How to Teach Your Kids About the World With a Pen Pal

Do your kids have a special term for the child your family sponsors? Some kids use “sponsored friend,” “long-distance sister” or “brother in Uganda.”

But what about “international pen pal”?

Thinking of the child you sponsor as a pen pal could inspire your kids to write more letters. And that gives you a positive response whenever they say they’re bored this summer: “Why don’t we write to our pen pal?”

Second, the experience can teach them:

  • How other cultures are different from and similar to their own.
  • Common words and phrases in your sponsored child’s language.
  • The parts of a letter.
  • Handwriting or typing skills.
  • Patience while waiting for a letter in response.
  • Perspective on the blessings in their lives.

Most important, becoming an international pen pal will brighten the day — and life — of the child you sponsor.

Sponsored children treasure the letters they receive from their sponsors, often storing them in the safest places in their homes and taking them along if they move. For children living in the most difficult circumstances, these letters of encouragement are welcome sources of hope.

A girl in a black and white striped shirt sits in front of a mural of two swans and a moral.

“My sponsor is 19 years old. When I write to my sponsor, I tell her about my family,” says Seferash in Ethiopia. “I tell her how I go to school with my friends. When I get a letter I am happy. I want to know what my sponsor is doing.”

Here are a few steps to becoming an expert pen pal.

Make a commitment. Ask your children to commit to writing a certain number of letters this summer, even if you don’t receive letters back in between. You could even write out the commitment and have them sign it. Make a schedule to refer to, or mark the days you’ll write on your calendar.

Start learning! Check out a children’s book at the library about the country where your sponsored child lives. You can also check out the pages for each of the countries where Compassion works. This can help your kids come up with questions to ask based on the facts they learn and pictures they see.

Master a few phrases. Have your kids research how to say “hello” in your sponsored child’s language and use that in your greeting to your letters. You could also learn phrases like “How are you?” and “God bless you.”

Three boys sit in a row at a desk outside, each writing a letter. They all smile at the camera.

Bemnet, Biniyam and Nathnael in Ethiopia sit down to write their sponsors a letter.

Teach Your Children the Parts of a Letter

When your family is ready to start writing that first letter in your exciting role of international pen pal, start with a lesson on the five basic parts of a letter: heading, greeting, body, closing and signature.

Heading

That’s the date you’re writing the letter. Typically, you put it in the upper right-hand side.

June 21, 2019

Greeting

Your greeting should be on its own line. You can go with the classic “Dear Name,” or choose something more casual. Just make sure the translator will understand.

Dear Maria,

¡Hola, Maria!

Body

This is your main message. Share information about yourself and also ask questions about the person you’re writing to. To be the best international pen pal, write in plain language, keeping your translator in mind. Avoid idioms and cut down on contractions. Instead of saying something like “hang in there,” which is an idiom, use “don’t give up.” Change words like “I’d” to “I would.”

Share about your summer activities and sprinkle in questions for your sponsored child. Don’t worry if the activities don’t seem that exciting to you. To your pen pal in another country, the details of your everyday life are interesting!

International Pen Pal Pro Tip: Avoid talking about your family’s possessions. Instead, talk about your experiences and prayers.

It’s summer where I live, which means I have a break from school. My family is taking a trip to Iowa to visit my grandpa. I’m excited about all the things we will do there, like swimming in a lake and watching fireworks.

This summer I have been playing a lot of baseball with my friends. We play in a field near my home. My family also likes to go to baseball games to cheer for our local team. What is your favorite sport or game?

I just finished reading a great book called “The Boxcar Children.” It is about four orphans who make a home in a train car they find in a forest. I liked how exciting it was because the children have many adventures. Have you read any books recently?

At vacation Bible school, I memorized a new verse! It is Joshua 1:9 and says this: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Closing

The fourth part of a letter is the closing, which is a short expression followed by a comma.

Blessings,

With love,

We will write again soon,

Signature

Write or sign your name. This is a great way for your kids to practice their signatures or cursive skills.

You’re ready to be an international pen pal!

A boy wearing a grey sweatshirt that says "Army" gives the thumbs up sign while holding a pen and paper.

We hope these ideas help your family grow together this summer as you share your life with the child you sponsor. To find more summer activities for your kids, including recipes, crafts and devotionals, check out our online magazine just for kids, Compassion Explorer!

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