Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District

Canterbury Students Travel Through 'Flat Stanleys'

Dec. 18, 2017 -- Wouldn’t it be fun if you could pop a flat version of yourself in an envelope and jet through the mail to visit friends and family all over the globe? Canterbury’s first graders did just that.

The three classes started by reading Jeff Brown’s 1965 classic book Flat Stanley, in which a boy is unexpectedly flattened by a wayward bulletin board, allowing him access to all sorts of exciting adventures: sliding under doors into locked rooms, being flown like a kite by his brother, and being mailed in an envelope to visit his friends in California. The book, and the series that followed, inspired British teacher Dale Hubert to launch the Flat Stanley Project in 1995.

Touted as “the longest lasting literacy project in the world,” classes of children all over the globe create their own flat selves (i.e., paper cut-outs of each child with photographs as faces and other individualized details), which are then mailed with accompanying letters to friends and relatives in other cities, states or even countries. Students request that their Flat Stanley be returned – either digitally or via snail mail – along with photos, postcards or letters describing where the letter writer lives.

Flat Stanley poster from Cleveland Heights 

Flat Stanley poster from Japan 

According to Canterbury’s first grade team, Kate Duhanich, Pat Dooner and Abby Raiz, Flat Stanley broadens the world view of their students.

“For some of our kids, their universe is really small,” said Mr. Dooner. “This gives them a chance to take a virtual trip, to really explore another place, whether it’s on the other side of Cleveland, across the country, or over the ocean.”

As the letters and emails begin to roll in, students and teachers are equally eager to discover what they contain. “I don't know who’s more excited about this project,” said Ms. Duhanich. “Me or the kids!”

A large map in the first grade hallway is surrounded by letters and photos from near and far: the West Side Market, University Circle, Alaska, Florida, Arizona, and even two separate “Stanleys” that were returned from the Czech Republic!

World map

Teachers ask students to focus on the similarities and differences they see in the pictures and to think about how location can influence people’s lives, including the type of houses they live in, clothing they wear, or hobbies they choose. It’s all part of their International Baccalaureate unit of inquiry: Where We Are in Place and Time.  

The project also connects school and home, as parents are asked to think of friends or family who live out of town and then send in their mailing addresses. Teachers are sure to rely on some of their own far-flung friends if the students don't have any. Ms. Duhanich is “so grateful for the support of the students' relatives and friends who take a Flat Stanley on a tour of their hometown and then send us beautiful pictures, creative slide presentations, and lovely notes. Without their help, this project could never be as memorable as it is.”  

One student’s Flat Stanley met with acclaimed children’s author Tomie dePaola, which helped introduce students to a new set of stories that take place all over the world. As Ms. Raiz said, “We refer back to our Flat Stanley project again and again throughout the year, when we read a book or study a place or learn about current events.”

Students Morgan Foster, Tristen Boseman and Audrey Couture were all eager to share the adventures of their Flat Stanleys. Morgan’s visited her Aunt Connie and Uncle Marty in Florida, where she happens to be traveling for Christmas. Tristen’s went to see his auntie in Washington D.C., who sent back an entire digital slide show of our nation’s capital. And Audrey sent two letters: one to New York, “the one that’s not the city,” and the other to a family friend in Spain.

Flat Tristen posterboard of Washington, D.C. 

The children now have their own wish lists of places to visit. Audrey hopes to follow her Flat Stanley to Spain, while Tristen will be happy with Atlanta. Morgan hopes to one day visit China to “learn more Chinese language and to eat some of their food,” said the adventurous first grader. “I really like to try new things.”

As Mr. Dooner said, “We want our kids to see that the whole world isn't like it is here in 44118.”

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