With 4-H events canceled because of COVID-19, 4-H educators across the state are working to deliver programming online and help youth stay connected. One way educators are helping youth connect with each other is through pen pal programs. Educators in several counties have started programs so youth can meet new friends, all while practicing their writing skills.
Educators Sarah Weier (Iowa County) and Carlea Liermann (Calumet County) teamed up to start a pen pal program for youth in their area. Iowa County’s program is for Kindergarten – 2nd grade 4-H members and Calumet County’s program is for 3rd-12th grade 4-H members. Sarah and Carlea matched pen pals after the enrollment period ended in early May.
In Columbia and Green Counties, about 40 youth are writing letters to one another through a pen pal program. Educators Ellen Andrews (Green County) and Pat Wagner (Columbia County) asked participating youth to try to write letters once a week, suggesting they ask their pal about their interests and experiences in 4-H. “Our intent of the program was to provide an opportunity to learn and engage with another person that didn’t involve additional screen time and was accessible for all of our members, whether or not they had internet access,” says Andrews. Families are excited about the program, many saying it’s helping their children stay socially connected.
“My two daughters (5th grade and 3rd grade) are participating in this program. They are really enjoying the experience…The messages have been weekly for both girls. They generally respond to the letters almost as soon as they’re received, and it seems to be reciprocal. I think they’ve benefited from this project by perfecting their letter writing skills, becoming more thoughtful and considerate of others’ situations, and generally by just making a new friend from the experience,” says Jody, mom of program participants. “Ross has been in correspondence with his pen pal. They have written a couple of times. He seems to enjoy getting the letters. I think this is a good program,” says Ross’ mom Angela Rhode.
Kindergarten through 3rd grade 4-H members in Manitowoc, Lincoln, Langlade, Wood, and Waupaca Counties are participating in the 4-H Flat Stanley Pen Pal Program. Wood County 4-H Program Educator Laura Huber worked with other Extension educators to pair youth with someone in a similar grade level. Participants received a Flat Stanley or Stella and a journal.
Educators asked them to decorate their Flat Stanley/Stella, write in their journal, and then send it to their pen pal. The pen pal keeps the Flat Stanley/Stella and the journal for a week before returning it to the owner. Educators hosted an initial Zoom meeting for the pen pals and read a few chapters of the Flat Stanley book. Another Zoom will be held where they can see each other again and share about the adventures their Flat Stanley/Stella had at their pen pal’s home.