Grandparents have so much to share with their grandchildren, from little ones to teens. They play a very important role in their grandkids' lives, even if they live far away and only see the kids once or twice a year. "Grandparents come in a huge range of shapes, ages and life experiences, and yet in the media, grandparents are still constantly portrayed as gray-bunned knitting obsessives or meek, old slipper wearers, content to swing back and forth in rocking chairs," says Marrisse and Bob Whittaker, founders of the modern, savvy grandparent tips website VirtualGranny.com. It is a site where real grandparents post their stories of fun activities they've shared with their grandkids.
Sue Atkins, author of "Grandparenting for Dummies," says, "Grandparents today may be in their 40s and 50s! You don't have to wear purple. You keep growing and learning and being a wonderful role model for your grandkids."
Atkins says that grandparents provide a priceless benefit to the lives of grandkids. "In today's frenetic world ... grandparents have more space to listen, talk, read with children and take them out. They're building memories that last a lifetime for (their) grandchildren."
If your visits have fallen into a rut, though, with the kids no longer interested in going to the playground or watching movies with you, it's time to introduce a new activity that can thrill all of you: providing the kids with the opportunity to learn about something you enjoy. Many grandparents love to introduce kids to the so-called "lost arts" that they enjoyed when they were young. Granted, when you were young, there was electricity, and you probably had Barbie dolls instead of paper dolls. But there may be a craft you enjoyed sharing with your own parents that can become an enjoyable afternoon's craft with your grandkids. "My granddaughter took to knitting so quickly! She said that some of her favorite young celebrities knit, and she always wanted to learn how," says grandmother Nancy Thomassen. Now she and her granddaughter have a monthly date at the local knitting shop to pick out new yarn together.
Cooking is a budget-friendly lesson to share with kids. If your grandchildren think that all pizza comes delivered in a box, why not teach them the art of making pizza dough from scratch, rolling it out, adding toppings and baking it on a pizza stone? Or make a cake from scratch together, as a surprise for their parents. Grandchildren will always remember that you taught them how to make homemade pizza, and they'll carry these smart skills with them into their future, becoming self-sufficient later on.
"My grandkids saw my hand-carved boats in my workshop," says Gary Ivers, a grandfather of three. "So I decided to teach them how to safely sand boats that I whittled -- they're too young for woodworking tools -- and then I let them paint them. They were so proud to make their own toys."
As a general rule, always respect the parents' authority over what you plan to teach their children. They might not want their vegetarian children to learn how to boil a lobster with you. And they might not want you to introduce them to an expensive hobby they would then have to pay for, like buying a sewing machine. Simply inform the parents of your wish to teach the children a new skill, and respect any instruction you get.
Don't forget the value of fostering creativity. Melissa Bernstein, columnist at Grandparents.com and CEO of the educational toy company Melissa & Doug LLC, says, "The world is moving at a much faster pace than any of us could have ever imagined. Even the most technologically savvy among us are running at an ever-faster pace just to keep up. Parents feel incredible pressure to get their kids 'ahead' and proficient in as many areas as possible at as early an age as possible. This almost manic desire has led to the phenomenon of extreme over-scheduling. Children move quickly from one activity to another, with little time to decompress, put their young minds at ease and just be kids."
Bernstein says that parents and grandparents should foster creativity in unscheduled downtime. "With their young and fertile imaginations, children will inevitably devise some brilliant game or activity and become entirely engrossed in their own imaginative world. And adults will feel confident knowing that through such exercises, they are preparing children to develop necessary life skills." How can you share in this important "lost art"? Encourage your grandchildren to make up the rules to their own game or improvise a skit or puppet show with you, just as you used to do when you were a child. They'll never forget your reminder that the game they make up may be far more rewarding than a video game.