Whether your grandchildren live across the globe or in the same house with you, it's a wonderful gift to spend one-on-one time with each of them, connecting over activities that allow you to laugh often and learn more about each other. You're a very important part of your grandkids' lives, offering unconditional love, but it's the fun you have together that they'll remember for the rest of their lives.
Bridging the distance between you -- if you live many miles, states or countries away from your grandchildren -- are an array of techno gadgets, including smartphones, computer tablets and digital cameras. Invest in these gadgets and learn how to use them -- your local senior center may offer a free class on how to Skype, for instance -- so that you can connect with the kids across the miles. Many seniors are befuddled by technology today. They fear computer crashes and worry about learning how to use them, but, in the end, it's worth it to overcome your anxieties. Take classes, watch online tutorials and ask your grandchildren to teach you how to use online instant messaging and games. They'll love knowing you want to learn how to connect with them via technology. They'll also get a boost in self-esteem, knowing that they can teach you how to use it.
Pretty soon, you'll be playing games online, video chatting with them, and sharing home movies and photos, too. "I asked my grandson to help me create my own character in an online game he likes to play, and we had so much fun choosing the outfit, the face, the name, my tools, and more," says Andrew Blake, grandfather of five. "He now invites me to log on and play, and I'm getting really good at it. I overheard him telling his friend that I'm in the online game, and his friend said, 'I wish my grandfather was cool like yours.' He really liked that, as did I."
So consider gaming to be the first of the new ways to connect with grandkids. It doesn't have to be a character-driven online game. Many grandparents and grandkids log on to play a game of Scrabble through Facebook or compare scores in Angry Birds and other games they play on their smartphones. In addition to showing kids that you're fun, you're also getting a brain workout that's good for you. "I like to mix in word games with my granddaughter, just to add the occasional educational activity," says Elaine Devon, grandmother of three.
Another way to take advantage of technology is to choose an e-book that you and the grandkids will read together. It can be the latest hot book series such as "Harry Potter" was or it can be e-versions of children's books that you read to your faraway grandkids using Skype. This way, you create a new ritual of Grandma or Grandpa reading them their bedtime story every Sunday night. If you're reading the same book on your own time, you can then log on to chat with them about what they liked and didn't like in the book. It's different from the pressure kids may feel about giving book reports in front of the class. The free-from-pressure and free-from-grading atmosphere in reading with you could produce a love of reading in the child. That, too, will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Reading, then, is connection No. 2.
Technology aside, plan in-person outings with each of your grandchildren. Take your science-minded grandson to a kid-friendly, hands-on museum display and your dance-loving granddaughter to the ballet at the community theater. Little artists can join you at a ceramics or pottery center. Tailor the outing to what the child has shown an interest in, and also ask whether they'd like to join you in an activity you love. Kids appreciate grandparents asking them their opinion and not just saying, "We're going bird-watching. You'll love it." When you explain what you love about bird-watching and which types you've seen, what you're hoping to see, and the websites you use to identify birds, kids are more apt to give it a try. Your outing, then, can be as simple as an afternoon in the backyard with binoculars and a computer tablet to identify birds or you can go on a birding nature hike with a local eco group.
Also in the nontechnology category is the big trend of cooking together. Kids are more interested than ever in unique foods, and some preteens and teens watch the Food Network. It's also very easy to find terrific kid-friendly recipes online, such as at Better Homes and Gardens' website and Disney's Family Fun website. Invite your grandkids to help search for the recipe you'll try out together, and it's perfectly OK if it rates as a "yuck" and doesn't have to be eaten. Grandparents are fun like that.