Ever ask a kid, "How did your day go at school?" The usual answer is short. "Fine." But this sort of conversation doesn’t go very far in helping to strengthen the bond between grandparent and grandchild.
To connect with grandchildren, you have to get them to open up. Of course, that’s often about as easy as trying to pry open a window that’s been nailed shut.
We’ve found with our own grandchildren—and other grandkids as well—that when doing things together, being active, kids tend to open up. When grandchildren do activities, they’re more relaxed and are more likely to express themselves freely, enabling those open-ended, meaningful conversations.
Here are a few activities we found work particularly well for connecting with our grandkids. And if you’re a long-distance grandparent, don’t worry, we’ve included activities for you, too. Remember to ask questions and occasionally repeat what your grandchildren say to show you’re listening.
T-shirt logo design
Create a family logo and draw them on T-shirts. Be colorful and creative. Use different colored markers or fabric paint. Look at clothing ads for ideas. Outline in pencil first so you can erase mistakes.
Set up your own bowling alley in your backyard by using milk cartons, 2-liter soda bottles, plastic jugs or anything that will stand upright. Have the kids scrounge around for pins. For the bowling ball, use a beach ball, baseball or bouncy ball.
Buy each of the grandchildren a one-use camera. Now, take the grandchildren out and see what kind of wildlife you can find. It can be unusual plants, colorful flowers, birds, dogs or cats. On the next visit, you can present your grandchildren with the pictures and even make a photo album of your wildlife adventures together.
Find an upcoming birthday or holiday. Or maybe a friend who just needs cheering up. Instead of buying a card, pick up the materials to make your own at home (construction paper, markers, glitter).
Draw a family tree for your grandchildren. Keep it simpler the younger they are. They will be amazed to see how many people they are related to and they’ll begin to understand their place in the family.
Draw a map to a treasure. This could be as simple as a treasure (shoe) box filled with goodies. You can illustrate the map with trees and houses corresponding with the surrounding landscape. If you use directions such as north and east, you can teach your grandchildren how to use a compass during this activity.
Take a hike
One of our inside jokes has the punch line "Take a hike!" It’s what we say when asked for advice on raising a child. We suggest to literally get up, leave the house and take a hike. This will relieve stress and walking makes conversations so much easier.
Doug and Robin Hewitt are the authors of The Joyous Gift of Grandparenting: 101 Practical Ideas & Meaningful Activities to Share Your Love. Find out more about them at HewittsBooks.com and read parenting and grandparenting tips on their blog at ParentsWrite.com.
Sept. 9, 1979 The first official observance of Grandparents Day. Celebrate the day this year on Sept. 7
30 percent Among children younger than 5 whose mothers work outside the home, the percentage cared for on a regular basis by a grandparent during their mother’s working hours. Grandparents and fathers were the two biggest sources of child care by relatives when mothers went to work.
6.1 million The number of grandparents whose grandchildren younger than 18 live with them.
1.4 million The number of grandparents who are in the labor force and also responsible for most of the basic needs of their grandchildren.
There are plenty of ways to connect with grandkids from afar. The key is communication.
• Buy 10 pre-stamped postcards and give them to your grandchildren. Ask for a school update once a week or so.
• Send e-mails. If your grandchildren don’t have e-mail accounts, work with the parents to get them set up.
• Talk using Web cams. Set up a chat with your grandkids while in front of Web cams. Special software is needed.
• Send letters. Send your grandchildren letters. Include self-addressed stamped envelopes to make return letters easier.
• Use the telephone. Call once a week, more often when there’s news or an important occasion.
• Buy special gifts. If your grandchild loves gymnastics, buy a 10-lesson plan at a local gym. If they develop an interest in playing the trombone, buy a T-shirt that trumpets the greatness of trombones.
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