I was first introduced to Flat Stanley when my oldest son, now a high school sophomore, was six years old and a new and voracious reader. Although Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure!was published in 1964, I had never heard of him until my son read it in 2003. It’s a cute story for young kids:
When Stanley Lambchop wakes up one morning, his brother, Arthur, is yelling.
A bulletin board fell on Stanley during the night, and now he is only half an inch thick!
Amazing things begin happening to him. Stanley gets rolled up, mailed, and flown like a kite. He even gets to help catch two dangerous art thieves. He may be flat, but he’s a hero!
If you have a grade school child, you are no doubt at least casually acquainted with The Flat Stanley Project that has become a staple of the third grade curriculum across America. On the off chance that you are not familiar with this project, in a nutshell, every fall in third grade classrooms across the country, children take a person-shaped cutouts from cardstock, approximately six to eight inches high, and they decorate these paper figures to represent themselves – i.e., Flat Johnny, Flat Susie, etc. – in the spirit of Flat Stanley. The children then take said flat person and mail it, along with a blank journal, to a list of people, chain letter style, around the country, or hopefully the world, asking that everyone who receives it take Flat Johnny or Flat Susie on adventures and document said adventures in the journal, and then pass it all along to the next person on the list (at the sender’s expense). Eventually, the entire package is supposed to make its way, via mail, to the child, who will present it to his or her class (at our school, it’s a big showpiece of Open House). The point of the project is for children to learn about other parts of the country and the world by traveling vicariously through their flat person.
Whomever came up with the idea for this project was hopefully lauded as creative, original, and innovative, even.
But enough is enough. It’s gone too far.
It was novel the first time we had to do this project. By the second time, it was a little less novel. Now on our third and fourth time (third grade twins), I’m downright sick of this project. And I still have three kids to go after this round!
Even if you don’t have as many kids as I do, this project is a pain in the rear. First and foremost, it relies very heavily on imposing on other people. In order to undertake this project, you have to hit up far-flung family and friends and recruit a whole list of people willing to commit to taking on the trouble of “hosting” flat so-and-so for a week or so, taking him/her on some adventures, documenting said adventures (in writing and with photographic evidence), and forwarding the entire package to the next person on the list, at their own expense. It’s kind of a lot to ask of someone, let alone a bunch of people. I’ve hosted a few Flat Stanleys in my time, too – I know.
This school year, my twins received their instructions for their Flat Stanley project right before Thanksgiving break. It included a note from the teacher to the parents saying something along the lines of, “Since you have extra time over Thanksgiving break, I thought it would be great if you and your child could prepare his/or her flat person for travel by dressing him/her up to represent your child.” Oh, you thought that would be great, did you? That was my thinking. (It’s called Thanksgiving BREAK for a reason.) Nonetheless, we dutifully decorated their flat people, and the week after Thanksgiving break, they were mailed out to the first person on each of my daughters’ lists (which I compiled).
It’s been six months now, and while one of my daughter’s flat people has arrived safely back home, the other has not. Apparently this project is DUE tomorrow. My daughter who has not yet received hers back is freaking out. (She’s a perfectionist/worry wart/people pleaser.) She told me yesterday after school that the teacher said that anyone who has not yet received their flat person back should try to track it down (meaning, of course, the parents should try to track it down). I told Daisy, “I’m sorry, but I’m not tracking it down. I did not keep a list of people it was to go to, and I have no idea where it might be now, and I don’t have the time to invest in trying to locate it.” Needless to say, she is very upset. But seriously. C’est la vie! Once it left our house, it was out of my hands as far as I’m concerned. If the teacher wants to track it down, she can be my guest. The project doesn’t even receive a grade (how can it be graded when it relies nearly 100% on the actions of third parties?), so who cares?
There’s got to be a better way for children to learn about different locales.