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TOMS One for One

Show of hands: Who knows someone who had — or has — a pen pal?

Has this quaint tradition gone by the wayside since technology gave us a way to avoid “treeware" and stamps, or is it still going strong?

It turns out there are people using the traditional methods as well as today's communication tools to talk to folks the world over. And it's beautiful.


Image of Upside Down Jenny via U.S. Post Office Department.

How did it work back in ye olden days?

If you were in school way back before the Internet existed (I know — unimaginable, right?!), one thing some kids would do is write actual, physical letters to pen pals across the world.

Sometimes a teacher would find the pals for the class to write to as a group, and sometimes the children themselves would figure out who to write to on their own, but they would send letters to that person and have them answered. Sometimes, these updates would be read to the class. Trinkets and photos and stickers would be exchanged.

It introduced children, their family, and their friends to cultures they'd only learned about in encyclopedias or from brief exposure on television.

A quote from one of the letters featured in the video below. Cute, huh? Image via PBS Parents.

Learning how to write things in other languages came with the territory. Finding out about cultural differences — and similarities — was a part of the experience, too. Family traditions, ways of dealing with life's challenges, even perspectives on the happenings of the world would be offered. Or maybe just the old classic, "How are you? I am fine."

Could it work now? Yes!

Sure, it's vastly easier to accomplish this kind of communication today via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, emails, video chats, Vines, and more. Letter writing and communicating with pen and paper might just be disappearing so rapidly that there will be few remnants of it soon — at least for them.

The Internet and all that it offers lets us actually sit down to dinner with pen pals in Tokyo, sing a song with guitar accompaniment by kids in Germany, tour the streets of Lagos, Nigeria, or participate in a Day of the Dead ceremony in Mexico. (Of course, safety is key when interacting with anyone on the Internet.)

Image by Ravindraboopathi/Wikimedia Commons.

But the video below talks about how using paper, pen, and stamps can get kids to slow down and take their time in both writing and waiting for a response.

It's absolutely the opposite of all forms of electronic communication in that it teaches patience, provides practice for creative writing, and cultivates kids' imaginations.

Here, courtesy of PBS Parents, are some kids who are learning very quickly the old-fashioned way what it means to be citizens of the world.

And a few jumping-off places for those who want to dive in right now, using your keyboard or phone: PenPalSchools.com and International PenFriends.