How many times do you actually get paper mail today? Probably not much in this era of text messaging, online bill pay, and Facebook. But growing up, it was always a treat when you received a letter or card with your name on it.
Sometimes dubbed a lost art, especially when it includes finding a snail mail penpal, letter writing has value even in our modern age of instant communication. From improving literacy to building global awareness, forming a lasting penpal relationship is worthwhile to young and old alike.
I began my snail mail penpal adventure as a preteen and continue it even today with my granddaughter who lives over a thousand miles away. As a teacher I’ve added penpal writing to my classroom, too. Please read on to learn more about my experiences with writing letters, and why I advocate for it even today.
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Finding A Snail Mail Penpal Improves Literacy
Teachers will tell you that writing is painstaking to learn for many children (and for many teachers to teach)! Though the actual acts of printing and cursive writing (handwriting), as well as the content of writing, are probably the most important skills students learn in school. Writing is necessary for success in higher education, and almost any career a child can imagine. Due to the significance of writing, I’d say writing is second only to reading in importance, in my humble teacher-opinion.
What Research Says…
Research backs up this opinion, too. This report from Psychology Today explains that handwriting may actually make you smarter. It requires more cognitive function and brain power than ‘writing’ with with technology.
A study by psychologists, Karin H. James and Laura Engelhardt, provides a correlation between the process of handwriting and reading acquisition not found in comparison to when children type letters.
This benefit of hand writing versus using keyboards extends beyond the primary grades, too. A 2014 study found that high school students who hand wrote their notes performed much better on conceptual questions than those students who typed their notes on a laptop.
In a time when schools are under pressure to include more than academics such as social-emotional curriculum yet still are held to rigorous standardized testing mandates, it’s not surprising that the importance of handwriting and writing instruction has gone by the wayside (after all, handwriting and writing ARE not traditionally tested subjects). This de-emphasis on writing is to the detriment of children.
What this Teacher Says About Penpals…
In my experiences teaching at all levels of education from elementary to high school, writing has always been a struggle. As a teacher, I recognized the significance of children being able to write well. But it was difficult to focus on it when pressure is put elsewhere (math and reading particularly, as these are the most state-tested content areas).
To remedy this conflict, I used writing as a tool for learning other content. For example, I would have students write about math concepts they learned both skill-wise (explain in writing a common denominator) and creatively (write 4 word problems that show elapsed time).
For social studies, I would have students write from the perspective of a famous, significant person in history like Harriet Tubman or Abraham Lincoln.
When I taught high school, I incorporated skill writing like grammar and paragraph construction, along with teaching writing about literature.
I would also include writing activities that utilized students’ natural affinity to passing notes to friends, only this was a teacher-sanctioned snail mail penpal experience.
One year, my students wrote letters to another teacher’s class in a different state. The students were all in the same grade and the penpals were random. The students took so much time drafting their notes, um letters, wanting to perfectly spell each word and use their best handwriting! It took several afternoons before I was able to mail off the letters!
In this example, students learned about geography (from looking at maps to find their penpal’s state) and used math (converting time change and counting mileage between the states). They learned about life in another state, how it’s different and similar to their own. They learned how curriculum could change depending on where you went to school. All valuable, as well as intriguing, information for students.
As an elementary teacher, I repeated the experience for several consecutive years within my school (saving on the stamp fee for this budget-conscious teacher!). This time the coordinating teacher and I purposefully paired up my third graders with her first graders in the hopes of creating good partnerships.
Our first and third-grade students exchanged letters every quarter, including whole class chart-sized letters we teachers wrote, sneakily sending them back-and-forth between the two classes.
Through these letter exchanges (with students playing secret postman), students practiced their writing skills. It was really important for a third grader to use capital letters and punctuation correctly, after all…they were ‘teaching’ first graders good writing habits, said their wise teacher!
Students also learned empathy as they put themselves in each other’s shoes. They learned to ask appropriate questions; as well, they learned what was proper to include and what wasn’t ‘good’ to include for their recipient to read.
My coordinating teacher and I both unequivocally agreed that our students learned more from these penpal activities than they did from any of our award-winning, curriculum heavy lessons!
At the end of the year, we celebrated by joining each other in the hallway and introduced the penpals for their first face-to-face meeting. I am certain this was an experience that remains a lasting memory for all of them!
Why Grandma Says You Too Should Find A Penpal…
As a grandmother, officially known as “Oma”, I have enjoyed starting a snail mail penpal relationship with my now 4 year old granddaughter. Kayleigh is my oldest grandchild, and judging by this experience, I hope to enjoy the pleasure of being penpals with all of my future grandchildren.
Kayleigh works diligently on learning her letters, tracing them with crayon, markers, and pencils, and reciting them by regularly singing the alphabet song. She scribbles some and writes others legibly, on construction paper, notebook paper, and even coloring pages.
No matter what medium my granddaughter uses, she takes pride in her work and eagerly posts snail mail to her grandmother about once a month.
Even though Kayleigh is adept (like most preschoolers) at using technology and Apps (she calls her Kindle “Pink and Black” because that’s the color of its protective case), she absolutely loves having a penpal!
Her mom, Therese, said Kayleigh enthusiastically checks the mailbox looking for her mail and when she has a letter from her penpal, her smile couldn’t get any bigger!
Practicing the alphabet and learning to spell isn’t a chore or painstaking for Kayleigh because it’s purposeful, thanks to having a snail mail penpal!
If you would like to use the same stationary paper from Amazon that I use with my granddaughter, Kayleigh, click here.
Penpals Build Safe Friendships
With the advent of internet came online dating and other forms of social media. As can be expected, trouble can easily accompany this format of relationship building among virtual strangers.
However, snail mail penpals can be completely safe and secure for children and adults. There are several avenues you can look for your and/or your child’s snail mail penpal.
My Snail Mail Past Penpals
In my preteen/teen years, I admit I was both a nerd and headbanger (insert laughing emoji). How did I combine these two personalities, you ask? Through snail mail penpaling, of course!
In one of my rock star magazines, perhaps Circus or Hit Parader, there was an add for penpals. I submitted my application, consisting of name, address, age, and interests (I give them props for trying their best to connect Bon Jovi fans with Bon Jovi fans, and not Black Sabbath or Alice Cooper fans!).
I imagine there was a small fee, but can’t really remember these 35 years later. I’m certain it wasn’t more than a few dollars though, because I didn’t have any more than that!
After a few weeks, I received my penpal info and subsequently rushed off an introduction letter to my new Massachusetts living, fellow Bon Jovi fan, penpal named Anne. We traded letters, cards, pictures (which we honorably and responsibly returned), stickers, and anything else you could stick a First class, 25 cent postage on for several times a month over several years.
She and I learned the art of writing, for sure. I don’t think I have ever written as neatly as an adult as I did when I was a thirteen year old penpal. And my penpal, Anne, was no different. I never struggled to make out her penmanship then, as I have often done for some fellow teachers today!
We also learned about life in another city. This was quite important in the pre-internet age, but even today, there’s nothing like getting information first-hand, not through some impersonal internet resource.
Eventually we fell out of touch, but Anne and I were true friends throughout middle and most of high school. Never once was anything inappropriately done, nor was safety ever a concern.
Snail Mail Family Penpals
As a first source for a safe snail mail penpal for your child or yourself, simply take Kayleigh and my example and enlist a family member. Even though you already presumably have a built in relationship with your family member, it can certainly be taken to a deeper, more meaningful level with handwritten letters and cards.
One way to get started is simply to think about who in your family you might like to know more about. Perhaps it’s an older aunt or a distant cousin you always heard about but never have gotten to know well.
Or maybe it’s someone you treasure the most and want to add this level of communication to your familial friendship. Or maybe you’re like Kayleigh and me. We live apart and for me to get to stay connected with my granddaughter, this is a way to do it!
Whatever the reason, you can certainly make this an option for finding your safe snail mail pal.
Snail Mail School/Community Penpals
Another option for finding your snail mail penpal safely is your community. As the adult, you could reach out to someone at your work or even look into a community center or library-again, this could be for a personal penpal or for a penpal for your child, or both.
There could be something already established to connect people via this lost art, but if not, start it yourself! Enlist the support of the venue that caught your eye and present your idea for adult or child penpals, or some combination of both.
If you are like us and Catholic, or belong to some other faith-based group, you could look for your penpal there. Connecting a senior group with elementary kids would be a great way to start, and I’m sure you could fit in in some way! Imagine the life-lessons children can learn from our senior citizens, as well as the void children can fill in the lives of our elderly through penpal friendships!
Perhaps you live in a neighborhood with an association distribution list/group or you live in a multi-family condo, townhouse, or apartment building where there are many people available and vetted for safety.
Any of these situations could offer the opportunity to join or start a penpal group or club. With antiquated activities like quilting and canning being all the rage and many looking for a welcome respite from our technological devices, it would probably be quite popular!
Snail Mail Internet Penpals
Now today is a bit different. Using technology, ‘bad people’ have gotten away with a lot, from low crime activities like fisching for your email to spam to high crime like identity theft.
But that’s not to say penpal communication has been corrupted. There are many safe methods for snail mail penpals even via the internet.
With a thorough Google search, you can find several online sites to connect with penpals. Keep in mind, the best kind of penpal involves real paper and pen mail, so be sure to look for a site that is about connecting people in a safe manner, but not communicating online.
Geek Girl PenPals
This is a free site catering to girls looking for a penpal. They have a well-developed website, promoting safety (on the first page they have a banner about safety) and a FAQs page to clarify any questions.
One thing I like after perusing this site is that they match you immediately into ‘age’ houses. The houses are reminiscent of the world of Harry Potter, although the names are related to literature and comic book movies.
Another reason I like this source for finding penpals is that 1) it’s free and 2) they make no mistake that handwritten mail is the expectation.
The site is eye-catching and easy to navigate, so feel free to look for your adult penpal from here. The only drawback I see is that it is not intended for children, as the minimum age is 17.
This site is not free (it’s $20 for 20 match up/penpal friends). However, after looking it over extensively, it’s one of my favorites from an internet provider.
I like that it is designed for children. In fact, it has a section for school groups (or any group of 10 or more) in order to earn a cost reduction, making it appealing to teachers.
I also like that it promotes postal mail penpals only. It provides some suggestions for those looking for online penpals, but it’s main focus is handwritten letter communication…truly the original format.
The only difference with this site from my magazines is that the enrollment information is available online. This makes it convenient, and despite the cost of the match-up, you don’t have to buy a rock star magazine to join!
Another great thing about International PenFriends is that you can be matched with someone internationally. That is, you can correspond with someone in English but also work on another language if you wish.
My final online penpal resource recommendation is InterPals. This site is also free, which makes it friendly to try out. You can match up based on age and interests and it’s also a recommended site for language learning. However, you or your child can be someone’s English practicing partner even if you aren’t interested in learning a foreign language yourself.
This site is geared to match up based on interests you select when joining and is most suitable for 13 and up, although it doesn’t seem to exclude younger. As with anything online especially, parents should moderate their children’s access and that will keep things safe.
InterPals seems best for those looking to include language learning but it does have options for selecting ‘postal penpals only’, so you can ensure your primary purpose is met.
Finding a Snail Mail Penpal Teaches Routines & Patience
One of my favorite reasons for advocating snail mail penpals is that it builds routine and patience in children. In this fast-paced society we live in with food delivery, instant messaging, and online Amazon orders to your house in one day, it’s more and more difficult for a child (or even an adult for that matter) to grasp the concept of waiting.
Using Snail Mail Builds Patience
Snail mail penpal is aptly named snail mail for a reason. Have you ever watched a snail move? It’s quite the patient visual for you and the snail!
You won’t get an instant reply when you drop that envelope into your mail box. In fact, it will probably take a week to get to your recipient and then depending on whenever he or she responds, another week or two at best before you hear back! This is an act of patience.
For an in depth look at the virtue of patience and all that entails, you can read this article by my husband, Mat Booe.
But back to our snail mail! Just look at how meaningful this act of mailing a letter is! Let’s face it. It doesn’t take much to get a text reply after hitting send (though for some reason it seems to take an act of Congress, or some Oscar-worthy, Catholic-mom guilt for me to get a text response from my adult children at times!) But to receive a postal reply, it takes some effort on the sender’s part.
They have to find their paper and writing utensils; or perhaps they must even go to the store to buy some paper, pens, or cards. They sit and craft the letter, sometimes rewriting parts to use just the right words. They may include some inserts like photos or pictures they hand drew, too.
Then they have to put on paid postage. If there is no stamp, then it’s another trip to the store.
Last, they walk the letter to the mailbox or even take it to the post office. All of this takes conscious effort, not haphazardly sending a text, using broken language and abbreviated words.
Yes, there is definitely a lesson in patience in snail mail penpal communication.
Keeping Up A Penpal Relationship Builds Routine
Forming a snail mail penpal relationship builds routine for children and adults, both. When you become a penpal, you are accepting a certain amount of responsibility. You are agreeing to reading, writing, sending, and all that’s in between, in the snail mail penpal bond.
This responsibility becomes your routine. You know that you should look for a letter; that when you get the letter, you should respond. You form a habit of looking, sending and so on and on, in a reasonable manner.
This routine has a time expectation. You understand that you should look/check your mailbox a certain time of day or week. You also understand that you should send the letter after a certain amount of time.
Maybe in your introduction you and your penpal set a norm for this, but if not, the norm is established simply based on your interactions, that is, how long it takes you to receive a letter.
If one of you breaks that routine, it will become evident and need to be repaired or there is the likelihood that your penpal relationship will be broken.
The routine of letter writing is something that will become part of your ongoing life as long as you enjoy your snail mail penpal, and it’s a nice way to teach reciprocation and routine to your child, and for you to hold yourself similarly accountable.
Finding A Penpal Embraces Vulnerability
You are agreeing to being trustworthy and careful with someone’s thoughts and ideals as a penpal. And you are accepting that from another without any proof YET that you can trust that person. There is a certain vulnerability required to finding a snail mail penpal.
Opening yourself up to a penpal relationship requires some vulnerability. You are essentially asking for someone to be your friend. That takes some humility to do in itself.
When you form your penpal bond, you literally share your thoughts and feelings. The very nature of handwriting your letter encourages you to share innermost words with someone. The letter writing process is almost cathartic and therapeutic even, causing you to open up like you would in a journal or diary.
And knowing that once you mail that letter there is now paper with your words on it, out there for anyone to read, takes a step of faith and courage! Yes, indeed, you must be vulnerable and according to experts like Brené Brown, that is a good thing for future leaders.
Penpal Connections Form Tangible Memories
I have such fond memories of my snail mail penpal that I’d recommend it based on that alone. However, now that I’m a penpal with my granddaughter, being snail mail penpals is even more special to me.
The memories are tangible! You have those letters and cards as a concrete reminder of the special bond between you.
The letters and cards are a joy- from the moment you first grab them from mailbox to ripping open the envelope and sitting down to ravish every word, scribble, and drawing.
Then, I have the pleasure of decorating my walls and refrigerators with these treasured papers. Or you might fill a scrapbook or fancy box with your penpal letters. These mementos mark your time in life- they’ve traveled sometimes from across the ocean or continent to your door, with words meant just for you, by someone who thought you deserved it.
I’ll always have this bond in tangible form. It’s irreplaceable, yet lucky me, I’ll get another one, and another one, and another one…
By the way, I also try to make my letters and cards back to Kayleigh extra special, too. I like to include a variety of stickers for my granddaughter-penpal, both on the pages I write and envelope I put them in, and a few loose sheets inside for her use, in each and every letter.
If you’d like to see what stickers I use and recommend, click here for the Amazon link.
Finding A Snail Mail Penpal Wrap Up
- It’s usually free or low-cost to start and maintain.
- Kids love mail, so it has a built-in fun factor!
- It’s backed by research for literacy.
- It teaches routine and patience.
- It is a great, safe way to form and deepen relationships.
- Penpal letters are tangible memories that last a life-time.
I hope you are excited about finding a snail mail penpal for your child and/or yourself. You won’t regret it!