We could all use a little more connection — especially given the socially-distant year we just had. Our kids, in particular, need a social outlet. It’s vital for their mental health. And when our options for in-person gatherings are limited, we’ve got to think outside the box. Thankfully, we live in an era where you can video chat with family and friends, so it’s almost like they’re right there in the same room. Technology can be wonderful, right? There’s something to be said for old-fashioned connection, though. Handwritten letters may be considered relics now, but let’s be honest: On the rare occasion they show up in the mail, it’s impossible not to feel special. What if we could introduce our kids to this treasured tradition of long ago? Well, you can. Pen pals for kids are a great way to keep connected… even in 2021.
Pen pals have other benefits, too. If you can pair up with those out of state or even internationally, you gain the unique opportunity to connect with the world around you in a more meaningful way. Another cool thing about pen pals? Encouraging your kiddo to exchange letters is an incognito way to sneak in spelling, vocabulary, and grammar practice.
So, now that you know why your kid needs a pen pal — STAT — let’s talk about how to make that happen. Below, we’ll outline five ways to help your kid find a pen pal.
Classic Ways to Find a Pen Pal for Your Kid
Keep it in the family.
This option works well for those with extended family or friends who live out of state. If your kid has a grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousins, or friends that live far away, writing letters is a thoughtful way to stay in touch.
Extend a hand (or a pen) to older adults.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that life is short. We need to cherish those we love! Not only are older adults at a much higher health risk than much of the population, but the isolation they’ve experienced has also been devastating for their mental health. Many don’t have family, or if they do, their family members are unable to visit. Reach out to a local nursing home or assisted living facility to see if they can help connect you with a resident who could use a pick-me-up. Bonus — with age comes wisdom, and what a privilege it will be for your child to exchange stories with someone who has experienced so much life!
Try a new way of keeping in touch with local friends.
With many schools closed, kids aren’t getting to see friends in person right now. Though technology allows our kids to keep in touch via text and video chat, it might be time to consider giving analog a try. See if you can connect with your child’s teacher or their classmates’ parents to get a pen pal exchange set up. If you homeschool, you can reach out to other homeschool parents to do this.
Get social on social media.
If you’re in any mom groups on social media, these are a great way to find pen pals for your kid. In fact, there are entire groups on Facebook dedicated solely to this purpose. As always, use caution when communicating with strangers online — be sure to vet anyone in contact with your kid.
International Pen Pals
Your child corresponding with an international pen pal is an excellent opportunity to broaden their horizons and enrich their life perspective. The following are a few reputable organizations aimed at connecting kids on a global level:
Other Safe Pen Pal Programs and Ideas
Have your child write to their favorite author.
Now that we’re all spending more time at home, screen-free activities are something on every mom’s radar. It’s all too easy to look up at 5 o’clock and realize the entire family has been staring at our collective screens the entire day. Between virtual school and remote work and using the internet to connect with friends and family, sometimes it’s nice to unplug. Reading is a great way to do that. Helpful hint: Audiobooks pair very well with quiet activities like Legos, puzzles, and coloring.
If your child has a favorite book series, have them try out the handwritten letter thing by reaching out to the author. Need an author’s contact info? You can find it in a few different ways. No. 1, write to the publisher “in care of” the author — information you can usually find on the inside of the book cover or the publisher’s website. Or No. 2, you can check the author’s website or social media for contact information. Granted, the author may not respond. But if they do, it will be a memorable experience for your kiddo.
Send a letter to an astronaut.
Um, hello, how did we not realize this was a thing before?! Talk about an, ahem, out-of-this-world opportunity for kids. Here’s how NASA’s correspondence program works. First, you and your little one should peruse astronaut biographies on NASA’s website. Once they pick out their astronaut pen pal, your child should write their letter and send it to:
NASA/Johnson Space Center
Houston, TX 77058
In return, your little aspiring astronaut may receive handwritten letters and even autographed photos from NASA’s “space sailors.”
Strike up a friendship with a scientist.
Calling all tiny STEM fans! This incredible program is for you. The mission of Letters to a Pre-Scientist is “to facilitate one-on-one-connections to humanize STEM professionals, demystify STEM career pathways, and inspire all students to explore a future in STEM.” With that aim, the Letters to a Pre-Scientist pen pal program, or LPS, connects fifth- to tenth-grade students with STEM professionals.
Thank a soldier.
You’ve probably heard of pen pal soldier programs, right? Well, Operation Gratitude is the golden standard. All it takes is a simple visit to their website to get registered, after which they’ll email you a letter-writing guide with printable coloring sheets for kids.
What Should a Pen Pal Letter Say
Sometimes there’s so much you want to say in a letter, you don’t know where to begin. The key to writing is to relax and not overthink it. Just pretend you’re chatting with a buddy. To get started, here are a few things you should mention in your letter.
- Write about what your day or week is usually like. It will help your pen pal relate to you and understand you better.
- Avoid mentioning the news or general topics. Everything included should relate to you (or them), what you did, or how you’re feeling. This will help you both learn more about each other.
- Make sure you’re asking your pen pal questions like you would in an in-person conversation.
- Once you get into a writing flow, it’s hard to pull the brakes, but try your best not to write too much.
Questions to Ask a Penpal
Getting to know someone can take a lifetime, especially a pen pal. So, here are several questions you can use to get to know your pen pal quicker and better.
- What is your favorite animal?
- What is your favorite TV show?
- What are your biggest fears?
- Do you have any birthmarks?
- How tall are you?
- Do you like or dislike surprises?
- What has been your most memorable birthday so far, and why?
- What is your favorite meal?
- What is your favorite snack?