I’m Going to Mail Myself to You: The Mail Project
By Parul Chandra, Head Teacher
“If you don’t have a letter, you fold it up, then you put a sticker, but you can only see the words. For Valentine’s Day I did it. My letter has to go across the street and turn, go straight, straight and turn on the freeway. That is how mail gets to my grandmother.”
Reading the book A Letter to Amy at story-time sparked the children’s interest about mail and its workings. The teachers decided to support this curiosity by providing an assortment of paper, envelopes, stamps and dramatic play materials to represent items found at the post office. The mail-related objects on the discovery table appealed to children’s desire to play, and as a result provoked exploration and discussion. In other areas of the classroom, we read books about mail, sang songs, collected and showcased their ideas and theories at story-time.
As the project unfolded, children rediscovered the classroom mailboxes. Children’s mailboxes are small cubbies made of wood, marked with each child’s picture and name. Assembled on a shelf that can be wheeled around the classroom, teachers introduce mailboxes early in the year, aiming to help children identify their classmates and feel part of the community as they use them to write mail to their friends. These individual children’s mailboxes were great props for extending dramatic play revolving around mail. This play motivated the children to write their names and their friend’s names on their mail and then to identify the mailboxes both by photos and by names. The children were very interested in sending mail to each other. It was so exciting for them to receive a note from their friends. As they played out the mail theme they constructed their own rules, tested hy-potheses and shared theories. For instance, some children directly delivered the mail while others identified and picked a mail person to do the delivery. They learned about different types of mail and the various methods of delivery. There were discussions about what goes on the envelope or package that is to be mailed. Some were satisfied with just the name of the recipient, others added addresses, while some designed and glued stamps onto their mail. Teachers observed and supported this wide range of dramatic play that represented the children’s understanding of mail. While playing, children observed and assimilated ideas from each other to enrich and extend their play: Elaborate scripts unfolded, and roles were assigned involving negotiation and collaboration. Through this contextual and meaningful play children gained confidence in themselves as learners. They were thinking, innovating, negotiating and playing out their understanding of the mail process.
Children experimented with skills like drawing, folding, enclosing and designing stamps and delivery route maps. Some children took on the leader role in spearheading the project. In their enthusiasm to explore, play and investigate, they exhibited curiosity, creativity, cooperation and sustained interest. By highlighting and appreciating these dispositions, the teachers were able to make others aware of these children as models. Children had an opportunity to respond to the teachers’ questions about mail with their own theories that were raised in small groups. Some examples:
How does mail get to you?
LEON: “The mailman go over there and put it in the mail slot in my door.”
TOMO: “Mail travels like people travel in planes.”
NOLAN: “Mailbox. They take mail from the blue thing and put it in the truck and drive it to someone’s house and you go out to your box and get it.”
TEJAS: “The mail truck brings the mail. He drops it off in the mailbox and you look at it for a while and then you throw it away.”
ANNIE: “The mail lady brings it.”
MILO: “The mailman gets the mail from the post office. Some carry it in a bag and some push it in the cart. The mailman lives in the post office.”
ALEX: “The mailman comes and takes the mail at 10. He picks up the mail and puts in the bag. I see him when I come to school.”
Children discussed what needs to go on a package or envelope for the mail to be delivered. Gabe exclaimed, “He needs an address otherwise the mail will not go.” He understood that just a person’s name on the envelope was insufficient.
Humza agreed: “If it does not have a stamp he will take it back.”
Children were invested in playing out the process with dramatic play props such as postal uniforms, mailboxes of different styles and sizes, and a variety of stationary. Children sang songs as they delivered mail to their peers; they designed maps and delivery routes for the mail carrier. Writing became meaningful and in context to their dramatic play. Research has shown that children will write when they have something on their minds. Receiving and delivering mail was a real motivator in this process. Children started writing notes to other snack tables and waited in anticipation for a reply. Excitedly Madeline said: “They are responsing!” as she watched the other snack table returning with a reply.
Our discussions about the topic were rich as the children formulated their understanding of mail, shared misconceptions, listened to others’ theories and played out and made accommodations with their existing theories. Here are some more questions that we explored together:
• What is a ZIP code?
• How does the mail carrier know
where to take the mail?
• What if you don’t have a mailbox?
We saw the children use a variety of social skills as the project unfolded: exchanging ideas and opinions, sharing responsibility for posing questions, offering each other suggestions and encouraging each other to try something again. We bridged connections within our community by receiving and writing mail to each other.
As children continued to play out “mail,” the teachers prepared a culminating event. We took walks with the children to the mailbox near the school to mail the children’s invitations to their families for the end-of-the-year potluck. A few days later, children returned to school excitedly sharing the news that the mailman had brought their mail to them! Although we are done investigating this as a classroom community project, children continue to use mail and writing as a tool to communicate with their peers. Our mailboxes are always full of mail, for children will write when they have something on their minds.