Old-Fashioned Pen Pals

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When I was around twelve years old, I had a pen pal — not a Facebook friend or a texting buddy or an email friend, but an old-fashioned pen pal. Her name was Meiko; she was from Japan. I don’t remember now if I got her name at school or at Girl Scouts or from my 4-H leader. I don’t remember who wrote whom first, but somehow Meiko and I became pen pals and began to write letters back and forth between Tennessee and Japan.

One time Meiko and I exchanged gifts. She sent me this set of dolls.

Meiko's Dolls
Wooden Japanese Dolls, c. 1965

I don’t think many people worried about a child corresponding with someone from another country when I was a child. I certainly never heard of adults portraying themselves as children so they could gain a child’s trust and then harm them.

Bethany and Mary Evelyn had pen pals when they were girls, too, but they were safe ones. My friend Connie had German friends who had two daughters and who wanted them to have pen pals. Our girls were happy to write them. John also had a pen pal of sorts. As a teen, John taught Bible correspondence courses through a program at our church in Illinois. John and one particular student from Zimbabwe became regular correspondents.

John, Bethany, Mary Evelyn, and I all enjoyed making friends through correspondence and having a connection with someone in another culture. Pen pals provide many learning opportunities.

  • Handwriting practice — That one is obvious.
  • Patience — Our instant world isn’t always so instant. We all do a lot of waiting. Waiting for letters is good practice.
  • Geography — That is obvious, too.
  • Planning — This may seem silly, but letter writing takes planning–planning I have never quite mastered. Sometimes it seems almost inevitable that I will get to the bottom of my stationery and have one more sentence to squeeze in, before adding a tiny signature at the very bottom of the paper.

Since you are a homeschooling mama, I’m sure you can think of more pen pal learning objectives. And, of course, letter writing counts as school. Remember, you can’t cover everything, but you can count everything!

When I was in public school, we learned about the proper way to write letters — where to put the date; what a salutation, body, and closing are; where to write the address and return address. We addressed our letters to Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Master. I miss the days when things like that meant more to the majority of people than they do now.

Knowing and practicing social graces like proper letter writing were a part of good breeding. Maybe something like letter writing isn’t seen as important as it once was, but good breeding is essential, no matter what trends society says are important.

Paul wrote letters to his “children in the faith” in Corinth, Greece. He said that those Christians were his letters. Your children are yours.

You are our letter, written in our hearts,
known and read by all men.
2 Corinthians 3:2


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  1. I had a pen pal too, probably a couple of them over the years. I had to laugh at the comment about having no room for signing your name. I sometimes would come up with something else to say, just so I could write on the back and then sign it. 🙂

  2. When I was in third grade, I had a school friend named Akiko, who was Japanese. At the end of the school year she moved to Japan, and believe it or not, we have stayed in touch through Christmas letters for all these years since! Several of my children have pen pals that they keep up with as well, since we’ve moved around quite a bit. We all agree that even though we appreciate blogs and social media, there’s something very special about good old-fashioned snail mail!:-)

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