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By Linda Broatch, M.A.
A first step in a successful pen pal project is to think about what kind of pen pal experience is likely to work best for your particular child. Her age, interests, social skills, and writing strengths or challenges are factors to consider. Based on your child's needs and preferences, you may encourage her to join an existing, more traditional type of pen pal network, or create one of your own.
If your child is young, is a reluctant writer, or could use some work on social skills, a non-traditional and/or do-it-yourself pen pal project may work best. Examples of ways to create a pen pal experience for your child include:
In some cases, parents who organize a pen pal group may decide that the correspondence will work better with a few guidelines for participation. For example:
I would also tell your 9-to-12-year-old children a little about email sense/netiquette: that it's courteous to reply, that messages should be quality-an investment of yourself in the communication process-meaning that "Wassup?" or "I'm so bored" is not really a message/communication. If they can't think of something to write, they could look for a joke (e.g., yahooligans) and send that. They may need a little direction to get started."
Posted on parent message board
A popular way to increase the "fun factor" in pen pal communication is the "Flat Stanley" letter, started by a Canadian teacher several years ago. Flat Stanley is the main character in a children's book series about a boy who is flattened by a falling bulletin board and has many funny adventures in his new, postcard-thin shape-including mailing himself to friends.
As a copy or drawing of Flat Stanley circulates to each child in a pen pal project, Stanley "takes part" in family activities for a few days and then is mailed, along with a letter describing his activities, to the next child on a chain-letter list. Use your imagination to create a variation on the Flat Stanley project that will appeal to the pen pals you're working with.
I'm sending Flat Stanley today with the addresses I have now - BUT - don't worry. I put my address last, when it comes back to me, if there are others who wish for Stanley to visit them this summer, I'll send him on again with a new list of addresses at that time. Think of it as a chance for Stanley to come home for a day or two and wash his clothes before he finishes his travels. I'm thrilled at how many of us are jumping into this! How fun!!!!
Posted on parent message board
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