Article by Julie Taylor
Being an F1 Teacher at my school means there is a short period of time where, in September, my four and five term children are at school in a small group whilst the new children complete their phased start.
I spent some time over the summer holiday researching projects that I could do with these children while there was a little more time and flexibility.
There were many great ideas which I noted down to remember but then I read about the Flat Stanley Project. An easy to do project where children send out a Flat Stanley, ours were made of paper and coloured in, to different people around the world. All the recipient has to do is return the Flat Stanley with a picture and perhaps some souvenirs of where he has been. We asked our recipients to simply email a photograph of the Flat Stanley in their local area or workplace.
I remembered this story from when I was at school and immediately began thinking about people I could contact to help make this project go ahead.
I ordered a copy of the original book but when it arrived I feared that my three and four year olds would not be gripped by this book. It was for this reason that I set about creating my own Power Point to retell the original story. The more I planned, the more excited I became. Along with the excitement came the realisation that the children may not really engage with the project at all. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, it was worth a try.
In September 2016 I introduced Flat Stanley to my class and they immediately got on board. They loved the idea of Stanley helping people in need and discussed what they would do if they were flat along with recognising the things they could not do because they weren’t.
We spent time in class decorating our Flat Stanley’s and carefully cutting them out. The children were given one each in school and one to take home with a letter explaining how families could also get involved. Once the envelopes were filled, addressed and stamped, we set out to walk to the local Post Office to send them on their way. The children quickly learnt about the special blue stamps which showed Stanley would go on an aeroplane, they were very excited.
Walking a group of three year olds to the Post Office was my first ‘trip’ out of class. As an NQT I felt more pressure to make sure everything went smoothly. I had support from my Head Teacher and Deputy who came with us as extra adults to enable me to feel more comfortable with this part of the project. The children loved knocking on the side of the Post Box and shouting bye to Stanley!
During the time we were waiting for news of our Stanley’s, we began to look at maps and globes to see where they had gone. I had kept a log of whose Stanley had gone where and the children began to be able to find these places independently on the globe.
I fondly remember when one little girl asked me to get the globe down for her to look at. She found where her Stanley was bound for (Australia) and spoke about the country, how far away it was and how we would get there. More children joined us and we ended up sitting there for forty minutes. This was led entirely by the children and they were so engrossed in the project that I knew then how much they had absorbed about the world, travel and other people. It honestly amazed me.
The first Flat Stanley response dropped in my inbox one weekend from the New York Fire Department. I was ecstatic, I immediately messaged my colleagues and added the news to my class Twitter and class Dojo pages. The parents of my children had obviously shared the news with them over the weekend and Monday morning was very exciting. Shortly after that, more responses came back. The children, and their parents, were fully engaged in this and as I shared news through our social media, colleagues throughout the rest of school also began to ask about our project.
Friends of mine who lived in other countries were expecting our Flat Stanley’s as I had contacted them beforehand to ensure we got a few replies. However, some were sent to workplaces and we relied on the good nature of the people receiving them. The children were extremely excited to watch the video that Toronto Police made us that they had uploaded onto YouTube, the little boy who made that Stanley recognised it immediately shouting out “that’s mine!” Other great participants were The Red Arrows and an Airline company who allowed Stanley onto the flight deck to be photographed. Our Stanley’s travelled to Texas, Nevada, New York, Toronto, Dubai, France, Turkey and Spain as well as to Scotland and our local hospital and Police departments. Colleagues even began to ask me if they could take a Stanley on holiday with them.
To celebrate this project, I continued to share news on social media and made a display in our classroom which showed all the great places we had heard from.
This was by far the best project I have done and could never have imagined it was going to be as successful as it was. It helped the children make vast progress with their speaking and listening alongside their understanding of the world.
It began as something I planned to do for two weeks and something that I had huge doubts about. But, taking the risk led to a project that lasted the entire school year. It became something my children, parents and colleagues all enjoyed hearing about and gave us so many more learning opportunities than I ever anticipated.
The Flat Stanley Project (1995-2018) Available at: www.flatstanleyproject.com