I’ve had pen pals since I learned to write. I remember rushing home from school to check the mailbox. In some ways, the advent of social media didn’t feel so new to me: While I love getting together with friends in person, I’ve been long used to interacting daily through words, pictures, and fun little shares.
Some friends share this passion, and now our kids are pen pals, as well. It has been a multi-generational connection! So when one of them told me about the Nature Pal Exchange, knowing that if anything is more up my alley than writing, it is nature geek stuff, I was immediately intrigued.
They do periodic matches and themed swaps, all surrounding a nature theme. You can exchange letters and goodies, just as you would with any traditional pen pal, but the point is to include nature specimens as well. I was relieved to see the founders of the program put a large focus on preventing the spread of invasives, with multiple guidelines and references on sterilization and disposal tips. Many of the participants are homeschoolers–I see why–it is a great curriculum addition, but you don’t have to be one to participate.
Check out our box ready to go out. We included a corn husk doll, a map from our state park, “beads” made from branches by insects, a drawing, and many small and sterilized samples:
We were excited to find out our pen pals are from Fox Island, Washington, near Mount Rainier, and in the Puget Sound. It is a green and temperate coastal area like where we live, but it is clear on the other end of the country. And that’s part of what was so much fun–seeing the similarities and differences.
We each sent the other two kinds of lichen, and all four were very distinct. We both find a lot of sand dollars on our local beaches, but the Pacific ones tend to be much larger. It wasn’t all science–we loved hearing about how they frequently forage salal berries to put in their pancakes.
We were thankful for a way to merge two of our favorite hobbies and interests and learn a lot and make new friends at the same time. How do you and your families combine your interests?