“Flat Stanley” classroom projects make their way across the globe
They're the type of letters the U.S. Post Service warned about: unexpected, lop-sided and lumpy. What's inside may be even stranger photographs showing a paper cut-out riding in a car, tucked neatly behind a seat belt or posing beside a Christmas tree.
Yet two classes of Nottingham Elementary School second-graders can't wait to see what will come next.
"They get really excited when one comes back," said teacher Stacy Coulter. "They try to decide whose it might be."
The students are excited about the strange mail because the paper cutouts dining at restaurants, attending ballgames and pretty much anything else people might do are Flat Stanleys the students sent to relatives and friends in other parts of the country and the world.
"A lot of them don't get out of Kansas," said teacher Barbie Hartwell. "Stanley opens their eyes up to a lot."
The Flat Stanley idea comes from a children's book where a boy named Stanley wants to visit a friend in California but can't afford to go. When he is flattened by a bulletin board, his family can afford to send him in an envelope, allowing him to go places he couldn't ordinarily go.
It's roughly the same idea when students make a Flat Stanley. They create a flat persona of themselves, including a letter explaining the Stanley. Coulter said the process of creating a Stanley takes the students about two hours.
Sometimes a student gets creative with his or her Stanley's persona.
"I let them have free range," Hartwell said. "Some of them make them look like baseball players, some of them put them in pajamas."
The students even send Stanley with a "lunch" of paper cutouts for the long trip.
"We had a lot of junk food going with him," Hartwell said. "Every once in a while I get the host making lunch to send back."
The students hope to get back letters about the Stanley's experiences or photographs documenting the trip to friends and relatives. The teachers said the Stanleys have made short trips to Missouri and journeys as extended as Alaska, Sweden, New Zealand and Holland.
The students have to write envelopes and make adventure journals recording what they learned about the place their Stanley visited, giving them practice in writing in addition to having fun.
Eventually, Stanley is supposed to make his way back home. Coulter said they ask the hosts to have them back by May, but that doesn't always happen, Hartwell said.
"We talk about how sometimes Stanley is having so much fun he just doesn't make it back," she said.
Hartwell said she also had the students' parents and caregivers contact the hosts before receiving the Stanley in the mailbox.
"I didn't want anyone leery," Hartwell said. "Who knows what will fall out, especially with the lunches."