Pen Pal 101: Write to Friends around the World

By Nikki M

Want to get your kiddos in on some snail mail action? Hook them up with a pen pal! Getting in touch with a pen pal is a fun, old-school way to make friends. Unlike modern methods of communication that tend to be quick and rather impersonal, the art of composing a letter is much more intimate. It’s also an engaging way to learn about different cultures, hone those all-important writing and penmanship skills, and enjoy the wonders of patience.

Eager to get started but don't know where to begin? Here's the lowdown on pen pal correspondence for kids:

Finding a Pen Pal

Websites like Students of the World Penpals, International Pen Friends, and Global Pen Friends require you to fill out a confidential application form (that includes your child's age, interests, and country requests), and you’ll have to pay a nominal subscription fee. With the information you provide, they'll match your children up with their ideal pen pals from all around the world!

Worried about handing out personal information? Reach out to family and friends abroad (or even in a different state!) who have kids around the same age as your child. You'll feel more at ease knowing that your kiddo isn't talking to a complete stranger.

Ask your school about pen pal programs. They might set you up with kids from a neighboring district, or even children in a homeschooling program.

Don’t feel limited to exchanging letters with other kids. Consider reaching out to deployed military personnel (A Million Thanks and Operation Gratitude) or the elderly at the local nursing home.

Letter Writing Tips

In the beginning, send out letters to several potential pen pals to ensure sufficient response, especially when using an online service. You can't guarantee that each one will reply— some may take a while, but some members may have gone completely inactive.

Introduce yourself, and talk about how you found them. Perhaps you were matched up on a Pen Pal website. Maybe they're cousins you’ve never met. Bring up any shared interests (from their profile, if applicable) and talk about a bit of yours.

Part of the fun of writing to a pen pal is the conversation, so make sure to keep things open-ended! A simple "hope to hear from you soon!" is nice, but asking questions is even more engaging.

Don't spill all the beans and tell your whole life story in a single letter. You don't want to run out of things to write about, do you? Keep things exciting by only revealing a few things at a time.

As much as possible, keep topics casual and light. Writing to a pen pal should be enjoyable!

Little Extras

Once you've had a decent amount of letter exchange, consider adding little surprises: cool photos, interesting knick-knacks, even artwork! It's a great way to really showcase your personality and (literally) share your interests. When your pen pal starts returning the favor, it'll be like Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa every time the mail comes!

Send your pen pals unexpected mail — it's one thing to wait in anticipation for a letter, but it's a totally different thrill to receive a surprise! Send an extra letter around their birthday, during the holidays, or whenever you feel like it! It's a thoughtful and sweet gesture that shows that you care.

Safety Considerations

If you're not comfortable about using your home address (especially when signing up online and writing to multiple pen pals), consider renting a PO Box at the local post office.

Now that everything can be Google-searched, you might want to have your kiddos go by a pseudonym in the beginning. They've been waiting to go by "Bubbles" their whole lives, so now's their chance!

Now's the time to teach your children about letter writing etiquette and safety. Technically, they're still writing to a stranger— never divulge private, identifiable information.

Once your kids get a hang of this pen pal business, they'll never look at Snapchat the same way again!

Does your kiddo currently have a pen pal? How did you set it up? Share your tips, thoughts, and stories in the comments below!

Tags : language arts   writing   pen pals   global citizenship   

Alissa Hamadey
Would love to do this
Kira Smirnova
I used to have penpals when I was a kid! This is awesome.