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Having A Pen Pal Can Make Your Kid A Better Reader & So Much More

by Cat Bowen

The idea of having a pen pal in the digital age seems whimsical, possibly even antiquated. With all of the rapid fire mediums available to us, why sit down and write a long form letter to someone you don't know? Admittedly, it is initially an awkward endeavor, with the intimacies of the getting-to-know-you stage drawn out over the course of several letters. However, recent research has suggested that there are five benefits of having a pen pal that warrant further discussion.

For many of us who grew up in the '90s, pen pals were children we met at summer camp, or perhaps, kids who moved to a different state, when we wished to continue the friendship. Some intrepid letter writers like myself, found pen pal correspondence services and made friends for life with people a world away. There has been a resurgence in the notion of keeping a pen pal, as the digital world makes quick work of most of our communication. For children, teachers are at the helm of this ship, guiding programs that have been shown to increase cultural awareness, literacy, and personal confidence, according to Western Oregon University.

The forced slowness of the process is in such contrast to the abbreviated forms of conversation, that children might be wary at first, but in time, learning to craft letters can truly be one of life's great joys.


It Increases Literacy


People who read a great deal are better writers; people who write, tend to be better readers. This is the mantra of every writer or student of English or Journalism, but we rarely apply the same belief to our children's education. Their writing assignments are mostly prescriptive: an expository article, an essay, a prompted poem. An article in The Reading Teacher argued that having a pen pal can increase literacy through unprompted, reactionary writing, and engaged, thoughtful reading. Having a pen pal, the article continued, could "potentially provide an atmosphere for learning that incorporates a safe social context, an attentive audience, a meaningful exchange of ideas, and individual and personal response-all of which are situations likely to increase motivation to write better and to write more."


They May Gain Educational Confidence

Thanks to a great deal of cooperation between universities and elementary schools, the number of specialized pen pal programs has been on the rise. These programs are designed to pair students based on a specific educational goal, such as learning binary or a foreign language. One such program run through Iowa State University evaluated the use of a pen pal program in creating a garden, and the found that not only were the students more able to explain and understand the concepts of the garden after exchanging letters with their pen pal, but they were more confident and successful in their own gardening as well, as research published on the university website revealed.


Promotes Confidence in General

Minority students without a system of support of a culture similar to their own might struggle with finding a sense of community, which may decrease their overall self-confidence, according to The Journal of Reading. Researchers studied the effects of finding a community through the use of a pen pal program and found that the deliberate, curated connections formed through a pen pal can boost confidence and create that sense of community on a significant level.


Can Lead To Lifelong Friendships

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I began writing my pen pal when I read an ad for pen pals in the back of the Highlights Magazine when I was nine years old. In the decades since, my South Korean pen pal, Soo, and I have maintained our friendship through college, marriage, and kids. In the past few years, we have chatted via Skype, messaged on FaceBook, and tweeted a ton, but we have never stopped writing long letters. For us, it's catharsis. We are each other's sounding block and life editor. It has been a gift in my life.


Can Promote Cross Cultural Learning

In the same way that I learned about South Korea through Soo, she learned about the United States through me. Research shows that this isn't limited to just us. The Oakland University wrote that people who engage in a cross cultural pen pal relationship are more culturally intelligent and culturally sensitive. In addition to that, students who were economically disadvantaged were bolstered by their conversations with people in other class groups, and showed more confidence in their own potential.

In a climate rife with xenophobia and cultural ineptness, this might be the biggest benefit.