Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pen Pals - Still Valuable, Viable Fun and Learning for Kids

When I was eight, I joined the Bluebirds, a younger version of Girl Scouts. One afternoon our Bluebird leader handed out cards. My card said, Beverly, age 8, and included an address in Hollywood, Florida. The leader announced that the girl on our card was now our pen pal.

“These girls are from a Bluebird troop in Florida. They are our new friends. Each of you will write letters to and exchange pictures with the girl on your card,” she instructed.

I remember being so excited about the idea of writing to someone who lived far away. I didn’t realize that Florida was less than five hours down the road. To me it seemed like a far off enchanted land where Beverly probably swam in the ocean every morning and had dinner with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto on special occasions.

With the help of my mother, I wrote to Beverly, the Bluebird from Florida. Not long after a letter arrived. It was from her! Inside was a letter in sprawling block letters and a picture of a smiling girl with curly hair, freckles, and missing front teeth and no she said she only goes to the beach in the summer and had never met Mickey or Minnie Mouse. We wrote to each other until we turned twelve. I’ve always wondered what happened to her.

Children need the opportunity to connect in a positive way with children from other communities, cultures, and economic backgrounds. It helps them realize that not everyone lives the way they do and diversity is the spice of life. Affluent kids from green suburbs realize that not all kids have PlayStation's, laptops, cell phones, and pools in their back yards. They might learn that their new friend has only the necessities of life but is still optimistic and looking forward to the future.

Kids learn that underneath the cultural differences and language barriers they are all the same…they love to play, love to learn and long to be accepted. In years to come they will carry these lessons into adulthood and be more willing to see connectivity instead of polarization between people of all nations.

My generation is grown and we have children of their own. Our new crop of kids are Internet savvy and rarely pick up a pen for anything but schoolwork. Even so, there are still programs similar to the one Beverly and I were involved in. Now there is the added twist of cross-cultural friendships, cards for sick children sent by healthy children, and sponsorship/pen pal arrangements with children in poverty-stricken areas.

To look into this for a child you care about go to Youth on Line. They have a list of resources to find an appropriate pen pal situation for your child. My favorite, because of the impact and lessons learned, is Make a Child Smile, which allows you to send cards and letters to a featured child struggling with a chronic disease.

Another great way to help, learn and grow is CRIASNA Connection. This organization makes connections between children in the United States and at risk children in a fishing village in Brazil. They ask for sponsorship of one dollar a day for a year. The money goes to the child’s family to be used for household necessities or to pay school fees for secondary education. They hope to foster an environment where the new friends can meet each other and form life long relationships.

I’ll never forget my pen pal. I don’t know what happened to Beverly's letters but I can still see her big grin and remember the funny stories about her dog named Candy. Even though I never met her she will always be part of who I am.


ruthie said...

Hi Lisa,

You have inspired me to have my students to have Internet penpals or epals. I will let you know how that goes.

Also, when my oldest daughter was in third grade her teacher gave her a name and an address for a penpal in Australia. I contacted the mother using the same address and asked if she would like to write back and forth, as well.

Fortunately for me, she said yes. We have written countless letters over the last 20 plus years. We continue to communicate by emails to this day. Although we have never met, I can say she is certainly one of my best friends!

Your friend,

Lisa McGlaun said...

That's wonderful Ruthie! Please let me know how it goes.

I wish I'd kept Beverly's letters. I did for many years but have no idea where they are now.

When one of my sons was in the second grade he had a penpal through his school. He really enjoyed getting the letters and still considers he has a friend in Kentucky although they never met either.

Thanks for commenting,

thewishfulwriter said...

i LOVED my pen pals!!!!

Hmmm....and I'm thinking this would be a really cool thing for our kids too...

I'm gonna bring it up tomorrow :)

Lisa McGlaun said...


If I understand what you said about the kids you work with, I bet a pen pal situation would be great for them. Maybe pull them out of themselves for a while, if you know what I mean.


Sky Watcher said...

nice blog


Lisa McGlaun said...

Thanks Skywatcher,

Come back any time..:)


NeoAuteur said...

I used to have a pen pal who lived in France. We corresponded in French. It was a great experience.

Lisa McGlaun said...


I would have loved to have a pen pal from another country. Guess it's not too late. Just because I'm a kid doesn't mean that I can't write letters, does it?..:)

Thanks for the comment,

Peter said...

Penpals? I can't remember the last time I wrote a letter, with everything being electronic these days.

I wonder if the art of hand writing is over.

I know kids learn to write at school but with email and computer generated assignments, do they really remember how to actually hand write a letter.

I know my parents and grandparents had beautiful handwriting and it was a joy to read them.

I am ashamed of my handwriting. I just tell people I write like a doctor!

Lisa McGlaun said...


I think many of the programs for kids now are communication through email. Although, in developing countries, most families do not have access to the Internet. Writing letters is still an important form of connection. But, I know exactly what you mean.

We've all moved into the electronic age and rarely use paper and pen any more.

Thanks for the comment.