Philately in our schools leaves lasting impression

Children are our future.

It’s true in life and it’s true in philately, and people everywhere seem to be taking that thought to heart. Instead of lamenting a “dying hobby,” many people now speak of an evolving hobby, one that aims to attract newcomers by whatever means possible.

As of late, those means have included philately’s power as a teaching tool.

This spring, before the end of the school year, teachers at Brampton’s Mount Royal Public School teamed up with the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada (RPSC) and Bramalea Stamp Club for a unit exploring the origins of postage stamps and images depicted within philatelic designs. Students were given an in-depth, hands-on lesson about philately before producing their own designs, nearly 30 of which were eventually displayed at the recent World Stamp Show in New York.

Ingo Nessel, one of three Bramalea club members to help with the project, said the show’s attendees, including members of the international philatelic community, were “rapturous in their praise,” and it’s easy to see why.

It’s a win-win situation: advanced philatelists can promote their hobby directly to the youth, who are in turn taught about not only stamps and the postal service but history, geography, arts, politics, science, and mathematics, among much else.

Philately has proven itself a powerful teaching tool many times over at Ottawa’s Merivale High School, whose Focus program students complete a series of philatelic projects each year under the guidance of teacher and department head Irving Osterer. Some semesters, students produce Valentine’s Day covers to mail to their friends and family across the country; other times, they design stamps and postmarks.

At first glance, students and stamps are not a perfect match insofar as most students have never written a letter or been to a post office; however, there’s a romantic aspect that can’t be overlooked, even by those unfamiliar with the hobby. For all their philatelic shortcomings, the kids do seem to enjoy receiving mail.

Again, it’s easy to see why. As we all know, stamps are intrinsically intimate. Someone somewhere has gone out of their way to use this Victorian-era relic to send another antiquated form of correspondence (the letter, or perhaps even a postcard) to you rather than simply send an email or text. Especially now, with the advent of the Internet, stamps and letters have a deeper meaning, and their use conveys something that email does not.

In speaking with Osterer, I’ve come to realize interactivity is the key in involving youth with philately. Luckily, because of the nature of the hobby, there are seemingly endless possibilities, beginning with Canada Post’s Picture Postage program. As a classroom project, each student could be represented on a 24-stamp sheet, or on a photo on a Picture Postage cover. Again, there are many possibilities, and they all allow for the aggregate learning that’s so important in teaching.

There was also Canada Post’s 2010 design competition – the first time the Crown corporation invited Canadians to submit designs – for the 2011-dated mental health stamp. More than 300 entries were whittled down to five finalists that were eventually presented to the public for their vote. Because students relish seeing their artwork online, design contests such as this also serve as an efficient vehicle for teachers to use in their curriculum.

The City of Ottawa did a likewise commendable job co-ordinating the recent postcard design contest for Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

Looking forward, this idea can be expanded for other Canada 150 ideas throughout the next year and beyond. After all, there’s no shortage of legendary Canadians or monumental events to celebrate and commemorate.

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