I wrote in the first installment of the Grandparent Guide to Homeschooling that grandparents can be a big blessing to homeschooling families -- by sharing their time and resources and by providing informed support. Today's post is about sharing time. Grandparents who are able to share time with their homeschooled grandchildren can make a huge difference in their lives and in the lives of the homeschooling parents.
Sharing Your Time
Having fun with a grandchild sounds too simple, but when Mom and Dad have their hands full earning and taking care of a family, a child can crave the simple fun of playing cards or board games, going to the movies together, trying to teach the dog tricks, or listening to you tell stories about your childhood.
Building a relationship means you are also able to be a model for a child. How does a grown-up behave when the game is lost? How does a grown-up treat the server at the soda shoppe? Seeing you in every-day life provides examples for decent behavior -- or how to make amends if you don't quite get it right!
Having a relationship with a grandchild also means that you are the "someone else" a child can tell or count on if there is a challenge that she is at first unwilling to approach with a parent.
Talking to your grandchildren, asking questions and listening rather than "telling" them things all the time, is a great way to both keep them thinking and build closeness.
Grandparents can provide children with context for their own lives by sharing stories and photographs (best in small doses for small children) about family history. There is an empowering element in hearing first-hand about relatives who migrated long distances, started businesses, overcame challenges, had great faith, did interesting work, or watched over children in previous generations.
Children can also learn intimacy, trust, and commitment from their relationships with you. Making a small plan to have a tea party for the dolls or to help set up a lemonade stand -- and keeping that plan -- is so much bigger than the graham crackers and lemonade.
Attending your grandchild's music recitals, Scouts dinners, and baseball games also shows your commitment to the child. This can be especially important if parents are stretched thin and can't always be there -- even up into the teen years.
Long distance grandparents can provide special visits or trips. In addition to using a computer, iPad, or smart phone to do virtual visiting with Skype or Face Time, you could also decide to be the one person your grandchild receives "snail mail" from via the U.S. Postal Service. You could encourage your grandchildren to keep a private blog detailing their days and what they're learning, and you could be their most loyal commenter.
Reading aloud to children, visiting the library, talking about books, and listening to audiobooks are great ways to spend time with your grandchildren and to have a big influence on their literacy skills. While it was long ago, I can still see in my mind's eye, my mom on her couch with a little boy on each side of her, reading their favorite books about alligators, dinosaurs, and trucks. She continued to read to them long past the time they learned to read themselves.
Providing Child Care
Some grandparents are in a position to provide regular child care for employed homeschooling parents. While earlier models of homeschooling may have looked like Father Knows Best with a breadwinner dad and an at-home mom, today there are more and more homeschooling families with two parents in the workforce, and there are also single parents who are working and homeschooling.
If you are in a position to provide regular child care, your grandchildren might be getting the gold standard of care while their mom and dad have their minds at ease about who is watching their kids. It benefits everyone when parents and grandparents set up the details and defaults ahead of time so you are paid if you need to be, your need for time off is respected, and you have an "end" in mind when you expect to re-negotiate the childcare arrangements.
Other grandparents aren't interested in or able to provide regular child care, which, let's face it, can go on for many years in a homeschooling family, since school does not come into the picture to cover child care hours. However, you may be able to be available for special occasions when parents need to be away, want to have a break, or need to focus on a particular child.
If you live close enough, you might be able to take on a specific and limited "errand" that one or more of the kids needs on a regular basis. One grandmom I know always took the boys for their haircuts; another took a different child to the library (one-on-one time with Grandma!) each Thursday. These regular errands gave Mom a breather and were a much-anticipated event for the kiddos.
Other grandparents are "activity chauffeurs," shuttling some of the kids to music lessons, Scouts, or sports practices either on a regular basis or especially busy times. This can lift a huge logistical burden, and you will value your time in the car with the kids.
You might also be able to watch the kids at home while Mom and Dad attend a homeschooling conference. Some conferences and conventions have children's activities but require an adult to be with the kids as they attend family programming. You could be the extra pair of hands to get the kids to the puppet shows and animal displays while the homeschooling parents are getting new ideas and inspiration for their homeschooling.
Of course it goes without saying that there are special times when child care is especially valuable -- when a new baby joins the family, or, at the other end of the spectrum, when an older teen needs to visit colleges with his or her parents.
Sharing Special Skills
Many grandparents have special skills to share. These might be important domestic skills such as gardening, baking, or auto maintenance.
You might be able to share your love for a sport -- golf, tennis, swimming, baseball, or soccer. Perhaps your skills are more those of a naturalist -- identifying birds, animal tracks, edible plants, and constellations.
Maybe you are accomplished in the arts -- as a photographer, artist, dancer, actor, or musician. Your grandchildren will enjoy watching you work and appreciate a gentle introduction, with an emphasis on creativity and expression.
Your profession or trade may be another source of special skills. Your grandchild might enjoy learning to use a calculator, learning carpentry skills, or learning to how to do body work on a car. Some kids would do well visiting a grandparent's workplace for a few hours or a day.
Volunteering alongside your grandchild is a great way to instill compassion and community service. While animal shelters might not let a young child come groom or walk a dog alone, many will welcome a child who is accompanied by a responsible grandparent. You might also be able to shelve books at the library together, help stock a food pantry, or pick up litter from a road or stream. Think about causes you or your grandchild care about, and explore whether there are ways you could work together to contribute to the cause with your time or talents.
Service opportunities can also be informal. Help your grandchild bake cookies and visit a sick or shut-in neighbor together. Make greeting cards together and send them to people who need their spirits lifted. Invite your grandkids to help you rake leaves for someone who isn't able.
Volunteering together does double duty -- it means time spent together as well as modeling ways we can help others.
Having Direct Responsibility for Learning
Some grandparents take direct responsibility for the children learning certain subjects or for homeschooling on certain days of the week. Keep in mind that not all homeschooling families arrange their academics in a way that is easily divisible into traditional school subjects, while others use curriculum that is quite similar to what you'd find in a school.
You'll want to learn more about approaches to home education and be able to discuss the basics with the kids' parents, so everyone can be on the same page. Some parents want to emphasize experiential and interest-based learning while others use overt instruction and practice. Since grandparents' relationships with their grandchildren are so important, I suggest you avoid the role of the harsh taskmaster.
Some grandparents find themselves homeschooling full-time, either as part of the child care they are providing while parents work or because they have assumed all responsibility for their grandchildren as legal guardians. You might find some help at the faith-based site Grandparents of Homeschoolers. Of course you can Google "homeschooling my grandchildren," but you might also enjoy the comments and insights on Pioneer Woman's website, where someone asked, "Has anyone homeschooled their grandchildren?"
I'll be taking a closer look at how taking direct responsibility for all or some aspect of a child's learning necessitates becoming more informed about homeschooling in a future post.
Taking Field Trips
Also to be covered in detail in my very next post -- one of the most rewarding ways for grandparents to participate in homeschooling -- field trips. Field trips often hit all the grandparenting marks -- educational, fun, and a great way to spend time together building that relationship.
Barring family crises and chronic problems, grandparents don't feel and shouldn't feel they are on the hook to spend every spare minute with their homeschooled grandchildren. Set limits that keep you own life as happy and healthy as possible, which will be a great example. But also take the time to enjoy and help when you can. I know my own children's lives have been made immeasurably richer by their grandparents, and I believe that the reverse is also true.
The wonderful currency of grandparenting is love, something that can be expressed well by time spent together.
More from this series...
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