ells. She wanted to be able to write like her mom, calligrapher Lyndsay Hubley, with “fancy letters.”

“My favourite letter is L because I love doing the loops. My mom taught me the W,” she says.

Willa says there are lots of writing lessons at her school, mainly in printing, and that she writes her journaling assignments with some letters in cursive. Her friends have tried out some cursive letters too, but for Willa, cursive is becoming her go-to script. 

“It’s the only way I’ll write my name,” she says.

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