When I first started on our homeschool journey, I never put much thought into having a penpal. The idea occurred to me as a way for A-Man to stay in touch with his first playmate. We were living in South Carolina and I met a wonderful women on a mom’s site. We became instant friends and our babies were the same age. Her daughter was less than two months younger than A-Man. After we moved north, it became harder to keep in touch. We used social networking sites but at the time they were not as popular as they are now.
When both of our children hit the preschool age, we both made the decision to homeschool (independently of the other). I was excited that we both chose the same path for educating our children. I recalled the joy that I had in writing letters to my grandparents and getting letters in return. I still have some of those letters and go back and read them from time to time. It was through this memory that the idea of a homeschool penpal came alive. A-Man could keep in touch with his first playmate and share his homeschooling journey with her through letters.
When we first started this project, the children were too young to write their own letters, so we had them tell us what they wanted to say and we wrote the letter. They also shared some stickers and a favorite worksheet they completed that week. As they got older, they began writing the letters themselves. This was an amazing thing for A-Man because he doesn’t like the act of writing practice. Instead of using handwriting worksheets, he gets in his handwriting practice with the letters. I encourage him to work on using appropriate uppercase and lowercase letters, sentence structure, and punctuation. The key word is encourage. I may use some gentle instruction but I do not hover over his shoulder waiting to pounce if he makes a mistake. The idea is for this to be a fun way to practice writing skills with low pressure.
The moms write letters too. We may share something new we are doing, recipes, or just words of encouragement. This friendship has been such an amazing blessing to me and I am watching the same result for A-Man. He watches for the mail truck with anticipation for that letter. When it arrives, it is hard not to share in his excitement! I have watched his writing improve from the ability to write a letter to a friend.
Recently, another friend moved away. He is not homeschooled, but his mother inquired about her son and Aidan being penpals. I asked Aidan first because I did not want him to be overwhelmed, but he immediately said yes. He now has two penpals and two opportunities to practice writing skills. He is also learning how to properly respond to a letter by answering questions that were posed to him and also discussing things mentioned in his penpals’ letters. He is learning some valuable skills that go beyond school-based checklists.
There are many groups out there that look for penpals for children. It is important to do research to ensure that these groups are safe for your children. Family members can make great penpals as well. I wrote to a cousin for a while when I was younger. Of course, this was before social networking but I still think there is great value in knowing how to write a letter by hand.
Will you use penpals in your home?