What would happen if you woke up extremely different from when you fell asleep? How would you handle this unfortunate fate? Stanley, a boy who went to sleep and in the morning woke up flat because a heavy bulletin board had squashed him during the night, faces this difficult situation with a smile by seeing the benefit to his new condition. Cool as ever, he finds much use for his new condition such as experiencing a life adventure that otherwise may not have been possible. This was a children’s story book quite popular in its time (first published in 1964) but with which teachers throughout America (and not only) have found great use for today.
The Flat Stanley Project was an idea started in the early ‘90s by Dale Hubert, a third grade teacher (Canada) and it was meant to encourage letter-writing by students in the classroom to learn how to write in a way that would draw their attention and inspire interest by following the whereabouts of Flat Stanley. This lead to Hubert receiving the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2001 for the Flat Stanley Project.
The group of teachers thought that it would be constructive to use spirited Stanley’s story by constructing a journal and a Stanley cut out. Around the country what some schools have done is quite exciting. They have a class journal of Flat Stanley which they keep for a few days. Every student has the opportunity to write a few lines in it and then the Flat Stanley journal and the cut out are sent to another school. There, Flat Stanley is the guest of the class and children complete the journal sent to them from the previous school. Finally, the journal is sent back to the original sender. This journal may travel to more than two schools and children may follow Stanley’s trip on a map. This way students learn to be more social, they learn a bit about using maps and as always practice proper writing and spelling.
Another idea would be to keep a journal individually and each student note down the daily occurrences in their individual lives. In the case that a difficulty arises, the child would have to write out how he/she would manage the situation (hopefully taking into account Stanley’s stance to life). At the end of each school week the students read their journals aloud sharing their simple or adventurous lives with their classmates. Some younger students will likely be tempted to spice up their journals inventing a situation or two. As long as the teacher is on top of things (meaning to the type of adventure invented), it is a way of developing creative writing.
Stanley’s idea to travel in an envelope relates to communication and the importance of keeping in touch. Apart from encouraging children to use their modern-day computer to send emails to far away friends and relatives, it is a wonderful opportunity for teachers to encourage and implement the written word in class. One way to do this is to make paper cut-outs of Stanley which can turn into a lovely letter to a friend or relative (perhaps grandmother residing alone in a distant state). Again these letters could be followed on the map and depending on the destination of each, learn about the areas it passes until it reaches its final destination.
Flat Stanley of course is not limited to the United States or Canada. His cut out figure and letters or class journal have travelled to participating classrooms around the world; as far away as Australia. Mr. Jeff Brown’s rounded little boy who went to sleep and woke up flat has provided inspiration for writing, communicating and geography in primary school classrooms all around the globe and is still going strong.