1. How to get started...
First of all, you will need to find another class to pen pal
with! If you are both on the Internet, then you could become
"key pals" as well. There are many places on the Internet
to find classes wanting to pen pal. For example, you can do a
search on the Teachers.Net
website with the words "pen pal" and find a variety
of teachers looking for pen pals. (If you know of a good Internet
source for classroom pen pals, let me know and I'll add a link
to it from here!) Roughly plan out your time frame, as some
areas have different school holidays, and you have to allow for
"unexpected delays" in the snail mail. My buddy and
I generally have the Stuffies visit for a couple of months in
between her Australian start of the year in January and my Canadian
end of the year in June.
If you want a more intensive experience, there are also "high
energy" programs available which may involve a group of
five to ten classrooms, a committment to keeping on schedule,
and a more extensive use of technology (for emailing, sending
digital photos, keeping a website etc). One source for these
programs is the Projects Chatboard for Traveling
Buddies at Teachers.Net. Actually, June/00 marks the first
time that I even realized that other teachers were involved in
a project similar to mine. Again I have to say... isn't networking
marvelous! By virtue of this Project Chatboard, I can learn about
other similar programs!
Another idea is to try out the Flat Stanley approach, sending
a paper person. If you are not familiar with the Flat Stanley
books by Jeff Brown, be sure to check out his website! The Flat
Stanley project has become world famous and has hundreds of members!
(Being an animal lover myself, I am tempted to adapt the story
to something like "Flat Hamster Adventures" instead!)
2. How to choose your "mascot"
The underlying theme for Caroline and myself was to share information
about our countries across the two hemispheres, so we chose to
repeatedly use animals representative of our own countries. This
fit in well with my personal passion, which is Classroom
Animals and Pets!
In keeping with a basic "animal" theme, other ideas
* focus on one animal type, such as birds, fish or insects etc.
* focus on one habitat, such as ocean creatures, pond or forest
* limit the exchange to a Stuffie representing the classroom
pet, such as a hamster
* fantasy animals from famous legends or fairytales
Think about what you want your class to learn about. Is it
local customs? geography? habitats? weather? Perhaps you have
a very specific theme such as "fish" or "endangered
species". Perhaps you are more interested in the social/communication
aspect and don't have any other curriculum areas in mind. In
that case, why not just have a class vote on what to send!
A word of caution: As careful and as caring as a teacher
may be, there is always the possibility that your "mascot"
Stuffie will be damaged or worse, lost in the mail. Don't send
irreplacable or overly expensive items!
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3. Basic equipment:
You can have a lot of fun deciding what to send with your "mascot".
You might even make the package a class project (hmmm... I've
never tried that myself! It sounds like a good idea!)
* cloth carrying bag (for children to transport back and forth
to their homes)
* list of all the items that are in the bag (very important!)
* fake citizenship papers and/or passport (add a little "authenticity"
for your arriving "tourist")
* introductory letter (you might add some fantasized details
about the "trip" over)
* hard cover diary/journal to keep a log of events, souvenir
postcards, photos etc. (note: This book gets a lot of wear and
tear!) You might start off the journal yourself with the Stuffie
"telling about himself" . This book gets returned to
you with the mascot.
* optional: a "fill-in-the-blanks" photocopyable letter,
perhaps in a folder or lightweight binder, for each child to
complete when having a turn taking the Stuffie home. You decide
what information you are interested in (eg. what they ate for
dinner, what's their favourite book or song). This allows you
to collect some "facts" about the differences between
localities, something that doesn't always show up in those delightful
journal writings that children do!
* optional: perhaps you have some lesson plans or activities
that are appropriate to the type of Stuffie, to learning about
your country, or to the overall theme this project represents
* non-fiction books about the animal (These are a gift to the
* fiction books about the animal (Include a few fun books, short
* non-fiction books about your own country (Again, these become
a resource for your buddy teacher.)
NOTE: Exchanging books can get expensive, but it is really a
great way to build up your resources. It is especially rewarding
when you partner with the same teacher for several years. I Sometimes
I even buy two of each book - so that I can keep one book for
my own "resource library" on Canadian animals.
POSTAGE: Keep in mind, however, that postage on heavy books is
another expense. You definitely want to make sure that your package
is well sealed, clearly addressed, and sent air-mail!
4. Personalized items:
These add a bit of "background" for your visiting mascot.
* A few photos of the Stuffie at your school, in your classroom
etc. (Note: Remember that photos of children cannot be posted
on the Internet without written parental permission.) I've never
had problems with photos in the diary, but be aware if there
are any sensitive family issues. I do send home diaries from
past years with each child so my parents get to see photos of
Australian children etc. and that way become familar with the
* letters from your class (This is really great if you can start
off the project with a letter from each child. Alternatively,
letters can go home with the visiting Stuffie at the end of the
* drawings from your class
* small souvenirs that can be distributed at the other end (stickers,
erasers, bookmarks, postcards etc. that are representative of
your country). (Don't forget to send a nice souvenir for the
teacher too... like a T-shirt with a fancy logo on it, special
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5. Things to do during the "visit":
* It's very important that you let your partner teacher know
when the Stuffie has arrived! Preferrably, you can send an email.
(Why not let the Stuffie be the author!)
* For the most part, you just want that visiting Stuffie to share
in your ordinary daily life. Let the children take turns (when
appropriate) at calendar time, math, silent reading, and so on.
* Take lots of photos... library time, in the gym, recess, visiting
the school secretary and the principal. It's fun to put captions
in the diary as if the mascot was speaking... "Hey, today
everybody was working really hard on their Science projects.
I learned all about Space! Did you know that you are weightless
on some planets and very heavy on others? Wow!"
* Field trips! Having your visiting Stuffie along adds a little
extra sparkle and makes for super "tourist photos"
for the diary. Sometimes it is good to pick up a few postcards
* Overnight visits with each of the children often results in
some very interesting photos! You might even send along a disposable
camera... but specify how many "snaps" are allowed
per child! BTW, be sure to send that list of "everything
that's in the bag" so that Mom and Dad can check that all
* I use a "fill in the blanks" letter for overnight
visits (although I send the diary too.) The Stuffie always gets
a turn for "Author Sharing" the next day!
* Collect drawings and writings from the class as formal activities,
and provide the opportunity for extra contributions as well.
How about a mailbox for the Stuffie? (You may have to do some
discreet sorting, however, before you send all those letters
* Set up a learning center about the visiting Stuffie, with books,
maps, posters etc.
* Have a party! It might be a celebration of the country/area
where the Stuffie comes from or maybe you might like to open
the party up to the children bringing favourite stuffed animals
If you have Internet access:
* You can email regular letters from one Stuffie to another,
telling how the visit is going.
* Log onto an Internet weather site and add the weather forecast
from the other teacher's locality to your daily calendar activities
(or if access is a problem, do this once a week)
* Use a digital camera, a photo-service for developing on the
Internet, or just scan in regular photos to send along with some
of your emails.
* Set up a webpage on your school website, or on a free server,
to share some of the ongoing adventures with parents at home.
It doesn't have to be fancy! (Remember... no photos showing the
children's faces unless you have written parental permission,
and use first names only or no names for artwork/writing.)
6. The final wrap-up
* A "good-bye party" is always nice. I usually like
to have an "Australia Day" at the end of the visit.
We watch Aussie videos off and on all day, while learning some
facts about Australia, and completing activities/lessons sent
by my dear buddy teacher. We have a big fruit salad as a treat,
along with some Marmite on crackers and ginger candies.
* Organize the books and activities that you were given in a
box, along with some short notes on what activities worked well
(or didn't!), and when they occured. This makes the next year's
planning much easier.
* Gather together the Stuffie, cloth bag, diary, letters, artwork
and so on and package them really well before sending them off
air-mail. If possible, send some inexpensive individual souvenirs
for the other class. Send a separate note or email to let the
other teacher know they are on the way.
* Depending on the time frame, I like to give my previous years'
Stuffies the chance to rotate through the class on overnight
visits as well. I include several books about the (Canadian)
animal as well as the books I was given about the (Australian)
counterpart Stuffie. That's how I make all that hard "teacher
work" of collecting resources beneficial all over again.
One year I ran out of time and sent three Stuffies home with
three children each night. I won't do that again... it's the
only time that my class lost some of those special Australian
books! If we run out of time again then the (one) child will
have to choose which Stuffie they take home.
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...and that's the "Traveling
If you have any questions or if you have some other ideas to
please feel free to email me!