Thursday 19 Jan, 2012

Traveling With “Flat Stanley”

Flat Stanley and a Double Decker Bus

When I was on a summer tour of England in 1995, one of my adult travelers, a parent and a fellow teacher, pulled a plush stuffed bird out of her suitcase after we arrived in London. At her elementary school, any faculty member who was going on a trip had to pack the school mascot and take photographs for a bulletin board in the school’s main hallway. During our visit to the Tower of London, the teacher asked one of the Yeoman Warders (also known as Beefeaters, but don’t call them that) to pose with her and the bird for a photograph. Taking the bird from her hands, the Yeoman Warder straightened the bird’s feathers and sniffed, “The things I do for the Queen!”

Before my 2000 spring break tour to England, a third-grade teacher asked me to be a guest speaker. Her class was doing an intensive study of England so I presented a slide show and shared a variety of show-and-tell items. The children asked me if I could take something with me on tour. That “something” turned out to be their class mascot, another stuffed bird named “Squeaky.” I promised that I would take photographs of their class mascot throughout the tour. My students had a great deal of fun posing with the bird, but I cautioned them not to put it in any compromising situation since that would not be good for the children. After the tour, I sent the class a set of photographs of “Squeaky” touring all over England along with English biscuits (cookies) and souvenir pencils. In return, I received the nicest set of thank-you notes from the third graders including one from a little girl named Sharekka:

Flat Stanley and Ruth enjoying fish and chips

Dear Mrs. Ingram,
Thank you for coming to our class. We enjoyed the biscuits. I hope you could come back to our class. I hope you can be my teacher. So I can go to England. I wish I could go see Stonehenge. I would love to see Queen Elizabeth. Do she ever give the children something?

Your friend,
Sharekka

“My friend,” Sharekka, became a student in my 9th-grade world history class, but alas, she did not get to go on one of my tours. I was amazed at how much she remembered about my class visit several years earlier and how she still remained interested in England.

For an educational project that would allow your students to collaborate with your local primary or elementary school, check out the Flat Stanley project before you depart on your tour. Based on a 1964 book by Jeff Brown, Flat Stanley is the title character, a young boy who becomes “as flat as a pancake” after a heavy bulletin board falls on him. Flat Stanley finds that it is very advantageous to being flat because he can go anywhere around the world by simply being mailed in an envelope. Dale Hubert began the Flat Stanley Project in 1994 with the idea of children sending their own Flat Stanley paper dolls to people around the world.

Flat Stanley at Sir Walter Scott Monument

The Flat Stanley Project is an impressive multigenerational, global literacy activity that is included in the curriculum for many elementary schools in the United States. It is an excellent (and fun) way to teach geography and world cultures, and to foster communication and writing skills, not to mention creativity. My daughter, who lives in Edinburgh, participated in this project recently when the son of one of her former co-workers sent her a Flat Stanley paper doll.

As Flat Stanley’s host, she had to make certain Flat Stanley had a wonderful time in Edinburgh, which is not hard to do even if you are just a paper doll. Along with the photographs, my daughter sent a report of the adventures of Flat Stanley which included a visit to the Scott Monument, a ride on a double-decker bus, a stop at the Edinburgh Dungeon, a meal of fish-and-chips, a chat with one of the street performers on the Royal Mile, and finally a trip to the Royal Mail box to post her report.

The 3rd -grade teacher who invited me to her class back in 2000 is now an instructional coach at her school. She has matched my high school students with a 2nd-grade class to participate in the Flat Stanley Project. Her school has won many state exemplary writing awards and believes in promoting a community of writers. The second graders will decorate the Flat Stanley paper dolls that will travel with my group in their own images and they will write introductory letters to the student hosts traveling to England and Scotland.

Flat Stanley mailing letters back to students

Before our departure date, my students will meet the second graders at their school. During the tour, my students will keep journals to record the adventures and travels of their Flat Stanley doll and they will take photographs of Flat Stanley at well-known landmarks and places. After the tour, they will share the journals with the children and make a presentation to their class. The proceeds from one of our upcoming fundraisers will be used to buy souvenirs for the children participating in the Flat Stanley Project. Before I leave Edinburgh, I’m going to mail the Flat Stanleys and a map of Great Britain plotting our journey all the way from London to the 2nd-graders.

I am excited about traveling with these “stowaways” and about the collaboration between my students and the second graders. At least I won’t have to do bed checks for the Flat Stanleys. I just better not come across a photo of a Flat Stanley doing anything inappropriate. Even the Flat Stanleys have to abide by the “rules of the road.”

Readers, have you participated in the Flat Stanley Project or have you taken along a “stowaway” on tour?

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(Editor’s note: If you have a question about for EF Group Leader Gail Ingram, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Gail here, and she will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)

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