My 5-year-old daughter loves to make cards: Birthday cards, Get Well Soon cards, Thank You cards, I Love You cards, Christmas cards. We joke that she’s a mini Hallmark factory, pumping out personalized cards since she was around age 3!
In addition to being thoughtful gifts, handmade cards are a wonderful opportunity for child-led reading and writing practice in preschool, elementary school, and high school.
Through card-making, my daughter has been motivated to read and write, because the purpose is relevant and tangible to her!
Although she hit her reading and writing milestones early, learning English, Chinese, and Korean did not happen magically overnight. We started when she showed interest in letters, and she learned gradually through Montessori-inspired, play-based teaching strategies.
Many parents have asked about my daughter’s writing videos on Instagram, so I am going to explain how we have used greeting cards to boost literacy skills over the past few years!
These are snapshots of memorable ideas over the past 2-3 years that didn’t happen every day or even every week. Initially, they were special occasions, and over time, the frequency increased with natural momentum.
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How we use handmade cards for reading practice
When my daughter first learned to read and write, we began to make cards instead of buying them at the store.
Our cards are for family members and friends. My daughter has also made cards for her toy animals, and I think she might enjoy having a pen pal someday!
Initially, I would invite my daughter to help me make greeting cards. Since children love to copy their parents, she was excited about participating in something that seemed important.
These days, card making is routine, and my daughter is eager to come up with her own messages.
Here are examples of fun ways reading practice has been incorporated at different stages of my daughter’s development.
1. Dot sticker word matching
For these birthday cards, I wrote syllables of each Korean word on different dot stickers. My daughter matched them to the Korean words on the cards to form a sentence. We have also used dot stickers to match English letters and Chinese characters.
2. Cut, paste, and match messages into a birthday card
Cutting and pasting are important fine motor skills for preschoolers. When they cut around words with eye-hand coordination, they are exposed to the print on the paper. These cut-out words can then be used to match words on the greeting card!
Note: If your child does not yet have the coordination for cutting and pasting, you can use the aforementioned dot stickers, adhesive address labels, or simply help your child cut.
Remember that every child is learning at her own pace, and we want to offer activities that fit their abilities and build confidence!
The above photo features a Chinese birthday card that my daughter and I made for my auntie with lyrics for Happy Birthday in Chinese! In addition to reviewing important birthday vocabulary, we also talked about the card’s shapes and colors in Mandarin Chinese.
Here are Korean birthday cards that we made using the same word-matching strategy, this time with balloons and flowers.
Tip: If your child loves cars, animals, or food, incorporate those elements into the birthday cards! Ask them what they want to include in the card! A child’s interest is a key motivating factor for learning.
3. Color in block letters and numbers
We also have written English, Chinese, and Korean letters in cards for my daughter to color.
After seeing us write so many block letters over the years, she now enjoys making her own!
4. Cut out letters in different materials for handmade cards
In addition, creating letters with different textures is a fun way to learn new letters, characters, and words because of the extra sensory input.
Felt and foam are easy to find at the dollar store, Amazon, or craft stores, and they are nice for decoration!
Writing practice with handmade cards
Here’s how writing practice has evolved over the years through handmade cards!
1. Tracing with various markers
When my daughter first began to trace, I often used a black or other dark-colored marker to write the words. Then I would have her trace the words with a highlighter or other light-colored marker. This was successful because:
- To my daughter, my black marker was less exciting than the neon highlighter colors
- Tracing with highlighters allowed for the adult handwriting to stand out. This meant that my daughter would see how the letters should look, she didn’t have to worry about making mistakes with her writing, and the card receiver could actually read the message!
As my daughter’s handwriting improved, I began to write words with light-colored markers while my daughter traced with dark markers.
2. Copying words for handmade cards
Eventually, I plan on encouraging worksheet tracing so that her characters are better aligned and balanced. However, I’m in no rush, because she’s only 5-years-old with self-driven joy in copying song lyrics and other works that inspire her!
3. Writing messages independently
Finally, the goals of writing by memory, communicating, and journaling are so rewarding!
Here are beautiful tri-fold Thank You cards that my daughter made in Korean and English.
Last but not least, here is one my favorite handmade cards from my daughter! The message was written in simplified Chinese.
Our cute, inexpensive toy mailbox has been a great motivator and reminder for everybody to send messages to each other! My daughter is curious about seeing what I write to her, and she loves to seal envelopes and lift up the flag to let us know that we have mail!
We have also upcycled blank envelopes that come with junk mail, and the simple act of opening an envelope is so fun. My daughter likes to include our address and draw a stamp at the righthand corner of the envelope!
Here are suggested materials for creating a card and letter writing station at home:
- Mini envelope template
- Upcycled blank envelopes
- Toy Mailboxes
- DIY mailboxes
- Art cart
- Art materials (Adjust contents depending on your child’s age; younger children generally need fewer options)
- Scrap paper (to reduce paper waste)
- Colorful construction paper
- Colorful pens, glitter gel pens, etc.
That all being said, we have been passing notes to each other well before having a toy mailbox. We have left letters on each other’s bed, desk, and my daughter’s lunchbox. The most important factor is to carve out a few minutes in creating a sweet surprise!
Teaching begins with us parents modeling reading and writing. Then, we can follow the child’s interests and let them learn at their own pace.
In all languages, literacy can be encouraged in a fun, relevant, and child-led way that is also meaningful for family bonding!
I’d love to hear your thoughts about teaching reading and writing at home and how learning is going for your family.
Feel free to leave a comment with any concerns or thoughts about your family’s learning journey, and I’ll try my best to find a solution for you.
In the meantime, I hope the following articles can be helpful!
Teach kids how to read Chinese
- When and How to Introduce Chinese Characters to Kids?
- 5 Basic Tips for Memorizing Chinese Characters
- How I Taught My Child 1000+ Chinese Characters as a Non-Fluent Speaker
- When Should My Child Learn Hanyu Pinyin?
Teach kids how to write Chinese
- Montessori Chinese Stroke Order Sandpaper Cards 汉字笔画砂纸板
- Montessori Salt Writing Tray – Fun Sensory Learning for Kids!
- Magic Water Writing Cloth and 地书 for Chinese Calligraphy Practice
- How to Teach Chinese with Montessori Sandpaper Characters
- Chinese Writing Worksheets – Simplified and Traditional Chinese
- Why Your Child Should Try Copywork for Writing Practice
- How A Dictation Journal Improves Speaking, Reading, and Writing
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Happy reading and writing, friends!