Writing to a pen pal can be a fun and cool way to make friends around the world (and practise new language skills!). But it can be tough to find a good fit. We've pulled together a few sites that can help you out...
We’re always looking for ways to occupy the little ones on rainy days, from craft activities to trips to the museum. But here’s a cool idea: how about occupying them with a friend they don’t actually need to meet? We’re going retro and encouraging our kids to pick up pen and paper and share news, stories and snippets with friends around the globe. Yep, we’re talking about pen pals for our kids!
Not only will writing to someone in another country facilitate lifelong friendships, teach the kids a thing or two about different cultures, languages, penmanship and social skills, we think it’s also a novel way to introduce the art of patience to this ‘now, now, now’ generation. But where can our little scribers go about finding a pen pal in this day and age? Of course, you can always round up a friend of a friend’s child, a cousin living abroad, or that nice family you met on holiday. But, if there’s no one who fits the bill, we’ve found some sites that will fix up some cool pen pal moments! Time to stock up on stationery or set up a new email and start writing…
10 sites to find international pen pals for kids
Writing to pen pals by snail mail
1. Post Crossing
Post Crossing has over 700,000 members in 217 countries and has exchanged close to 50 million postcards and counting. Just sign up, request an address (first-timers can request up to five) and you’ll receive a Postcard ID to pop on your postcard before sending it into the world. Once you receive a postcard from someone else, register the Postcard ID and then you’ll be able to request more addresses. It’s completely random but a whole heap of fun.
Founded in 1967 in Dublin, IPF is one of the longest-running pen pal organisations. You can either print out and mail your letters, or fill in the online application to register your demographic, interests, languages, hobbies and which countries you’re interested in corresponding with. There is a processing fee that starts at US$25 for kids aged eight to 14 years and membership will last for 12 months. You’ll then be sent a list of four to 14 addresses from pen friends matched to your child and your address will be given to other matched pen friends around the world.
3. Global Penfriends
Global Penfriends is a free service based in Australia that lets you post profiles and view others’ profiles for a good match. You can filter by demographic, gender and even according to whether the person has put up a picture or not. There’s also the option to make friends over the internal messaging system, by email, or through snail mail. If you shell out for a premium membership, you can limit the number of people who can view and message you to other premium members. Or just send them a virtual smile to let them know you’re interested in getting in contact. It also has a separate site, Postcard Hub, that lets you send postcards to random addresses as well.
4. Peaceful Pen Pals Project by Kids for Peace
We love the idea behind the Peaceful Pen Pals Project, which is to “stay connected to one another through love, acceptance, compassion and kindness”. Winner! Founded by Jill McManigal, a mum of two, and Danielle Gram, a high school honours student, the programme matches your child with a fellow pen pal based on their age, gender, and location preference (choose international so that you can learn more about other countries and cultures!). There is also an option to get your kid’s entire class involved.
Writing to pen pals via e-mail
Not too keen on snail mail? Electronic mail might take the joy out of waiting for the mail, but it’s great for eager beavers.
5. PenPal Party
PenPal Party is more than aware that these sites are often abused and takes great measures to ensure that unsavoury peeps are kept out. Open to kids aged 13 and up, kids can post up a little description of themselves, their interests and include what they’re looking for (and what they’re not looking for).
6. PenPal World
PenPal World is a free site that gives you absolute control including your own internal mailbox. Every profile picture is reviewed before approval and minors can block all adults (out, creeps, out!), users or entire countries. With fully customisable privacy settings, you can keep personal information out and all your friends in.
On top of finding international pen pals, InterPals also allows you the opportunity to pick up and practise various languages with your new overseas pals. Just sign up with this free service, scour through its database, send a private message to a profile that interests you, and off you go. You can even take a break if you’ve found too many pen pals by removing your profile from the pen pal search and reactivating it only when you’re ready to resume.
Getting pen pals through schools
Students making friends with fellow students all around the world sounds like something that would definitely be a cool addition to the classroom.
8. Students Of The World
Students of the World is specifically for kids, students and teachers all over the world from 10 to 25 years old. Find a pen pal based on region, languages known, age, gender and hobbies or sign up for a membership and get a list of addresses of pen pals. You can also register for snail mail to start receiving mail from random pen pals around the world. Teachers can also put up an ad for a class looking for pen pals.
9. PenPal Schools
PenPal Schools is more of a collaborative classroom than specifically a place to meet new pen pals but it’s got a few added measures of security including only allowing verified teachers and students to access the site, teacher-monitored chats and encrypted data. Developed especially for schools, if your little one is keen on collaborating with someone across the globe, they can ask their teachers to register the class. As students are invited by teachers, they won’t be required to provide any personal information.
Cricket media doesn’t just create fab magazines, it’s also linked up its global community with teacher-supervised classrooms through ePals. Open to schools as well as homeschooling families, kids can learn and share different cultures and languages with students all over the world. There’s also an option to search for pen pals.
Tips to being a safe pen pal
The internet can be a strange and terrifying place and just because people have selfies splashed all over their social media, it shouldn’t make you any less careful about privacy. Sadly, there is no guaranteed safety. Internet predators exist, whether they know they are one or not, and little kids are the most at risk. So before you scurry off for stamps, here’s a list of things to take note of when it comes to communicating with strangers on the internet:
- Never provide your full name – using a nickname might even be preferable.
- Never give out personal information, including school, phone number, passwords or any sensitive information to anyone you don’t know. If you’re concerned about strangers knowing your home address, you can rent a PO box. Prices start at $150 a year.
- Pictures should be vetted by an adult.
- Never agree to meet in person.
- Iffy messages, scams and obscenities should be passed onto an adult immediately.
- Set up another email address specifically for pen pals.
- Stay away from chat rooms including Chat Roulette and Omegle – notorious for dodgy predators.
- Report abusive behaviour and people.
- And remember, you can always delete your profile and leave the site.
Time to grab a pen and paper and start writing those letters, kiddos!