When I was in fifth grade, my family moved to a Cincinnati suburb from Illinois. I knew the only way I was going to keep in touch with any of my friends was to write them letters. I soon discovered there was nothing quite as exciting as getting mail, scrawled penmanship and all, addressed to me.
It was the knowledge that someone was thinking about me, that they took the time to sit down at the kitchen table or their bedroom and tell me what they were thinking—what they’d done that week, a favourite memory of us, a suggestion for a movie I should watch or a book I should read.
This week is Universal Letter Writing Week, which seems like as good a time as any to get your kid their first pen pal. Not only is it fun, but it can help improve your child’s reading and writing skills, teach patience (there’s no immediate gratification of getting a text back two seconds after tapping “send”) and hone their social skills. According to Very Well Family:
Having a pen pal promotes many key skills, including reciprocation (a letter filled with all “me” and no questions does not make for a good pen pal relationship!), empathy and mutual concern. It also fosters the ability to search for and find common bonds, a key element of true friendship.
But what if your child doesn’t know anyone in any other zip codes? What if your kid doesn’t have any out-of-town cousins? There are organisations that can help match your child up with another who’d love to be their pen pal.
This Australian company wants to make sure you don’t just get a pen pal, but that you get the right pen pal. When you sign up for Global Penfriends, you’ll complete a detailed profile, which asks for things like age, spoken language and what kind of correspondence you’d like, such as candy swap, mail art pal, or a snail mail pal.
You can select your interests from a huge list, including animals/pets, dancing, nature, reading/writing and horses and riding. There are even open-ended questions, asking how the pen pal spends their time, cultural details about their home country and what kind of pen pal they’re hoping to find.
Answering all those questions may feel a bit like filling out a dating profile, but it’s a great way to make sure your child is matched with exactly the right person.
If you’re not interested in filling out such a detailed profile, Penpal World asks for only an email address, birthday, gender and country. Plus, there are some privacy controls in place: Minors can block adults and users can block entire countries.
The site boasts 2.3 million members and has been around since 1998. Testimonials on the site range from teenagers to senior citizens. Rainy, 14, from India, says:
I wrote this message simply to thank you for creating this wonderful site. Needless to say, I’ve made a few awesome friends here and even found a best friend. If it weren’t for Penpal World, I’d never have that chance.
International Pen Friends
This group, which has been around since 1967, has more than 300,00 members across 192 countries. It can match your child with another child of the same age.
The application form for International Pen Friends asks for traditional identifying info (name/address/age/etc.), as well as their interests and hobbies, plus what items they’d like to exchange, such as cards, souvenirs and books.
Please note that this particular service requires an age-based fee. Program membership lasts for one year and your child will be connected with multiple potential pen pals.
A number of private pen pal groups also exist on Facebook to help parents find snail mail friends for their kids. International Pen Pals For Kids! is one that says its goal is to bring kids together from across the world for friendship and diversity. At two years old, it’s just shy of 900 members.
Posters share photos and descriptions of their kids, including details like age, interests and locations. Recent posters and commenters are from Zambia, Ghana, North Carolina, Maine, Washington and Texas.