A canceled family vacation or a compromise of grandma's house instead of a crowded amusement park might yield a pout, a couple of eyerolls, or maybe even a few stomps. That’s understandable. Fortunately, there’s an old-fashioned way for kids to keep their travel dreams alive—writing postcards.
“Dreaming, planning, being curious, and imagining themselves in the future helps kids feel energized and excited when they’re struggling,” say Sarah Sumners, associate director of the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development. “We see psychological benefits in terms of both mood and behavior when kids engage in things like creative writing and creative thinking.”
Kids didn't quite get what they wanted out of their vacation? They can pretend they did instead, creating postcards that share cool facts about places they wish they could visit and fictional accounts of the experiences they envision themselves having.
“Just knowing that there’s a larger world out there, even if you can’t get to it right now, is definitely helpful for children,” says Amanda Moreno, associate professor and director of the child development program at Erikson Institute. “When you imagine, you can project yourself out of circumstances you’re currently in. This is good for both the heart and mind because when you expand your world, you see more possibilities, which means more hope and optimism.”
Postcards tap into kids’ excitement and anticipation of getting mail, and are a great way to introduce them to the joys of letter writing. “There’s something special about sending somebody something, waiting to hear when they got it, and waiting for that response back,” Moreno says. “I definitely think the more modes of connection kids have right now, the better. It’s a really nice idea to supplement those screen-based connections.”
Begin by having your kids brainstorm destinations. These can be places your family has gone in the past, locations you’ve talked about traveling to in the future, or even bucket-list spots you and your children dream of visiting.
Next, do some research. The internet abounds with kid-friendly resources that include everything from country guides to podcasts to virtual tours they can use to learn about the history, geography, and culture of places they’d like to travel. (If your child is under 13, make sure you monitor their searches on not-just-for-kid sites.) Encourage your child to investigate the neighborhoods, landmarks, activities, and attractions for which a destination may be famous. Are there museums to visit? Beautiful beaches? Trails to hike? What kinds of animals might they encounter? What kind of food might they eat? All of this information will provide them with juicy fodder to use when designing and writing their postcards later.
You’ll also want to gather some craft supplies. Have your kids raid the recycling bin. Postcards, which should be no more than 4 ¼ by 6 inches, can be made from paperboard—like cereal and granola bar boxes—as well as any kind of cardboard packaging. Options for decorating the fronts of cards are endless. Print out images found online or photos from previous vacations. Cut words and pictures from old magazines and catalogs to use in collages. Construction paper, decoupage glue, stickers, and glue sticks are other good things to have on hand. And don’t forget stamps!
Finally, compile a list of potential recipients. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, teachers, and neighbors are all good options. You might want to reach out to these people in advance and ask them to write back in a similarly creative fashion. Or talk to the parents of one of your kid’s friends and arrange for the kids to write postcards back and forth. You may end up with a budding deltiologist! (That’s a person whose hobby is collecting postcards.)
Here are seven ideas for different types of postcards kids can make, along with some writing prompts to spark their creativity.
The staycation. Have kids create a postcard that tells what it’s been like to be home during a vacation. Describe something fun—or not so fun—that’s happened in that time: a backyard campout or a failed cooking experiment perhaps.
Tourist in your own town. Let children think about what it’d be like to be a tourist on vacation in their hometown. Are there state parks nearby to explore? Historic sites? Museums? A beach? What are some of their favorite restaurants?
Take a virtual trip. Museums, zoos, national parks, famous landmarks, theme parks, and even entire cities have developed online tours that allow families to visit from home. Join one of these tours and make a postcard that tells the story.
Your dream vacation. Where would your kids go if they could go anywhere in the world? Do some research. How would they get there? Where would they stay? What people might they meet? What kinds of things might you do? Write a postcard describing one day of that dream trip.
Literary travel. Have kids think about visiting the settings in some of their favorite books. If they’re a Stuart Little fan, they could explore Central Park. Loved Dumpling Days? Write about having an adventure in Taiwan. Another idea is to write a postcard from the perspective of a character in the book. If Hermione sent a postcard to her parents describing her first visit to Hogsmeade, what would she have told them?
Guess the location. Here’s an idea for a postcard and game in one. For the front of the postcard, find an image of an iconic landmark like the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Statue of Liberty, or the Grand Canyon. Enlarge the image so that the front of the postcard features just one abstract part of the landmark—a corner of the Statue of Liberty’s crown, for instance. In the postcard, offer clues about the location. The recipient has to guess the place.
Off the beaten path. Why send a postcard from Rome with the same old pictures of the Colosseum or the Sistine Chapel when you can tell the story of a less-touristy location? Have kids choose a destination and research a place that most people wouldn’t know about—a hidden neighborhood, a tiny museum, a store that sells handmade wooden toys—and write about the visit.