So, what is Flat Traveling, anyway? It’s a fun, hands-on way to learn geography, inspired by the book Flat Stanley, by Jeff Brown, in which a boy, Stanley, gets squashed flat by his bulletin board. He soon discovers that there are many advantages to being flat, one being that he no longer has to take the train or the bus to visit his grandmother – his mother can simply place Stanley in an envelope and mail him!
To begin your own flat traveling experience, all you need is a flat traveler, some postage stamps, a traveling group, and a little imagination (a digital camera doesn’t hurt, either, but it’s not necessary). I would also suggest that you introduce the project to your kids by reading the book, Flat Stanley, together.
Okay, so what, exactly, is a flat traveler? It is simply a paper representation of your family or child — a paper doll, a picture of your favorite animal, a drawing — that is small enough to fit into an envelope. The traveler is sent to families all over the United States, and various countries throughout the world. They, in turn, send their flat to you. Think of it as an exchange program for paper dolls.
We’ve tried several types of “flats,” but our favorites are those made from full-length photos of our kids, like these:
Once you’ve got your flat made, you’ll want to put its name, your name and address and your email address on the back, just in case it gets separated from its host family. It’s also a good idea to laminate it. You can find good, heavy-duty, no-heat laminating sheets at most office supply stores or a mass retailer, like Wal-mart or Target. You can use contact paper, but generally the sturdier your flat is, the better it will hold up.
If your flat is a special, one-of-a-kind creation, you may also want to consider making a copy to send and keeping the original. Accidents do happen. We once had a visiting flat get eaten by a goat during a trip to the zoo! Thankfully, it was a copy of the original and its family had a sense of humor. 😉
Each hosting family basically acts as if the flat traveler is an actual human visitor, taking it with them as they go about their everyday lives, visit places of interest in their city, go on field trips, or even take a vacation. The hosting family takes pictures and journals the visit. For this reason, you may want to make a journal to send with your flat traveler, though, you may check with your host family to see how they like to do things first.
Every family approaches the journal differently. Some fill out a paper journal sent with the flat by its family, while others prefer to journal in their own way, often in the form of photo journals, daily email highlights, home-made travel brochures, or even YouTube videos! Our family has a Flat Traveler blog where our visitor’s families can keep up with their flat’s visit in (mostly) real time as it progresses. This has been a really fun way for our family to document the visits and the flat travelers’ families really seem to enjoy it, too.
Most flat traveler visits last a minimum of a week or two, but can last longer. You just need to make sure that both families are in agreement regarding the length of the visit. We’ve found that a month works best for us. That gives us plenty of opportunity to take our flat to lots of fun places without over-committing our already busy schedule.
Some things you might want to do with your visiting flat are:
-School lessons – most homeschooling families are very interested in how other families “do school.”
-Scouting meeting, co-ops and other outside classes
-Visit places of interest in your town
-Let the flat “help” you do hands-on projects with your kids (send along a finished project or the materials and directions so that your flat’s family can make one of their own when it returns home)
-Vacations – it’s amazing how much differently you look at a vacation when you know you’re going to be telling someone else about it.
-Support group events and play dates
-And, whatever you do, takes LOTS of pictures! A digital camera is the easiest way to do this because you can put all the pictures on a disc to return with the flat. Photographs are equally appreciated, but a little more expensive in terms of printing and mailing.
Flat traveling really makes you pay more attention to all the interesting things that your town has to offer, but that your family may take for granted. Being involved in flat traveling has encouraged my family to visit places in our town that we’d never visited before…and we’ve lived here all our lives!
Once the visit is over, you’ll simply return the flat to its family with the journal, pictures, little souvenirs (pencils, postcards, magnets, etc.) and – don’t forget the educational part – information about your city, state or country (for international exchanges). We usually include a fact sheet with pictures that of things like our state flag, state flower, etc. and some information about each. We also include a fact sheet for our city with pictures of local landmarks and points of interest and information about those areas, as well. How you present the information about your city, state, and/or country is up to you, but you should try to avoid website links and other information that are readily available on the Internet. It should be personal.
While there is an “official” Flat Stanley Project website, it appears to me to be more for school systems and is being threatened with closure due to some copyright issues with the family of Jeff Brown, the author of Flat Stanley. Instead, I would suggest checking out one of the many Yahoo groups available specifically for homeschooling families. I won’t suggest a particular one since there are several and the one that is the right fit for my family may not be the right fit for yours. Just search Yahoo groups for Flat Traveler or Flat Stanley and see which one looks right for your family.
Flat Traveling is a fun-filled, hands-on, exciting way to study geography. My family and I have thoroughly enjoyed “visiting” nearly two dozen states and several countries around the world. I hope your family will, too. Happy Traveling!
For more ramblings from this classically eclectic, slightly Charlotte Mason homeschooling mom, visit Kris at her blog, Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.
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