Postcrossing: Homeschooling community teaches geography through postcards

By Emily Patton Published:

It’s an all-in-one lesson in world geography, history and language without opening a textbook. Homeschooling families are turning to their mailboxes and an interactive learning experience called “postcrossing.”

Postcrossing allows people to send and receive postcards from all over the world from a pool of randomly selected user’s addresses.

While many sign up for the site for recreational use, parents like Susan Foster teaches her two homeschooled sons through each trip to the mailbox.

“Sometimes there are unusual towns that I’ve never heard of like this one Amish looking town in Ontario and immediately think, ‘I want to go there,’” Foster said. “It’s interesting, because they’re real people. They aren’t just snapshots of what’s in the paper or on TV. They’re just like us.”

Foster keeps a world map in her family’s learning room, where Gavin, 11, and Grayson, 5, study each day. Bordering the map are postcards that line the wall with destinations of Sydney, Australia, Hamburg, Germany and Moscow, Russia written on each card.

Her two sons stand on their tiptoes and point to postcards and then to the corresponding dotted cities on the map, claiming which ones are their favorites.

“Everything happens somewhere,” said Foster, who calls herself a frugal homeschooler.

Foster also uses Google maps to virtually view where their cards travel.

Foster is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and before kids she worked as a contracted geographer/cartographer. She discovered postcrossing about three years ago through other homeschoolers.

Postcrossing has more than 336,000 members from 208 countries and currently has more than 370,000 postcards traveling at one time. It is free, aside from the cost of postage.

After creating a login, the first step is to request to send a postcard. The website will display an address of another member and postcard ID number. Writing both on the card and a personal messge, the user will then mail it.

When the recipient’s postcard is delivered, they use the ID number to register it online. The sender is then eligible to receive a postcard from another user and become next in line for another person to receive their address.

Each user can have up to five postcards traveling at a single time. Every time a sent postcard is registered, users are able to request another address. The number of postcards allowed for traveling increases after the user sends five.

It’s a process Kathy Boisvert and her 13-year-old daughter, Amanda, started last March.

A few months ago, Amanda was formally diagnosed with Asberger’s syndrome, a form of autism, and sensory integration dysfunction, which is an inability to organize sensory information as it comes through the senses.

“She was at Capital Day, a private school here, and she was just a zombie,” Boisvert said. “I didn’t really know why. She was completely wigged out by everything. Since we brought her home, you see a huge difference in her. She has a personality. Within three months, I had a totally different daughter.”

Boisvert said using postcrossing as a teaching method helped the change she’s noticed in her daughter.

“Amanda finds it fascinating, especially being a history buff,” her mother said. “She’s really hoping someone will send her one in Spanish, because that’s what she’s learning.”

A user’s postcrossing profile allows them to specify what kind of cards they would like to receive, what they’d like the sender to write and what language to use.

“A lot of people like to talk about the weather, about how warm or cold it is there,” Boisvert said. “Others give little blurbs about what they do, who they are.”

Both the Foster and Boisvert families buy their postcards from Dr. Gene Burch’s dentist office. He shoots pictures and turns them into stationary.

But it is the different styles of handwriting that the mother and daughter enjoy the most.

“My daughter is fascinated with people’s handwriting, and probably because it is so rare these days,” Boisvert said. “You never see people hand writing anything anymore. She always says, ‘Oh, I like that person’s handwriting, or I can hardly read this guy’s.’ It is definitely becoming a lost art.”

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