Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Writing thank-you notes with babies and toddlers: A top-ten list of creative ideas

Amy Adele Children's Stationery thank-you card blank
Hobo Mama wants you to know she's a professional blogger! Look at how professional she's being!

I was inspired by my opportunity as an affiliate to review Amy Adele children's stationery (read it here at Hobo Mama Reviews) to write a little idea post on writing thank-you notes with pre-writers or beginning writers. This should help both parents and kids find the process go beyond tolerable to fun!

I remember when I was younger, writing thank-you notes was such a chore. My theory is that if we can make it fun for our kids when they're young, maybe they'll continue to make it creative and enjoyable for themselves as they get older. After all, receiving gifts is fun (well, mostly…); so should telling the gift giver that you appreciated the thoughtfulness! (And Miss Manners would approve.)

To that end, here are my Top 10 ways to be creative in your gift receiving:

Amy Adele Children's Stationery thank-you card toddler drawing

1. Let your child do the decorating.

No matter what your stationery, let your pre-writer have free reign in the embellishments. My three-year-old especially appreciates drawing over any existing writing or decorations. Hey, whatever! Everyone will know it's from him!

Your job as the parent will be greatly decreased since now you can write just a sentence or two about how lovely the gift was, "sign" it for your child, and let your little one have at it.

Don't forget to address the envelopes!

Amy Adele Children's Stationery thank-you card envelope decorated Amy Adele Children's Stationery thank-you card decorated and ready to go
I have it on good authority that the one on the left is a water fountain.

Fun ways to decorate paper include (depending on your mess tolerance): stickers, foam stickers, glitter, glitter glue, colored markers or crayons or pencils (our three-year-old prefers Sharpies, sigh), ribbon (glued or taped on), pictures cut from magazines or old photos — look around and use what you have!

Amy Adele Children's Stationery thank-you card drawing on a fish sticker

You can even start with completely blank (or reused) paper and have your child fashion the stationery or card out of whole cloth. (Hey, cloth — there's another thing you can decorate with!)

2. Try fill-in-the-blank cards.

This is a great idea I stumbled across at Amy Adele. They have flat cards that have a little decoration in one corner but are otherwise blank, and you can customize them before you order to have any pre-printed message you want.

This is what ours looked like after we were done:

Amy Adele Children's Stationery thank-you card filled in and decorated

Look at how little you as the parent have to write in! Similarly, these cards would be perfect for beginning writers (or reluctant older writers!), because there are no extras required. Just fill in the name, fill in the gift, and sign your name or draw a little smiley face. Done!

I realize this isn't quite as heartfelt as writing a long thank-you letter to Grandma, but if it's the difference between getting out any thank-you at all and putting it off indefinitely because it sounds like too onerous a task — well, I know as a gift giver, I'd be charmed to receive a cute little fill-in-the-blank card.

If you don't want to order custom stationery, you could craft your own fill-in-the-blank cards for your kids to fill in, using just blank paper and markers, giving your kids a different color marker for filling in the blanks. Maybe you could even design a template on your computer and have them copied onto cardstock at a local copy place!

3. A picture's worth a thousand words.

Take a picture of your child using the gift. If it's baby clothes, snap a picture in the outfit (before the spit-up and poop leakage occur, so hurry!). If it's a toy, show your toddler giving it a test drive. For older children,
baby in a snowsuit held by father
Here we show Nana how snazzy the snowsuit is she bought!
encourage them to come up with their own photo shoot ideas and perhaps take the pictures themselves.

If you have a Polaroid (do people anymore?) you could send the photos right away with a little caption written on the white strip at the bottom.

But let's assume you have a digital camera like everyone else. You can either get prints made (which means waiting around, at which point your thank-you-note impetus has been sapped), or you can do something digital and fun:

  • At the easy end of the scale, there's emailing the photos out with a nice email note. Is this acceptable to Miss Manners? Well, no, technically all these ideas fall short of her ideal. But I'd still enjoy opening up an email with an appreciative note and a bunch of cute photos of your kid interacting with my gift, wouldn't you? Beats spam any day!
  • Slightly more complicated but still doable is to make some sort of photo slideshow. Many desktop and online photo programs have this capability built in. I've been enjoying Hallmark's Smilebox, and sadly I am receiving absolutely no benefit for recommending this to you. It's free software that you download, and then you can access picture files that are locally on your computer. They have lots of cute themes with animation and music accompaniment, sort of like a moving scrapbook, and when you're done you can email or post the free version, which has ads along the side, or pay a fee for a larger and ad-free version. (I always do free, but that's my frugality speaking!) Also check out SAHD in Lansing's creative use of ebooks as another idea!

4. A moving picture might be worth a thousand more words.

Try recording a video diary of your child using the object and, if old enough, saying thank you specifically to Uncle Stu or whoever's on the receiving end of the video.

Some presents really lend themselves to video. For instance, we put together a video showing Mikko doing the ASL signs to all the words in a favorite picture book his young cousin had given him. It was a way to demonstrate visibly how very much he enjoyed the gift, to have read it often enough to have it memorized.

I use video editing software that came with my computer, and my husband prefers the software that came with our camera. If all else fails, run an online search for a free option.

Once you have your video finalized, you can post to YouTube or another service (most have privacy options that allow you to show it only to users you select if you'd like), upload it to Facebook, or email a small version directly from your computer (compress it for email first).

5. Make your child a blogger!

This goes along with the last two ideas, because an easy way to share photos and videos is to post them on your own blog.

It could be a blog you already have, for sure, but if you have a more outwardly oriented blog, you might want to start a private blog just for family and friends. Both WordPress and Blogger have settings that allow you to keep your blog under wraps and out of the gaze of search engines, if you or your loved ones are squeamish about having personal details published online.

We've done just this with a photo blog we have, where we can feel comfortable sharing pictures of family and friends along with their (first) names, because we know they feel comfortable, too.

You could do it up big with a whole post dedicated to a specific gift giver, or you could do a roundup of all the birthday gifts in use, and then email out the link to everyone who came to the party.

7. Use social media to shout out your loved ones' generosity.

Are your gift-giving relatives and friends on Facebook or Twitter? Post some photos and compliments on their wall or send a short but heartfelt public Tweet (make sure to put their @username at the end of the Tweet so they know all your followers witnessed your appreciation).

Not only do your relatives get to be told they're loved — they get the pleasure of having that fact disseminated widely.

This is a good technique to use in addition to sending something personal and private; otherwise, it might seem like a bit of a copout. A good rule of thumb for thank-yous is to consider what would make you feel special, and like your gift was truly appreciated.

8. Get more mileage out of kids' artwork!

toddler cutting construction paper artwork with scissorsDoes your child go to preschool, or do you like doing crafts together? Do you wonder how on earth you're going to store all these marvelous creations for posterity?

Don't bother — let Grandma do it!

Every time I send a letter to our parents, I make sure to include some flat piece of artwork or another. Use this technique to up the "aw!" factor of a brief thank-you. It's like they're receiving a gift back in return!

9. Let your child be the dictator.

A fun tactic for your verbal but pre-writing (or beginner writer) kids is to have them dictate the letter to you. It saves you the chore of having to come up with phrases, and what comes out of your kid's mouth is sure to be more enjoyable to write and to read than anything you'd have come up with.

If your child can write her name, let her sign the dictation at the end and add a little asterisk noting that you acted as stenographer.

10. Get your beginning writer appealing stationery.

It might not be inspiring for your preschooler to write a thank-you note on plain white paper, or the pastel thank-you cards you have left over from your baby shower.

Buy or design something that strikes his fancy! Again with the Amy Adele, I know, but wouldn't you just love to write a note on this cuteness:

Amy Adele Children's Stationery thank-you photo card with child's name

Personalized cards are a hit with anyone who can recognize her own name, but personalized photo cards are sure to be a hit with youngsters who might not connect with a monogram — but could certainly pick out their own face in a crowd!

Bonus: Aunt Meg will love seeing your youngster's smiling face peeping out at her when she opens the envelope!

Please allow me to offer a tiny explanation of why I love Amy Adele so you don't think I'm shilling for them for no good reason. If you are an eco-nut like I am, you will be pleasantly astounded by their commitment to 100% post-consumer recycled cardstock, eco-conscious forest use, and biodegradable (and minimal) packaging. If you are a family-business fan, you'll love the fact that Amy Adele is an actual person who draws all the designs and is a mama of three little ones. If you are insistent on getting the most bang for your shopping buck, you will be glad to note that the quality is excellent, the website easy to navigate, and the turnaround super speedy.

And if you just adore cuteness, well, heck yeah! Go check out all the designs!

Amy's Tulips Flat CardPlayground Flat Card

The additional awesomeness: Amy Adele is offering my readers our very own promotional code till the end of the month (June 30, 2010). Just type in … wait for it … hobomama, and receive 15% off your order. How super cool is that!

Ladybug Photo Card Baby AnnouncementPirate's Treasure Waterproof Label

So if you have summer festivities on the horizon, consider ordering your birthday or baby shower invitations, thank-you notes, party-favor labels, or personalized gifts in the next two weeks to take advantage of that deal! You should also check the sale section for other current bargains.

African American Mom's Baby Shower Invitation-BlueBaby's Crab One-Piece Outfit

What are your ideas for writing thank-you notes? Do you consider it a chore, and how long have you procrastinated? Is it bad that some of our wedding gifts have still not had proper thank-you notes written, and it's been 12 years? And is it appropriate for me to tell you here that it's all Sam's fault because they were in his stack to write but that everyone in his family blames me?

Disclosure: Amy Adele gave me two free products
to review, which inspired me to put together this post.
I am an Amy Adele affiliate, so I use their links.
The company is not sponsoring this post or aware I'm writing it.
Read my full take of the adorableness of Amy Adele here.
See my full disclosure policy here.


Marita said...

I'm a big fan of the thank you note. We try to send thank you emails with a picture of the child playing with their gift - or posing with it - depending on the type of gift.

For family without email I get the girls to help me write a note.

So important to say thank you.

Whozat said...

My daughter is only 19 months old, so she's not doing her own thank-yous just yet, but for her birthday and for Christmas this year, we went the cheap/electronic route before hand (party invitations, Xmas cards) and then ordered photo thank you cards to send to those who attended the party or gave us Xmas gifts.

For her birthday, we had 3 photos on the front - cake, the 3 of us blowing the candle, and her eating cake - and another really cute one of her on the inside.

For Christmas, we had her with Santa on the front, and a photo of the three of us in front of our Christmas tree inside.

Deb Chitwood said...

Great ideas! When my children were young, we used to send photos of them playing with the toy or wearing the clothes (or happily opening the present) along with a thank-you note. The video idea is a great contemporary option!

Laura said...

I'm awful at getting thank you notes out, but for my daughter's 3rd birthday I had her draw her own pictures on blank paper and then use a stamp that said thank you on it. All I had to do was address the envelopes, she put on the stamps and return address labels. Not sure how people felt about them, but it worked for me.

Kristin @ Intrepid Murmurings said...

EXCELLENT ideas, and SO timely, I have three girls worth of birthday thank you notes from the past month to work on. Whew. We have got to get cracking. I know my girls will love decorating if we go that route!

Can I also say that I have the VERY same situation with some old wedding present thank you's?!?! The guilt! I am actually relieved to see I am not the only one. Why was it MY job, again???

Becky said...

Cute ideas! I'm a traditionalist and have been sending thank you notes religiously since my ninth birthday. Writing notes come naturally to me (most of the time), but these gave me some out-of-the-box ideas that I can do with my daughter in a couple of years. Speaking of thank you notes, my birthday was Monday, the 14th, so I should write out a couple right now!

Whitney said...

For my daughter's first birthday, I split-screened 2 pictures from her birthday party and printed off enough pictures to send one to each of our guests.
I filled the back of the picture out like a postcard, with address stickers and stamps. Since it's difficult to write on the back of pictures, I typed up a little poem, with space to personalize their name and gift, copied and pasted it, and printed it on large address labels.
It was actually pretty easy, and I've seen the picture hanging up on many fridges since her birthday 8 months ago.

Lauren Wayne said...

I love all your ideas, everyone! :) We have a stack of Christmas thank-yous to get to still…ahem…so I love the inspiration of rereading your comments.

Whitney: A poem and everything! That's a great idea and, as you said, it's exactly the type of thing people would keep for display. Wonderful!

Anonymous said...

We started voice recording thank you's through an app for our 2 year old and you can add a picture as your background and email it to nana and papa so they can hear her say it herself! Teaching her early the importance
It's Smarty Thanks (you) in iTunes Store

Keith said...

Thanks for sharing. We've done a couple now where our daughter gets to put her handprint on the card, and then we write around it. She's only 2, so can't write yet, but this is a great way to get her involved and was the subject of my latest blog post http://www.ordinaryparent.com/advice/5-reasons-to-get-your-kids-involved-in-writing-thank-you-notes/

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