Monday, February 25, 2019

Mail Kit

Today we're assembling a mail kit!

Here's a quick catch-up if you've just joined us: we're exploring one of my kids' favorite pretend-play scenarios - the one I call Mailworld. 

Last week we reminisced about the first role-play cardboard toy I made for my girls about a decade ago - a chute-style mailbox. 

Many people have sinced asked for the instructions to make it, so I wrote a pattern for it, 

which also included a fabric mailbag for more play options. 

In the previous post, I shared a tutorial to make solo door-hanger mailboxes

and today, we're completing the roundup with a kit of (play) mail supplies. Some of these are handmade and some are store-bought. There are many places to shop for the items described here, but if you have access to a dollar store, hit that first. You might be surprised by how many mail-relevant things you'll find there.

I started with a wide, flat box that could hold the mailbag without squishing it. This one is from our local Dollar Tree i.e. it cost $1.

Here are the contents of the mail kit I packed for my 2-year-old friend Sam:

Let's talk about each of them.

The mailbag: from the Outgoing Mail pattern, as mentioned earlier, but any messenger bag would work. Another version in this post, for instance, features externally-bound seams. If you would like to pick up a ready-made one, there is one for sale in my Etsy shop here.

The envelopes:  also from the Dollar Tree. I included two sizes for variety.

The paper stack: you could totally splurge on fancy stationery but I used regular letter-size printer paper (white and colored). I cut mine into half so the smaller individual sheets might be more easily handled by a toddler.

The stamps: again from the Dollar Tree. I picked the square stickers over the circular ones (in spite of circles being superior to all other shapes) because they looked most like stamps.


Now, because this kit was for a toddler, I omitted this next item to keep things simpler (and non-messy). However, for an older child, I might include a ink pad and an ink stamp. Older children often observe and remember more details of real-world experiences and thus might enjoy mimicking the date-stamping performed by mail workers (or machines) in the post office. 

Postcards: Postcards are fun to write and send. They don't have to be folded like a letter and inserted into an envelope, and if you draw outline art on them, kids (or you) can even color them. Here are two sets I drew for you guys. The first is generic postcard art: scenes of ridiculously sunny islands, historic lighthouses, random skylines and some exotic building (a Peranakan house modeled after Singapore's architectural culture).

The second is random Scandinavian motifs. Must celebrate the other half of my kids' heritage, I thought.

Here's a printable to download. 

Two pages are front art and the third page is back art. 

You'll need two sheets of card stock for all eight postcards. Print the document out like so:
  • Sheet 1: Print pages 1 and 3 as a double-sided print
  • Sheet 2: Print pages 2 and 3 as a double-sided print

Then cut out the 4 postcards per sheet, color them,

 and fill them out with crazy addressees and messages.

Address labels. Again, something I omitted from Sam's kit, but which older kids might enjoy. You can find these small rectangular labels in any office supplies store or the office supplies aisle in Walmart or Target. Some are plain white, and some are colored. These are roughly 1/2" x 1-3/4" but don't worry about the actual dimensions - you'll know them when you see them because they're sized exactly like typical address labels,

and fit perfectly on an envelope.

Pack everything into the box!

Here's a convenient summary idea list for kit-contents:

  • Mailbag
  • Envelopes
  • Writing paper (stationery)
  • Postcards
  • Stickers
  • Pencils
  • Ink stamps especially date stampers
  • Ink pads
  • Address label stickers
  • Blank square stickers (labels) to make own stamps
  • Markers to decorate Mailbox
  • Bills (see explanation below)
  • Checkbook (see explanation below)

And just off the top of my head, here are some suggestions for play scenarios and teaching ideas:

1 Reading and Writing

Sneak two of the three R's into playtime by having kids practice recognizing and spelling names and simple addresses. Even younger children can recognize letters in a name and the very youngest children can recognize faces (pairing photos is wonderful for this!).

2 Format

Addresses on letters follow a particular format, and kids can learn where on an envelope to place a stamp or address label, and what information must be written (and in which sequence) so that a letter gets delivered to its intended recipient.

3 Sorting and Organizing
Build a post office with cubby holes to sort mail as it is received. When my kids played Mailworld in their older years, they repurposed our Greengrocer cubby holes as a sorting thingy, but you can glue cardboard boxes together to make an easy grid against a wall. Or pick up grid-style cardboard packaging for larger breakables (think wine bottle and vases) at places like Ikea and other home-goods stores.

4 Bills and Checks

It's never too early to introduce kids to real-world credit and debit! Talk with kids about paying to use services and resources, and the different ways to pay (credit, online, paper, for instance). Create fake utility bills, phone bills, medical bills, lawn care bills (you get the idea) that they receive in the post and have to pay.
Then make your own book of checks as a mail-able payment option-  cut sheets of printer paper into check-sized pages and sew them together with a sewing machine. The needle perforations make it easy to tear individual "checks" out of the checkbook.

5  Postcards
Postcards are a fun way to share information about countries that kids have visited, lived in or come from. Discuss what aspects of the country often get featured on postcards - landmarks, buildings, skylines, tourist attractions, food, parks, etc. Even if kids have limited ideas about other countries, they can think about their own neighborhood, city, state or country. It can be fun to imagine (and design) a postcard from their city or neighborhood - what kinds of things would they pick to feature on a postcard and why?

6 Other kinds of flat mail
Talk about the other kinds of things that end up in mailboxes - flyers, adverts, newspapers, for instance. Kids might find it amusing to create some over-the-top junk mail and stuff it into someone's (play) mailbox for comic relief. At the same time, we can think about how effective these flyers and adverts are in accomplishing what they're meant to do. 

7 Packages
Who doesn't love getting a package in the mail? Birthdays were a hoot in Mailworld at our house - the kids were always delivering surprises to each other, not all of which were actual gifts. Don't limit package delivery to just the USPS, either - switch out the regular post office workers for the Brown Truck People (what the kids called UPS for a while) and FedEx guys for a change!

8 Diversify the MailChute
Finally, when you want a change from Mailworld, turn the Mailbox into a library book chute. Or a giant suggestion box. Or a ballot box. Or a magical delivery system that sends food to starving children in war-torn countries. Trust me:  kids have no end to ideas for what to do with a cardboard box, or how to think outside one :)

Happy playing!

P.S. Why yes, I do store my color pencils (some of them, anyway) in Star Wars Campbells' Soup cans.   

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Hanging Mailboxes

First, thank you all for your encouraging comments and support of Emily's and Sophie etsy store! They've sent out their first batch of orders, so you should be receiving your traveler's notebooks in the mail any day now!

Today's post is a tutorial on how to make these solo hanging mailboxes. 

I call them solo mailboxes because they're sorta like single-address mail drops so you can designate one to each family member (or bedroom door) in your house. 

These are the materials you'll need:
  • a tissue paper box. I find the regular (medium-height) ones are ideal. You can also use the larger/deeper ones and even the shallow kind for cars and hotel rooms. 
  • some card stock
  • some yarn or cord

These are the tools I used:
  • scissors
  • a box cutter/craft knife
  • a ruler
  • a pencil
  • something to poke holes with
  • glue (I've photographed my favorite craft glue, but even regular Elmer's white glue would work)

First, stand the box on its end. The face with the opening-for-pulling-out-the-tissue-paper is the front of the mailbox. Don't worry about the hideous opening itself - it gets hidden under card stock later.

Make a diagonal cut along one side of the box, beginning at the top back edge. For our box, we angled the diagonal so that it ended 2.5" below the top front edge. If your box is deeper or shallower, you might want to adjust that dimension accordingly. The actual gradient of the slant isn't important - just pick something that looks like it actually slopes downward. Cut across the front of the box and up along the opposite side so that the top of the box lifts off and folds back.

Next, cut out the triangular side pieces,

so that you're left with this.

Straighten this bent roof,

and let it fall over the slanty top opening of the box. It will stick out quite a bit over the front. Trim some of it off so that only about 1/2" hangs over the front edge of the box. This is the new roof of the box.

Cut a piece of card stock that's the same size as this roof

and glue it on top of that roof. The card stock adds strength to the roof and prevents it from bending along its natural fold line. Now cut another piece of card stock and stick it on the front of the box, over the tissue-paper opening.

We cut ours a little taller than the front of the box,

so we could fold it over the edge and glue it to the inside of the box for added strength.

Fold back the roof of the box so you can access the back. Poke two holes in the back, close to the hinge. 

We found that the closer the holes are to the hinge, the more vertically the mailbox will hang against the door (or wall). In the photo below, you can see that we've closed the first set of holes and re-poked a new set closer to the hinge.

Thread yarn or cord through the holes and tie the ends together to make a hanging loop. We prefer making a loop to tying knots (like in shopping bag handles) which may slip through the holes.

The mailbox is finished! I chose a tissue paper box that already had a pretty design so that I wouldn't have to cover up more than just the top (roof) and front. You may choose to cover yours entirely with more decorative paper, or even paint it.

Here it is hanging on a door knob. If your pieces of mail are small enough, you can also cut a slot in the top of the box. Otherwise, kids might get frustrated trying to stuff large pieces of mail through the slot. We passed on a slot for ours because we found that a typical tissue paper box is not quite wide enough for a slot that fits postcards and the larger document envelopes.

Instead, lifting the top flap allowed most envelopes to be deposited quite easily inside the mailbox.

Adding name labels to the mailboxes is a simple way to help kids sort mail and practise letter/name recognition.  If your kids are not yet reading, you could also draw caricatures of the faces of family members, as I did when I first made similar mailboxes back in 2008. At the time, Emily was four and reading but neither Jenna and Kate, who were two and newborn, respectively, were.

Labels are easy to make. Adhesive greeter-name labels are super convenient, but small rectangles of printer paper glued on work just as well.

Here are some other mailbox ideas:

Incidentally, I've put a Mailbag in the old Etsy store for you to buy. It's the sample from the Outgoing Mail pattern and as my kids are well past the age (and size) to use it, I thought I'd make it available for someone else to enjoy. If you'd like a Mailbag but aren't inclined to go the DIY route, pick it up from my store!

In the next post, we'll put our Mail Kit together!