Pen Pals Unit Study and Badge Resources
Having a pen pal is a great way to learn about other places and cultures. The act of writing letters also helps to develop writing skills, communication skills, and even patience as you wait for letters to arrive. Use our free Pen Pal unit study to earn your Pen Pal badge. Other badges you may wish to earn alongside include badges such as Calligraphy, Letter Writing Patience or Mail Art.
History of Pen Pals
Pen pals are simply two people who share a friendship by exchanging letters. No one really knows exactly when pen pals began as people have been writing letters for as long as there have been pens. Russian Empress Catherine the Great and the French philosopher Voltaire exchanged letters for more than 15 years during the late 1700’s, yet never actually met. What we consider pen pals in the modern age however realistically didn’t start until there was an efficient mail system in place that made letter writing faster and more affordable.
One of the most notable events in pen pal history was made at the 1964-65 World Fair with the first computer assisted pen pal matching service. The theme that year was Peace through Understanding. The Parker Pen company in cooperation with People-to-People Inc., headed by former President Eisenhower, supplied any interested visitor with a form on which they could fill in their name, address, age and interests. A computer then matched the information with the data on participants abroad and supplied the name and address of a foreign pen friend on a special overseas mailer.
Did you know there is even a National Pen Pal Day every June 1st? Rosie Tholl, the co-coordinator of the Illinois Pen Pal Picnic Reunion and co-founder for Pen Pals United founded the day as a way to celebrate the lifelong friendships formed through letter writing.
To Do: Choose a pair of famous pen pals and find out about who they were and why they enjoyed a writing relationship with each other. Mental Floss has a great article to get you started with 7 of History’s Most Famous Pairs of Pen Pals.
Fulfills requirement #1
Finding Pen Pals
(Curiosity Untamed is not responsible for vetting your pen pal. Use these resources at your own risk.)
The best way to get a pen pal is from someone you know. Maybe you have a cousin that lives in another country or a friend of your parent has a nephew in another state. When you know that your chosen pen pal is who they say they are and are safe, it makes communicating much easier.
If you can’t find a pen pal through family and friends, your next step is to find one through a forum, Facebook group, club or organized pen pal website. While the majority of people on these sites are are truly interested in connecting with others for the purpose of having a pen pal, there will always be a certain percentage that are scammers in one form or another. As a result, make sure to follow pen pal safety.
The Scary Mommy website has an excellent article on finding safe pen pals for kids. I like this particular article as it brings up ideas for some unconventional pen pals like writing letters to astronauts or service members.
Big Life Journal also has a great blog that includes a variety of possible websites for finding pen pals for kids. As a bonus they also offer free printables for kids that help with writing prompts and ideas for what to send your pen pal.
To Do: Find a pen pal and exchange three letters. The first should introduce yourself and tell them something about you. The second should tell them about the city/state where you live. The third should tell them about something upcoming that you are excited for.
Fulfills requirement #2 part B
Pen Pal Safety
When you connect with a pen pal through family or friends, you know who you are communicating with. But what if you find a pen pal through an online group or service? This person is a stranger to you and as such, stranger safety measures should be in place.
This is not an all inclusive list, but here are just a few safety ideas to consider:
- Parents should read ALL messages. If you can’t show it to your parents, you shouldn’t be writing it.
- Use a PO Box for all physical mail. This way they don’t know where you live.
- Use a special email account just for pen pals. If you wish to stop communicating with them, you can abandon the email address.
- Keep your real identity anonymous. Never share personal information such as your real name, address, phone number, school, etc. Make sure user names and email addresses do not use your real name.
- Never send money! Many pen pals are just scams to convince people to send them money.
- Check the privacy settings of any pen pal app or website to ensure you know how much of your personal information is shared and with who.
To Do: Review with a parent how you plan to communicate with your pen pal safely. What topics will you be allowed to discuss? How will you send letters back and forth?
Fulfills requirement #2 part A
What to Write About
The options are endless when it comes to what to write about, but sometimes when put on the spot it is hard to think of some. Here are just a few ideas:
- If you have a foreign pen pal, write about an American holiday or other American cultural norm.
- Tell them about your “favorites.” Your favorite movie, singer, book, etc. and why you enjoy it.
- Discuss goals and how you plan to achieve them.
- If you have a trip or event coming up, tell them about it.
- Share recipes
To Do: Create a list of 10 topics to discuss with your pen pal. This way, when you need ideas, you can simply choose one from your list.
Pen Pal Crafts
Communicating with your pen pal in a creative manner can bring a lot more fun and excitement to the experience. Which you rather receive, a simple letter on plain white paper in a business envelope, or a colorful letter tucked inside a uniquely shaped envelope.
Just a few ideas to spice up your pen pal offerings include:
- Make a flip book (video below)
- Design your own stationary
- Make a custom envelope to send your letter in. Camille Styles has some fun free printables for making your own geometric envelopes.
- Make a squash book (video below)
To Do: Choose one or more of the above ideas to make and send to your pen pal.
Fulfills optional requirements 3, 4, 6, and 10
Email vs Snail Mail
Traditionally, pen pals have always exchanged physical letters through the mail. In today’s world of emails and message apps however, you can communicate with your pen pal almost instantaneously. So why would you still want to send a physical letter? There is something special about receiving mail. The anticipation of when it will arrive. The thrill of tearing open an envelope without knowing exactly what you will find inside. And the ability to keep a physical reminder of your communication are all reasons to write physical letters.
On the other hand, once you begin to get to know your pen pal, if you become close friends, the instant communication available through message apps and email mean you don’t have to wait weeks between letters to correspond. In the modern age, a mix of both email and snail mail can improve your relationship with your pen pal and create bonding friendships that can last a life time.
To Do: Make a list of different message apps that will allow you to communicate with your pen pal instantly. What are the pros and cons of each?
To Do: Take a field trip to the post office and find out what happens to it after it leaves the mailbox.
Fulfills optional requirement #12 and #5
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