A Mail Exchange for Learning
Trading flat travelers through the mail is an engaging way learn about geography and even other cultures! Simply create a flat traveler -- a paper or cardstock character that can fit into an envelope. Arrange a host family, and mail your flat to them. You host their flat at the same time. When the visit is over, you send the visiting flat back home with a goody packet and a journal.
Flat travelers are an adaptation of the Flat Stanley Project (which happens to be the matter of some legal debate right now).
Many flat traveler exchanges are done by homeschooling families. But some public school classrooms also participate!
Why Trade Flats?
- map & geography skills -- Identify your flat's destination on a map; you can even chart all of the flat's adventures on a master map.
- writing skills-- Keeping a journal for the visiting flat, explaining your activities, is an fun way to get your kids writing! The expectation for a goody packet in return is good motivation.
- learn about different cultures-- If you're fortunate enough to have an international trade, your children will learn about the daily life in another country.
- responsibility-- Keeping up with the flat and sticking to the agreed upon length of stay are both areas where your child can grow in responsibility.
- collections and organization -- Storing the postcards and stamps you receive into a collection is a great hobby for kids!
- history comes alive -- At various times I've been able to reference our flat adventures to make a city or state more real to my daughter, "Remember when we sent Flat Bloom to London? That's the city where this story takes place -- in England." Then we can even pull out our goody package and review the photos, postcards, and brochures.
Ideas & Links for Flat Traveler Patterns
You can make your own flats from
- images from magazines, greeting cards or calendars
- coloring pages
- photographs (pictures of your child are particularly adorable)
I recommend using cardstock for extra durability. Either create your flat on cardstock, or glue it on later. Laminating it will offer even more structure!
Hint -- We started punching a hole in our flat traveler and adding a strand of yarn. This made the flat "wearable" as a necklace of sorts. It makes the flat quite convenient to carry (& harder to lose!) on outings and easy to raise up for a quick photograph.
Use the links below for printable flats.
- Paperdolls --Making Friends
Our favorite site for making flat travelers was Making Friends. There is a wide variety of paperdoll children, animals, clothes, and even accessories.
- Paperdolls -- Archived Paperdolls
This page has an adorable assortment of printables in full color.
- Paperdolls -- Karen's Whimsy
These paperdolls are images from old books in the public domain. Very classy and old fashioned.
- Paperdolls -- Marilee's Page
Tons of links to paperdolls.
- Paperdolls -- Activity Village
Different races of children plus various outfits to clothe them.
- Coloring Pages -- EduPics
This is my favorite coloring page site because they have an amazing assortment of printables!
Make your flat small enough to fit into an envelope easily. But not so small that it's invisible in photos.
Laminate those Flats!
Although you can do flat traveling without a laminator, I find that it's a great tool for our homeschool and household in general!
Laminated flats hold up better to little hands and frequent trips through the post.
Remember to first write your name and email address on the back of the flat BEFORE laminating!
If a laminator is out of the question, try covering the flat with contact paper or with wide packing tape.
Setting Up Exchanges
When arranging the trade, be very clear about your expectations for how long to keep the flats (two weeks is quite usual). And make sure that you do all you can to stick to that commitment. If something comes up, most flat families are very understanding. Just be sure to communicate with them via email and explain your situation before you've gone well past the agreed upon time.
- Flat Travelers Homeschool Yahoo Group
This is an incredible place to set up exchanges with families all over the world. There over one thousand members, so your possibilities are limitless. You can request a trade for a particular place -- either particular cities, states, or countries.
- Homeschool Exchange Yahoo Group
This group can help you exchange postcards, key chains, and other goodies besides flat travelers. Very fun!
- Friends Across America
In this program, you mail four travelers (called Friends) with an information sheet to an address in New York. For each worksheet you send you get someone else's back. This is rather anonymous, so it's totally safe. But then again, there's no persona
Featured countries include: Brazil, Japan, France, Egypt, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, India, England, China, Argentina, Russia, Israel, Thailand, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Antarctica, Canada, Italy, Iceland, Poland, and Turkey.
Make a Flat Traveler Passport
Click here for a PDF file with several templates for making passports for your flat travelers. Not all are American themed. Some are generic; you can add your own personalizing emblem.
Although the passport is mostly just for fun, you can request the host family stamp the passport pages (with a sticker, seal, or rubber stamp). In this way, you have a mini record of each flat's journeys.
For some attractive and free printable state, country, and flag stickers visit Stickers and Charts.
Flat Travelers Poll
What to Send Back With Your Visiting Flat Traveler
The two standbys that you pretty much have to include with a returning flat are pictures and a journal.
photographs -- prints, on CD, made into an album, or emailed during or after the trade
HINT --Be sure to take pictures that include the flat. A photo of the Taj Mahal is good. But my flat in front of it is priceless! And don't underestimate "everyday" images. My daughter's favorite photos were always the ones of her flat with the family pets.
journal -- hand written, typed and printed, or on CD
You don't have to have a day by day diary, but do explain what was going on in your household during the flat's stay. Birthday parties, picnics, church events, and scouting trips are just as interesting to children as visits to museums and landmarks! You can share about the weather and any local events such as festivals or fairs.
Some people write the journal from the flat's perspective, imagining how the flat feels in the midst of the various experiences.
HINT -- If you're going to send a "form letter" type of journal, make sure to disguise it with some personalizations of the flat's name.
Here are examples of the kinds of goodies that you can send back with a visiting traveler:
How to Celebrate Your Flat Traveling Adventures
- Start a blog for your visiting flats and another one for your traveling flats. This blog and this one are great examples!
- Upload your flat photos to Flickr to store and share.
- File your goodies in plastic storage totes. You can even start your own Geography Treasure Boxes.
- Create collections -- stamps, postcards, magnets, keychains.
What About Lost Flats?
Well, it happens. Things get lost. Despite our best efforts to be responsible traders, sometimes flats are destroyed or lost forever.
What should your reaction be? Chalk it up to life experience. The disappointment your child feels is real, but can be a growing opportunity.
By all means, don't stop trading.
anonymous on August 08, 2013:
I really wanted to print out a few passports, however the link isn't showing up! It says to click the picture, but there is no picture to be seen :( Can you please redo the link? I've printed the passport you linked to before and its the perfect size. Thank you!
Traveller579 on November 19, 2012:
Great information about travers, Thanks for sharing.
WriterJanis2 on November 04, 2011:
My kids had school projects about this.
Grandma-Marilyn on June 12, 2011:
I love the sounds of the children learning from other children. Wish I had heard of this when my children were small
DianaHarper LM on May 28, 2011:
Sounds like a perfect activity to start this summer.
WordsbyChristy on May 28, 2010:
Wonderful articles. Thank you very much! I had forgotten about Flat Travelers, but now my six children are about to make their own and send them off! We're looking forward to the adventures.
anonymous on May 11, 2010:
I just hosted a flat stanely for my niece. now my son wants to do one of himself. you have a lot of great info here i bookmarked your page. thanks a lot for all the great links!
Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on December 27, 2009:
I am back for another visit to this wonderful resource. I have featured it at By Kids 4 Kids - A Group of Squidoo Lenses for Kids. I also sprinkled some angel dust (you can add a link to my angel lens if you want).
house-exchanges on October 02, 2009:
Very creative page .
Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on September 01, 2009:
As you know, we love Flat Stanley. If I remember correctly, you introduced us to it. Love this lens. I have featured it as the September geography link of the month on my geography-resources lens.
Treasures By Brenda from Canada on June 30, 2009:
mrvardeman on June 14, 2009:
So cute. We have done Flat Stanley before. Good idea for a lens!
wyrm11268 on May 02, 2009:
Jimmie, Wanted to thank you for angel blessing my Flat Stanley lens.
Love this lens and have linked you to mine. Lots of wonderful information to help
children learn and grow.
Keep up the good work and I am looking forward to reading your other lenses.
diwakat on April 20, 2009:
Hi, nice lens and what a great way of sharing creativity, it looks kind of fun too. I gave this lens a rate of 5**. Do you mind checking my lens on Safari Travel and give comment and rate
seedplanter on August 21, 2008:
Flat Stanley has long been one of my favorite book characters. Back when I worked as a family computing columnist for Newsday, I interviewed a teacher whose classroom followed the travels of FS. It was great fun!
What a delightful lens. Thanks for the work you put into it.
anonymous on August 08, 2008:
Thank you so much for sharing! My daughter Stephanie (6 1/2) would love to start flat trading. So this site will get us on our way! Thanks Again, Leslie in Garden Grove, California, USA