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August 26th, 2021
A Child’s Guide to Penpalling

Having a penpal is essentially having a friend, in your home country or abroad, who you exchange letters with. Nowadays, writing to a penpal is no longer constricted to ‘snail mail’- you can also have virtual penpals, who you communicate with via emails or through social media.

I started penpalling when I was a child, and it was such a great learning experience. It taught me how to properly write a letter, and I was also able to learn about a variety of cultures and feel close to others all over the world. I still penpal today, and I have been doing for years on and off.

Penpalling is a hobby that is perfect for people of any age, but it is a great idea for children in particular. It gives them a great opportunity to practice their writing skills, to make new friends, and to learn about new cultures.

But how should you go about starting your child off with penpalling? It can definitely be overwhelming when you first look into penpalling, so in this blog post I will try to give you a short guide on helping your child to find and engage with their penpal.

Where can I find a penpal?

One of the most confusing parts about getting into penpalling is figuring out where to find penpals. There are so many websites out there all aimed at finding people penpals, and it can be hard to work out which websites are the best fit for you.

Here is a list of penpalling websites which are suitable for children.

–       International Pen Friends (IPF): This was the website that I first used as a child, and I enjoyed using this service so much. Unlike some of the other websites, IPF requires a fee to sign up, but after this you have access to the service for a whole year. After sign up, you will receive a list of names and addresses to whom you can start sending letters to. Over the course of the next year, your name will also be given out to others, which means you might receive surprise letters. The website also has information and advice on writing letters.

–       Penpal World: This website does not require a sign-up fee and instead has free accounts, with the option to buy VIP membership if you want to contact more people per day. Though it is a free website, Penpal World takes great care in keeping its users personal information safe. Messaging is done through the website itself, with no need to give out your email address until you have properly gotten to know someone. Another appealing feature is that minors can block all adults on the platform, and it is also easy to report suspicious profiles.

–       Global Penfriends: like Penpal World, this website allows you to create a free account. You can get to know others through the internal messaging system, but if you want to move straight to sending snail mail, you have the option to purchase ‘snail mail credits’, which will then allow you to see addresses. Only people who have purchased these credits will be able to see others addresses.  Global Penfriends also has lots of information and tips on penpalling in general, including how to start penpalling and ideas for an introduction letter.

–       My language exchange: though this website is primarily aimed at setting up language exchanges, it also has the option to find penpals through the site. If you wanted to penpal with the intention of practicing a foreign language, My Language Exchange might be the best option.

–       Students of the world: this website focuses mainly on finding penpals for children and students. Similar to IPF, you will receive some addresses, and then your name and address will also be given out to other users.

–       You can also find a penpal for your child through various Facebook groups – but be sure to join a private group so you know all the members have met the criteria first.

What do I include in my letter?

The most important thing to remember when sending a penpal letter is that although you can absolutely send ‘extras’ to you penpal, it is by no means a necessity. The only thing that you really need to send is the letter itself, and including anything else is entirely optional. But in case you do want to send something extra to your penpal, here are a few ideas:

–       Souvenirs from your home country: this is a nice way to exchange parts of your culture with your penpal. This can include postcards, recipes, small gifts like badges and pebbles, and anything else you can think of.

–       Question lists and playlsts: this is one of my personal things to include, as it is a great way for you and your penpal to get to know each other more, and it is completely free. Questions that you could ask include things like: where would you like to travel? What is one thing that you can’t live without? What are three words to describe yourself?

–       Games: similar to question lists and playlists, this is another option that is free. You could make a wordsearch for your penpal to complete, or send a game of noughts and crosses back and forth to each other.

–       Stationery: this is one of the most popular extras to send. This can include stickers, washi tape samples, pens, basically anything that can fit inside an envelope.

General tips

–       Remember to ask your penpal questions in your letter. A letter works just the same as a conversation, which means you need to give your penpal something to respond to.

–       Be safe with giving out personal information. It is always important to remember safety when it comes to personal information, and especially when children are involved.

–       When writing first letters to penpals, make each one individual. It is not a good idea to write one introductory letter and copy it word for word for every other letter. Your penpals are all individuals, so it is a good idea to get to know them all in a different way.

–       If your child is interested in learning another language, penpalling is a great way for them to practice. Ways that you can exchange languages with your penpal include writing part of your letter in another languages, exchanging vocabulary with your penpal, and just helping each other learn the other’s language in general.

–       When sending a letter in the UK, using a post box is fine for letters for penpals living in the UK, but for sending letters abroad you have to send them at a post office. Bear in mind that the price of sending the letter differs depending on where it is going (Europe is the cheapest), and how big or heavy the letter is.

Most importantly, having a penpal should be fun! Writing letters is supposed to be enjoyable, so the best thing to do is penpal in a way that is most appealing to you.