Dutch Prime Minister Takes Time Out for Brussels First-Grader
March 10, 2009
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Many youngsters who learned to read after 1995 are acquainted with Stanley Lambchop, a.k.a. "Flat Stanley." Flat Stanley is the title of a much-loved 1964 children's book by the late Jeff Brown -- and is read even by global leaders.
The book chronicles the adventures of Stanley, who has been flattened to paper thinness by a bulletin board falling over him in his sleep. Flat Stanley makes the most of the possibilities his altered state affords him. One of these is the ability to travel by being mailed in an envelope.
Flat Stanley was enlisted as a literacy-teaching aide in 1995 by an imaginative Canadian third grade schoolteacher, Dale Hubert. Hubert created the "Flat Stanley" Project.
In essence, the project provides an opportunity for children who are in the early stages of literacy to connect, in writing, with peers or others by sending Flat Stanley on trips.
The children read the book, make their own cutout "Flat Stanley," keep a journal regarding his activities and then send him and the journal on his travels through the mail to visit other people. The recipients are asked to treat Flat Stanley as a visiting guest, add to his journal and return both to the sender.
Martha Proietto has taught elementary grades at the Brussels American School for five years, and has long used Flat Stanley's assistance in helping her teach literacy to her young pupils.
"The challenge at this early age is to keep the children's interest as they learn the technical requirements of reading and writing," she explained. "Flat Stanley connects the kids to many other experiences. They make their own, so he's not an abstraction. They come up with activities for him, and have to write-up those activities.
"Finally, they send him traveling, which is a great way to introduce the concept of geography, because, as a class, we plot on a map the whereabouts of each child's Flat Stanley," she added.
Proietto has found the "Flat Stanley" Project a very simple and very effective artifice. "It's amazing how such a simple concept keeps the kids' interest," she said.
Caelan Helms is one of Proietto's pupils. The son of Sgt. 1st Class Randahl Helms of the U.S. Military Representative's staff at NATO Headquarters, Caelan has grandparents in far-off Brunswick, Ga., and nearby in the Netherlands [his mother, Isabel, is Dutch and met and married her Army husband during his assignment in Rotterdam].
Caelan first sent his Flat Stanley to his father's parents in Brunswick, Ga.
"They did a wonderful job taking pictures and showing Stanley around my home town, at the same time teaching Caelan and the rest of his class about the history of my community back home," recalled Caelan's dad.
"Back in November, we had Isabel's father over from Rotterdam, and we chatted briefly about how much Caelan had enjoyed learning about his Flat Stanley's adventures in Brunswick," he added. "Her [Isabel's] dad said, 'Well Jan Peter Balkenende [the Prime Minister of the Netherlands] comes into the Indonesian restaurant where I work about twice a month. I can ask the owner to see if we can approach the Prime Minister about receiving a visit from Caelan's Flat Stanley.'"
Caelan's grandfather and dad had him write a letter of introduction to the Prime Minister, and his grandfather took both letter and Flat Stanley to Rotterdam with him.
Helms and Caelan picked up mail one afternoon at their home mailbox a few months later. "There was this big, official-looking envelope. For a moment, I actually thought it might be some kind of official summons, that I might be in trouble," chuckled Helms.
"When I opened it, and realized that I was from the Dutch Prime Minister's office, I called Caelan. He immediately recognized the enclosed photo of his Flat Stanley posing with the Prime Minister and the photo of himself on an adjacent knick-knack table."
Prime Minister Balkenende also enclosed a letter to Caelan telling him a little about himself and his office and thanking him for sending Flat Stanley to visit him.
"Caelan has really enjoyed his experiences with Flat Stanley, and with being able to share in the experiences of his classmates' Flat Stanleys," said Helms. "He loves to read, and I think this program has really reinforced reading and writing with him."
Or, as teacher Proietto pointed out, "How many American first graders do you know who correspond with prime ministers'"