Do you remember writing letters to friends or pen pals when you were a kid? You’d doodle in the margins, add stickers wherever you could fit them – you’d make that funny face from the aftertaste of licking the envelope and stamp. And then you would literally count the days waiting for a response – sometimes hourly checking the mailbox to see if there was a letter for you. I miss the days when snail mail was a more exciting part of our lives. Don’t you?
Using Pen Pals In Your Homeschool
Why send a letter in the mail when you can instantly send a message to practically anyone within moments with an email or text message? Our kids are growing up in a world of immediate gratification, and pen pals and letter writing is a wonderful way for us parents to bring back the excitement of sending messages the old, slow and patient way.
As homeschoolers we have a wonderful opportunity to not only teach our children what we feel is most important for them to learn, but to make it part of their homework! There are so many benefits to letter writing and communicating with a pen pal – known or new – that I encourage you to add this to your weekly curriculum.
Benefits of Letter Writing for Kids
- Writing to a friend or family member is often less intimidating than writing an essay or completing a writing assignment.
- Reading words written by someone’s hand creates a more personal connection than reading computer text.
- Addressing envelopes helps kids understand where they are physically in the world and in relation to others. It also helps them memorize their address.
- Children can learn about weights, measures, and money by weighing their letters and calculating postage.
- Kids learn that they are a part of a larger system that depends upon them following the rules in order to deliver their mail properly.
- Having to wait days for a letter to be sent or received helps kids connect to history in a tangible way as they understand how messages were exchanged before the digital age.
- Connecting with people of different locations, ages, cultures and opinions through pen pal programs will expand your child’s understanding of people who are different from them.
Pen Pal Writing Curriculum For Kids
So how can you easily integrate pen pals and letter writing into your current homeschool curriculum? Most importantly, keep it simple and fun. You don’t need yet another thing to do that just adds busywork and stress to your homeschool routine. Here are some ideas that will bring the benefits of letter writing and pen pals without added stress.
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1. Create a letter writing station
Use a mail organizer/sorter or desktop storage container or decorate a shoebox to designate as a letter writing station. Include an address book (like this free printable one from my site.) Add family members, friends, and new pen pals to the address book. Keep your letter writing station stocked with different sized envelopes from small, to business, greeting card sized and oversized. Add stationery and stickers! The dollar store is a budget friendly place to buy these items. And of course, don’t forget the stamps! It’s a good idea to get both regular stamps as well as postcard stamps.
It is also helpful to have a small kitchen scale so you can weigh your bulky letters and put the right amount of postage on them. You can calculate postage on the USPS website.
If you have the space, set up your letter writing station where your kids can access it whenever they are inspired to write. If not, store it and bring it out during letter writing time.
2. Choose an organic time for letter writing.
Mondays are great for letter writing – your kids can send letters off into the world and hope to receive a response by the end of the week. Or choose a day of the week when it feels most peaceful to spend some time writing letters.
Another way to loosely schedule this is to write letters on the day your receive a response in the mail. This teaches kids the good etiquette of replying to letters as promptly as possible.
Other great times for letter writing are during breakfast, during/after lunch, or after dinner chores are done and if the kids have any free time before bedtime. Sunday afternoons are also a relaxing time for writing letters.
3. Think beyond the lined page.
It is good for kids to learn traditional letter writing – with an opening, date, closing, and signature. But the bigger goal is for kids to enjoy writing letters! Keep it fun, and adjust it for your different ages of kids.
Beginning writers can draw pictures with a word here or there. They can make simple scrapbook type pages by gluing a picture to a blank paper and writing a word or two about it. They can trace their hand and draw a self portrait.
Struggling writers – and anyone for that matter – can write postcards to get into the practice of letter writing. Just a few sentences complete the postcard so it’s great for short attention spans. They can even make and print their own postcards!
Use plenty of stickers, add origami creations, make scrapbook or paper art pages, add photographs.
You can also send completed homework to someone in the mail! For example, if your child wrote a short story in their writing curriculum, instead of filing it away for who knows how long and what for, they can send their story to a friend or family member.
This is also a great way to recap a field trip – your kids can write about their experience! Sending it as a letter adds excitement to an otherwise tedious writing assignment.
Consider an initial field trip to the post office to get your kids excited about letter writing!
Pen Pal Programs For Kids
If you’re all fired up about this now like I am, the next big question is how to find a pen pal or people to write to! Here are a bunch of ideas for your recipients:
- Brighten up a family member’s day in a big way. Your kids can write letters to family members – even if they live close. Grandparents LOVE getting letters from their grandkids! And don’t forget about aunts, uncles, and cousins.
- Reconnect with friends who have moved away. It’s so hard to say goodbye to good friends when they (or you!) move away. Your kids can keep in touch with friends who have moved or friends they don’t see often through writing letters.
- Branch out on your family tree. In today’s world many families have cousins, aunts and uncles that they don’t keep in touch with. Explore your family tree and hop over a few branches. You may find some long lost relatives who would love to hear from your kids.
- Facebook / social media Try reaching out to a Facebook homeschool group for families that would be interested in exchanging letters with your kids. You can also connect with people on your friends list that have kids of similar ages. Try creating a post asking to connect with someone in another state or country – there’s a good chance that someone on your friends list knows someone who is the perfect letter writing fit for your kids.
- Scouts Many scouting programs have pen pal programs your kids can join. If your kids are in a scouting program, check their main websites for resources.
- Churches / missionaries / orphanages If you are affiliated with any churches or know any missionaries you can often find some pen pal opportunities this way. Better yet, connect with an international orphanage to add even more meaning to your pen pal efforts.
- Compassion International or other child sponsorship programs If your family chooses to sponsor a kid in need, you can write letters back and forth and your children can get some valuable insight into another culture while making a difference in another child’s life.
- Retirement home Contact any retirement home and ask if they are willing to pair your children with someone who is interested in having a pen pal friend. They will light up someone’s life for sure!
- Local library Contact your local library and ask if they participate in any summer or year round pen pal programs. If not, gather some interest among your friends and see if you can convince them to look into it!
- Good ol’ Google Searching online for a snail mail pen pal program can be a bit daunting. Try thinking of an interest or specific country and starting your google search that way. Example: Ireland Pen Pal Program.
Here are a few sites I found through a Google search – I did not vet them. Please do your research before giving out personal information.
- Global PenFriends
- International Pen Friends
- Any Soldier
- Kenya Connect
- Generation Veggie (for vegan inclined/curious kids)
- NASA write to an astronaut
Pen Pal Templates For Children
While your kids can simply pull out some blank lined paper and get writing, they may enjoy using some pen pal templates. This is a great tool to use because it helps solve the question of “What should I write?” It also keeps the activity short and to the point which will give you a better start. You can search Google or Pinterest for free pen pal template printables, and take a look at a few I’ve created on my website here: https://pk1homeschoolfun.com/tag/pen-pals/
More Pen Pal Fun
If your kids get the letter writing bug in a big way, you can have even more fun with it! Try setting up a letter writing chain among a few friends or family members.
Here’s how to set up a letter writing chain:
Create a list of people participating and their addresses in order – make it a short list like 5 or less. You (the moderator) are participant #1.
- 1. Joey 1111 My Street, NV 99999
- 2. Grandma 1234 Any Street, CA 99999
- 3. Cousin Tom 4321 Other Street, MN 99999
Write your first letter to recipient #2, then check off or cross of their name from the address list. Put your letter, the address list, and remaining stamps in an envelope and mail it to recipient #2. Recipient #2 then follows the same steps for recipient #3 and so on. The last person on the list sends all the letters back to #1, the moderator (you!)
I made a simple template for a letter writing chain. You can download it here.
If this type of chain is too complicated, simplify it by using one piece of paper that each recipient adds a paragraph to and sends on to the next person.
I hope I’ve inspired you to get your kids writing letters! Enjoy all the excitement and wonder that comes from good old fashioned snail mail. Find all my pen pal printables and ideas here.