I have never had a pen pal and while researching this topic, I became disappointed that I hadn’t as a child. Having a pen pal has many positive results and promotes many values and principles that a simple classroom cannot always provide. Gaining a pen pal gives intellectual, emotional and social benefits.
First, there are the intellectual benefits one can obtain from writing to a pen pal. From learning a foreign language to cultural education to practicing penmanship; having a relationship by mail gives the ability to help one’s mind grow in many facets. More and more, writing to pen pals in today’s classrooms is becoming part of curriculum and an enjoyable class activity. The aforementioned educational benefits are likely the aspects of pen paling which attracts teachers to the idea. So many subjects can be touched upon when corresponding with other children; especially children from other countries. Understanding cultures through the writings of similar aged children can be a cherished lesson.
Second, there is an emotional factor. For many kids, loneliness and a sense of not belonging can be very prevalent. To find a person with whom you can share your thoughts and feelings can be priceless to a young person; not to mention an impression of understanding and camaraderie even with the miles between. And there is that reward the letter appearing in one’s mail box that always brings a child joy. There is also a paradigm in teaching children positive differences. They could gain a perception that we are all just people with emotions, hopes and dreams regardless of our logistics. Julie Delbridge from the International Pen Friends Organization states, “When children share their thoughts and experiences, they often feel less alone in the world and gain more confidence.” She adds, “On a personal level, in a small but meaningful way, children can help promote peace in the world that is often dominated by conflict.”
Third, writing to a person who shares your interests or can invite you to learn of new interests; can have a great social influence. “Bobby” may believe that there isn’t another kid in the world that has a love of botchy ball the way he does. But perhaps writing to a pen pal in Italy may allow him to share his merriment and even gain some playing tips. “Susie” may spend her summer days on the couch watching Spongebob with her mom on bended knee begging her to find a hobby – something to DO. Writing to her pen pal in Australia may help her learn about the sport of Cricket with which she ends up adoring and flourishing.
There are many pen pal sites on the internet. Some are geared specifically for teachers and students to use in the classroom. Some are just general pen pal sites for anyone. Some sites require registration and even a membership fee. Others are free and easy to use. Some pen pal sites and organizations encourage writing in the original format – with a paper and pen. But with most other things in our society, technology has taken hold and now many chose to “key pal” using email instead of snail mail. While this saves money on postage, it also loses many of the benefits to writing letters. That anticipation of a letter’s arrival is enough to choose the original form of pen paling. Delbridge tells me, “The most common feedback we receive from IPF members is that despite all of the modern forms of technology, they still love to write and receive handwritten letters.”
When visiting and joining pen pal sites online, it is of extreme importance that parents are monitoring their children’s activities and that the kids know how to keep themselves safe from online predators. They should never give out their home address or phone number online. They should certainly never plan a ‘real life’ meeting especially without a parent present. On the internet there is really know sure way to ensure who or what you are dealing with and it is always better to be safe than sorry.
One organization, International Pen Friends (http://www.ipfusa.com) out of Australia has been helping people meet one another through the written word since 1967. IPF does not use the internet to match pen pals. They wish for the participants to use the communication form of letter writing, however, the pals can always chose to exchange email addresses if they so wish.
The Student Letter Exchange (http://www.pen-pal.com) claims to be the world’s largest pen pal organization dating back to 1936. This organization links over 500, 000 students in over 100 different countries each year.
Other ways to find pen pals and e-pals can be found on the following sites:
Again, it is always extremely important to keep children safe when corresponding to strangers. But when parents keep an eye out and precautions are taken, writing to pen pals can be a very encouraging, fulfilling, interesting and educational experience that could continue for many years as relationships develop and grow. Pen paling can be a wonderful experience for students, teachers and even parents. It is certainly an activity worth exploring with your children or students.
Now, I am off to find a thirty-something like soul who shares an interest in movies, chocolate and sleep. Wish me luck!!