Writing Letters From Home

How do I write a good letter from home?

This article (adapted for Camp Wayne purposes) originally appeared in “The Summer Camp Handbook” by Christopher Thurber, PhD. For more great tips, visit Christopher’s website at www.campspirit.com or to purchase the book on Amazon.com click here.

A good letter from home is newsy, upbeat, and encouraging. Your goal is to say a cheerful hello and give a positive report about what’s been going on. You want to instill confidence and support your child’s growing independence. Avoid mentioning sad things that your child can’t do anything about. Save bad news until you can talk to your child face to face. Obviously, if there is a major piece of bad news to report and you need to tell your son immediately, you’d call and talk to the camp director first. In a quality letter, it’s fine to say that you miss your child, but don’t say that you’re miserable. Hearing bad news they can’t do anything about makes kids feel helpless. Helplessness leads to homesickness, depression and anxiety.

Here’s an example of a good letter from home:

Dear Chris,
How is camp going? Did you get a chance to do archery yet? I know you were pretty excited about that when we dropped you off. I’m sure you’re getting to try lots of fun new activities.

What’s your cabin leader like? He sure seemed nice when I talked with him. I think that’s pretty neat that he’s going to the same college that Aunt Kathy went to. What a coincidence!

Yesterday, I worked until about 4:30pm and then came home to weed the garden. I was surprised to find four big tomatoes that were already ripe. I picked them and brought them inside for dad to make spaghetti sauce later this week.

Spot is doing great. Dad and I take turns walking him. Yesterday, we found a tennis ball under the Borozan’s hedges and he was running around trying to get me to play catch. I did for a while, but then the ball got really slimy. Yuck!

Dad has been working hard, and he’s looking forward to this weekend. On Sunday, he’ll probably watch the game and then we’re cooking dinner for the Rutars. Do you remember Mr. and Mrs. Rutar? Mrs. Rutar was Danilo’s math teacher in fourth grade. I haven’t seen her since April.

I’m so happy that you had the chance to go to camp this summer, Chris. What a wonderful experience. I just loved camp when I was your age. My favorite part was singing songs. Have you learned any camp songs yet? What about camp cheers?

Dad and I miss you and we love you a lot. We’ll be there to pick you up on Saturday the 16th. Until then, have a great time. I’ll write more soon.

Love, Mom

P.S. I cut out the last three Beekota cartoons from the paper and enclosed them. I’ll send the Sunday cartoons on Monday. Enjoy!

This letter sounds a little contrived because it is. You can surely write something more personal and sincere. The strength of this sample is that it contains the key elements of a good letter from home: It’s newsy, upbeat and encouraging. Plus, it mentions when the parent will write again, and it contains a lot of questions. This invites the child to write back. (You can at least hope, right?) Finally, the letter includes some newspaper comics. Interesting, age-appropriate newspaper or magazine clippings add interest to your letters. You can also insert photographs or drawings or whatever you dream up that fits in an envelope.

Now compare that sample letter to this pretend bad letter:

Dear Chris,
Do you miss me? I sure do miss you. Sometimes, I just sit around and think about what we’d be doing if you were home. Even Spot misses you. When I take him for a walk, he doesn’t seem as peppy as he usually does. Maybe he’s sick.

I’m sorry to tell you that one of your hamsters died. I’ve been feeding them every day, so I don’t know what happened. At least there’s one left. He seems lonely.

Not much else is new around here. It’s actually pretty boring. Dad and I have both been working. Yesterday I weeded the garden. You know: same old, same old. The tomatoes are ripe now, so they’ll probably be gone by the time you get home.

Speaking of home, I hope you’re not homesick. You’re too old for that. Plus, camp is a luxury, you know. A lot of kids never get to go to a camp like yours. 

Don’t forget to eat your vegetables. How is the food, by the way? I remember when I went to camp, years ago, the food was awful. The worst was “mystery meat.” I never did figure out what they put in there. Yuck!

Well, see you soon.

Love, Mom

You’d think that no one would ever write a letter this awful, but campers have shown us a few that come close. Parents don’t write this kind of dreary letter on purpose, it just comes out. They don’t think about the effect it will have.

The sample above contains all sorts of elements of a poor letter from home. It dwells on how much the parent misses the child and it provides several pieces of bad news. It almost guarantees to make the child homesick by giving him lots to worry about. Is my dog sick? How is my other hamster doing? Will there be any tomatoes left? Are my parents doing ok? Or, are they bored to death? What’s in my food? When will mom send the next letter? This sample bad letter also gives the child things to feel guilty about. Was the hamster’s death my fault? If I don’t like camp, am I bad person? Mom says I am “too old” for homesickness, but I feel it anyway. Am I normal? Will she be mad if I tell her?