K. Male'
18 Jan 2020 | Sat 08:46
Pen friendship has been dated back to the 1930s
Pen friendship has been dated back to the 1930s
Pen Pal Programs
Born of pen and paper; pen friendship, a fading art
Having a person to catch up with every time you hear from them is bound to feed the wonder in young minds
As children get to practice young writing skills, they also get to unleash their creativity and travel the world without ever leaving the house

Dated back to the 1930s, when handwritten letters had to go through a long process to get delivered via ships, trains or even delivery by animals, pen paling has been encouraged by teachers worldwide for years and is a proven favorite pastime among avid writers and readers. While it provides an excellent routine for students to improve their communication skills, writing skills, they also get to learn about people and their timeless cultures, globally.

Through pen pal programs, young and developing minds have been seeking profound knowledge of the world outside their small shells and making friends from across the world since the earliest of days. While e-mails soon replaced letter-writing, I personally believe there is no replacing the personal touch that adds to a handwritten letter, and a committed handful continue programs that enable the younger generations to reconnect with the old-school method that kept us on our toes back in the day.

Implementing fun into teaching.

Students at Kinbidhoo School. Photo by Shilfa.

Aishath Shilfa, 26, teaches students from eighth to tenth grades at Kinbidhoo School and is hoping to begin a pen pal program in collaboration with a Malaysian teacher with the aim to help her students improve their English and writing skills overall. The young teacher who is just a little over two years into her career, aspires her students to have “something to look forward to” through this program.

Shilfa dreams of helping rid the education system of old-school traditional lecture methods and divert to student-centered teaching. With the objective of initiating many such activities in the future if the pen pal program works out well, Shilfa believes in embedding fun into the learning process and is grateful for the management of Kinbidhoo School for the support, being focused on innovative teaching methods.

If this works out, maybe more teachers can participate because I know a lot were interested. I just need to research into this a bit more, try to find ways to so that this method can reach every teacher looking for innovative teaching methods. Both me and the teacher that I selected decided to make students write old school letters and with ink and then mail the soft copies. He will take print outs and give them to his kids. We decided on this because we need to improve their hand writing as well. Since their letters are going to be read by others we thought that they will put more efforts in improving their hand writing too.”
Shilfa, Kinbidhoo School teacher

Many Twitter users, and teachers pitched ideas following Shilfa’s initiative, some in favor of handwritten letters and some leaning more towards the convenience of virtual letters.

Although Shilfa received countless positive responses from interested teachers worldwide including from the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Australia, she plans to take baby steps through one teacher and then expand the initiative after results, expected to be fruitful.

Shilfa’s tweet made me euphoric with nostalgia and I muttered a silent ditto to another Twitter user who dubbed her as his “new favorite teacher”, as I was introduced to a pen pal program which soon began my favorite part of the week or month at the ripe age of nine.

The allure of handwritten letters.

Handwritten letters. Photo by Pinterest.

Inside the tiny, overly decorated and stuffy library was where the lucky six students –selected by the principal back in the day– sat around a table lined with stamps, postcards and stationery. “How is the weather in Australia?” a student writes in small, chubby letters while another wrote “I am looking forward to learn about your hobbies” in an almost calligraphy-font, too good for a nine-year-old while there I sat with my indecipherable handwriting, scribbling my heart out and almost running out of ink two pages in.

Despite technology having ruled out the need to send handwritten letters and pen paling began with snail mail, e-mails are just not the same as the effort and interest you put into sitting down and spilling your secrets, experiences and interests on paper for a friend you do not get to spend a lot of time with in order to create memories with, looking forward to hear from you from across a stretch of vast seas and land.

The process of choosing fancy stationary and sinking into a deep concentration on your handwriting is even therapeutic. There is intimacy that e-mails do not offer and you learn to love the long wait at the end of which is something that was worth it, be it the description of a new pet your pen pal has adopted that you can almost visualize, with a picture of her grinning ear-to-ear in an oversized dungaree and hair too big for someone so small.

Many of us in the 90s can link half of the fun of pen paling to seeking out a variety of stamps, post cards, decorative stickers, sheets and envelopes among a bounty of stationery and at the end of the day, the nostalgia and charm of a handwritten letter remains strong for some of us committed book-sniffers.

Travel without leaving your house.

Children get to unleash their creativity through such programs. Photo by Pinterest.

Friendships born of pen and paper have shared giggles, tears and bitter experiences through milestones including academic achievements, crushes who came and went and consecutively to scholarships, new jobs and even new beginnings, if the bond remains strong.

I remember eagerly waiting for the postman. I would rip through the packages to find the small colorful envelop from Leah, that’s my pen pal’s name. I would sit with my mother and read her letters out loud. This helped my mother, whose English was poor at the time, to learn and it helped my translation get better too. I believe pen pal programs benefit in more ways than you realize. It helps you and even other around you to absorb knowledge, we can never have enough of that. We get to learn about different traditions, cultures and lifestyles. It is exciting, thrilling”
Participant of a pen pal program in the 90s.

To a handful like myself, the feel of pen and paper and the effort to spill thoughts on paper is invaluable and it is important to have something to look forward to in your learning years. As children get to practice young writing skills, they also get to unleash their creativity, learn to express themselves openly and more so importantly, travel the world without ever leaving the house. Having a person to catch up with every time you hear from them is bound to feed the wonder in young minds.

In this regard, kudos to teachers inspired to initiate such projects to help young minds grow, learn and seek knowledge outside of the world they are accustomed to. Here is hoping that such initiatives will help younger generations get in touch with their creativity, build their life skills and expand their knowledge.

Last updated at: 2 years ago
Reviewed by: Zihnath Hassan
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