What The Flat Stanley Project Taught Me

Many first and second graders across the country participate in a Flat Stanley Project. This project is based on the book, Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown, written fifty years ago. I’ll be honest; I read the book as a child and did not like it. I found it distressing that Flat Stanley was injured by a bulletin board in his own room. On top of that I was disturbed that his parents would put him in an envelope with only an egg salad sandwich and mail him across the country.

Dale Hubert, a third grade teacher from Canada, started the Flat Stanley Project in 1995. It was meant to promote letter writing amongst school children around the world. Children would make a paper Flat Stanley and send it in the mail to a friend, relative or another child. It has become a hugely popular project and has had several incarnations over the years. I am not a big fan of school projects that put any burden on anyone other than the child who is supposed to be doing the assignment. Three of my kids have done Flat Stanley projects.

My oldest son was required to send his Flat Stanley with instructions to a relative. That person was required to send a postcard to Peter’s school and then send Flat Stanley onto someone else. As the mail arrived, the students would plot his Stanley’s course and learn about different states. I was concerned about my boy getting enough postcards. One friend told me that her husband would send them from his business trips. We did the same. Disaster averted.

Perhaps the other kids just lucked out as their Stanleys traveled the country and the world but my second child’s Stanley only made it to two cities. We chose not to intercede on her behalf on this go-round. She received two postcards, which caused her some distress as she watched the other kids rake in dozens of postcards. I’m not sure what she learned, except that life can be disappointing and not fair at times, unless your parents step in and fix it. I guess that’s okay for a first grader.

By the time my last kid was doing his Flat Stanley assignment, he was required to send his Flat Stanley to one family and they had to keep a journal and send it back to him. I imagine this latest version of the project was due to the experiences of students, like my older children, who did not get many postcards. Those kids either had very responsible friends and relatives or their parents managed the process as I did with my first child.

What did this last version of the project teach my kid? Nothing. I did not even give him the chance to pick the family. I chose my sister because I knew she would embrace the task. She took Stanley all over New York with her kids. She took pictures and made a journal. She then spent a lot of money to overnight it to us to get it to the school on time for my son’s presentation. When it arrived, my son barely looked at the journal. I believe, because he had no skin in the game, he didn’t really care about the project.

I hadn’t thought much about Flat Stanley until I read a recent article about a little boy in Arkansas, Alan Orduna,

Flat Stanley Goes Boating

Flat Stanley Goes Boating

who sent his Flat Stanley to a soldier in Iraq in 2004, never to be heard from again. Orduna’s Stanley ended up with a soldier named Brian Owens, who kept him in his wallet. Stanley stayed with Owens through many adventures including warfare, death, divorce, job losses and raising children.

When Owens found Stanley folded in his wallet after ten years he looked at him as an unfinished mission. He had no address for Orduna but hoped that fate would intervene, which it did. He found some correspondence with Orduna’s teacher’s name and contacted her. They connected and reunited Stanley with Orduna, along with a lengthy narrative of Stanley’s adventures.

It hit home for me after reading this article. I wondered how Orduna’s mom handled his probable disappointment? Did she send in postcards to soften the blow? Did the little boy get upset when the other kids got their postcards and he didn’t get any? Or did his mom say, “Hey, sometimes stuff doesn’t work out the way we planned? Life is about the journey, not the destination. Give it time, maybe you will hear from your soldier.” I hope she didn’t interfere because it makes this story so much sweeter. Good things come to those who wait.