At Dryden Elementary School in Dryden, Va., Katie Middleton's second-grade class has experienced the sights and cultures of 25 different U.S. states and eight different countries through a book-inspired, mail correspondence project called the Flat Stanley Project.
"It's really taught the kids about the different areas, the different foods, and places [they may never get to go]," Middleton said excitedly. "They've just learned so much from it."
The Flat Stanley Project was created in 1995 by Dale Hubert who based his idea off the plot of Jeff Brown's 1964 children's book, "Flat Stanley."
Middleton said "Flat Stanley" is a fictional book about a little boy named Stanley who's flattened by a bulletin board that falls on him in his sleep. Stanley likes his new flat shape because he can slide under doors and fit into tight spaces, and when he can't afford to visit his friend in California, his family simply puts him in an envelope and mails him there. He stays a week and then his friend mails him back home.
"What [my class] did, was at the first of [the school year], we just decided to do a project and I read them the 'Flat Stanley' book," Middleton explained. "We decided every kid could bring in one address of a family member or friend, and we would mail them a letter from our class and a letter from Flat Stanley. Soon one address turned into three, I collected several myself, and later on we came up with more. We sent out 70 letters (and Flat Stanleys) total."
Middleton said each paper Flat Stanley was colored by one of her 17 students - and we asked recipients "if they would take pictures and just tell us something about their area and then send it back."
Middleton said she told the kids, "Don't get your hopes up. We may hear from 20." Then, she added proudly, "We've heard from [55 so far]."
Each time Mrs. Middleton's class receives a reply to a Flat Stanley letter they sent, they list it on a board, post it on the wall, and plot it on a United States and world map, in the main hallway of Dryden Elementary. Middleton said this is so the kids can see and understand how far the letters have traveled in relation to where they are in Virginia.
As far as responses go, Middleton said her class has had the privilege of hearing back from a former Virginia Governor, the President of the United States, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. However, the children get the most excited when they hear from family members because "it [means] more to them."
The 55 who've responded to the class letters have sent back a myriad of items - from letters and photos (most taken with Flat Stanley in them) to photo albums, videos, recipes, candy, ethnic foods, and souvenirs.
Middleton said the kids have received everything from a video of Flat Stanley at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, to photos of him visiting NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to letters from Belgium, Denmark, and an entire class in the Netherlands. Middleton added that those students are starting a project of their own. The students have been introduced to different cultures, and have tasted foods from different places like the octopus sent by a missionary in Tokyo, Japan.
In an age when letter writing is so uncommon, the Flat Stanley Project has literally meant the world to 17 second-graders graders in Virginia.
To start a Flat Stanley Project, visit www.flatstanleyproject.com.