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It may seem that real letters have gone the way of penny candy and rotary phones, but there’s one group of kids who can still count on receiving “snail mail”: kids with pen pals. Yes, even in this day of instantaneous communication, there are kids who forgo screen time to write letters to friends they’ve never met. Sound crazy? Not according to the parents and teachers who encourage kids to try it. After all, finding a pen pal is a great way to practice reading and writing, learn about life in other countries, and even practice foreign language skills.
If your child is ready for a pen pal, you have several options. You can ask teachers, especially foreign language teachers, if they know of any contacts in other countries that might be interested in exchanging letters with your child. In many cases, whole youth groups or classes sign up with “sister schools” in other locations. Alternatively, you can register your child with a pen pal program like Amazing Kids, International Pen Friends or Circle of Friends. While some of those programs charge a small fee, they’ll provide your child with a list of names selected with her age and interests in mind, upping the odds that she’ll actually find a friend. Other programs, like Amazing Kids for example, work one-on-one with parents or teachers to help them find the best match for their child.
A word of caution: many of the “pen pal” sites on the web are actually dating or marriage sites. Choose your program carefully and remind your child to exchange letters only with other kids, not to send out photos or other personal information before establishing a real relationship, and to keep the correspondence on paper, at least at first. Many kids do enclose stickers or postcards with their letters.
Your child may have to write to several kids before finding one who writes back. Remind him not to take it personally; as in the real world, relationships take time to develop. If he’s lucky, he’ll make a connection with someone that could last a lifetime.
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