My husband and I can go weeks without checking our mail. All the good stuff gets dropped on our porch at all hours of the day and night by Amazon's new delivery fleet, so we rarely need to trudge down to the box. When we do, we're usually rewarded with print copies of bills we've already paid online, zombie catalogs for garden trinkets that keep appearing despite our cancellation requests and lack of garden, advertisements for half a dozen window cleaning companies, vague recruitment pitches for jobs in some "sizable Midwestern city," or notices from our alma mater that continue to refer to us as "Dr. and Mrs. [husband's name]," even though I graduated first and we are both doctors.
My childhood forays to the mailbox were not dutiful grudge work. They were independent adventures that could lead anywhere. There could be anything in there! The next installment from the Dr. Seuss Book Club. An issue of Highlights. A sample of Cracklin' Oat Bran. Letters from friends who had moved out of state. Columbia House stamps.
I wanted my son to see the mailbox as that same invitation to adventure, so I Googled around for "free mail for kids." I would discourage you from doing the same. Free sample sites abound, but many require product reviews and social media promotion, which means you would be receiving "free" stuff in order to nag your friends about how great that free stuff is. There are tons of "free" books, toys, and clothes, as long as you're willing to pay hefty shipping and handling fees.
I wanted to find freebies that would introduce my son to something new while not compromising my integrity or depleting my bank account. Here are seven of the best opportunities I've collected, as well as one paid one that is worth its price.
Want to get your kids free mail and inspire them toward greatness? The Government Printing Office has a number of posters for download or delivery, including a 22x34 inch wall poster telling your kids everything they'll need to do should they wish to climb to the highest job in the land. If they don't have their sights on the Executive Branch, this poster can teach them about all three branches.
Loads of companies offer free stickers to promote their products. (Annie's enormous cheddar bunny is particularly fun). The problem with these stickers is two-fold. First, you have to time your request just right. Many companies only release stickers once per month, and the time you wasted trying to get free stickers probably cost you more than just buying stickers. Second, branded stickers don't expose your kids to anything new.
PETA solves both parts of the problem with their ever-available stickers, which help teach kids about various threatened animal populations. The stickers arrive on a postcard, so if your kid gets to the mail before you do you may find "Let Them Be Free" messages festooning your walls. Our accidental field tests suggest that the stickers won't destroy paint or furniture.
State tourism packets
Visit your state's tourism website to request brochures that can help you plan out mini adventures to parts of your home that you never knew existed. Or pick a state far from your own and plan an imaginary trip to help teach your kids about different people and places.
Depending on where you live, your 0-5 year-olds can get free books once per month from Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. Since its launch in 1995, the program has mailed nearly 100 million books. The library's website also offers activity sheets to accompany its books. You can check here for availability. If there is no program in your area, consider starting one.
Read Conmigo is a English-Spanish book program that prioritizes bilingual learning in kids from preschool through fifth grade. All kids may join the program and download free e-books. Kids in Florida, Texas, and California can also get free print books every four months.
Many of us, understandably daunted by the phone book size of Restoration Hardware's catalog, are putting ourselves on "do not mail" lists. But a few printed catalogs are still a delight to receive. Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer includes funny product write ups as well as a shopping planner your kids can use for your next outing. The Zingerman's Mail Order Catalog features drool-worthy subscriptions like a bacon of the month club, but even if you don't shop it's a terrific educational resource about foods from all over the world.
Parents of teens take note: While your younger kids might find it boring, The J. Peterman catalog, made famous by Seinfeld, still exists. It's as over-the-top as ever, including its Merry Christmas 2017 catalog and this introduction to a women's Edwardian Blazer: "One of the chimneys on the left wing topples into the greenhouse overnight, let's say, and Spencer and the cook haven't been paid for six months."
LEGO Life Magazine
If your children are between five and ten years old, and you are willing to expand your LEGO budget to accommodate all the new things they will learn about from it, LEGO Life Magazine is a great piece of free mail. It features obvious product placement, but it's also tons of fun.
This will sound crazy, but bear with me. The best way to get mail for your kids is to just write a letter to someone. Kids can write to grandma. They can write to their favorite authors. They can write to Disney characters. They can write to NASA's astronauts. They can write to the president. They can write to complete strangers.
You can also help your kids make new pen pals. Do you follow a parenting blogger on Instagram who you wish was your pal in real life? Reach out and send them and their kids some actual mail.
All of the other items in this list have been free opportunities, as long as you don't count all the extra treats and LEGOs you'll buy after reading about cool new products. Nature Pal Exchange, started by bi-coastal homeschoolers in 2015, will cost you, but it is a great way to view the world from other kid's eyes.
Each exchange comes with a fee, as well as the cost of shipping your nature finds, but a look at the amazing things sent around the country, as well as the charities that are benefitted by your purchase, makes the price well worth it.
This article originally appeared on Parent.co, whose mail was always worth opening.