Stanley Lambchop, otherwise known as ‘Flat Stanley’, has brought joy and learning to primary school classrooms in many countries. Innovative programmes developed by teachers via the Flat Stanley Project have inspired many young students to find pleasure and meaning in literary activities, while developing their skills in geography, art, mathematics, and a host of other disciplines.
Since 1964, when Stanley first appeared in a book by Jeff Brown and Tomi Ungerer, the story of the boy flattened by a falling bulletin board has captured the imagination of children the world over. Several Flat Stanley tales have been written by Brown and others, and since 2009, the ‘Worldwide Adventures’ series of books has taken Stanley far and wide. The tales are humorous and meaningful, as the young lad makes light of his adversity by sliding under locked doors, solving mysteries and travelling the world by mail.
Flat Stanley learning experiences usually begin with reading one or more of these books. What sets Stanley apart from other fictional characters, however, is the opportunity his plight offers to youngsters who would like to share in, or perhaps even guide, his adventures. Because he is a relatively straightforward character to draw (or copy) and can easily fit inside an envelope, primary school children can dispatch him and an accompanying journal to friends or strangers almost anywhere in the world and then eagerly await news of his travels. This simple activity has provided the foundation for transforming classrooms around the globe, and opening the eyes and minds of young students to places and cultures beyond their own.
The Flat Stanley teaching phenomenon began in 1995, when Dale Hubert, a Canadian third grade teacher, recognised the potential for Stanley to build bridges between people and places. He theorized that children were more likely to develop an interest in pen-pal writing activities if a mutual friend was involved, and that this shared ‘friend’ would give the writers an authentic starting point for their communication. He then established the Flat Stanley Project which gave schools a chance to participate in exchanges of characters and journals created by students at other schools.
Thanks to the power and ubiquity of the internet, the Project has since gone global. Schools wishing to participate can now easily register online and make connections, via the site’s bulletin board, with new friends almost anywhere in the world. Blog facilities offer teachers, parents and students an outlet for sharing pictures, teaching tips and stories.
And what stories they have to tell! Stanley has visited many of the world’s most famous locations, has met with famous sports stars, and has even survived Flight 1549’s crash landing in the Hudson River. However, it is the more everyday stories that perhaps have more resonance. These are the narratives that reveal the excitement of real learning that a journey with Stanley Lambchop can bring about.
Although the Project was initially set up to facilitate journal and letter writing it has become so much more, thanks to technology and the imagination of participants. Students can chart their Stanley’s progress on a map, create Stanleys with different facial expressions to represent different emotions, dress him in national costumes, or use him as an avatar with which to discuss sensitive problems and concerns in a non-threatening way. They can draw a Stanley to standard measurements which can then serve as a reference for gauging distances, or discuss what it must feel like to be him. Through creative activities like these, students develop their skills in literacy, geography, art and mathematics, and gain a greater sense of other cultures and their own place in the global village.
Originally, Stanley always travelled by means of the post, but the world has moved on and ‘snail mail’ is not as popular as it once was. Although many teachers still prefer to send Stanley on his way in an envelope, it is now possible to use email or a Flat Stanley App to send him around the world digitally. Developed in association with Flatter World, an extension of the original Flat Stanley Project, the app allows students to use iPhones to receive movies, language and music from the places that Stanley ‘visits’. Web technology also lets them track fellow Stanley enthusiasts through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, or through schemes like The Global Classroom Project.
Thousands of schools have participated in the Flat Stanley Project and making contact with potential partners in the venture has never been easier. If you’re a teacher wanting to know more, just pay a visit one of the website addresses mentioned above. If you’re a parent with friends or relatives living in a different State or country, don’t wait for your child’s school to get on board. Simply share the story with your youngster, create a personal Stanley character and send it off with a journal or letter explaining the process. Stanley’s new family will no doubt be honoured to have him as a guest, and your child will benefit from the magical learning experience that a journey with Stanley can deliver.