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"[Grandmother and I] approached every day together as an adventure, filled with the simple joys and discoveries that are fresh and new to a child and that can also make a grandmother feel fresh and new again.” Sharon Lovejoy, Camp Granny
If you want to impart a sense of wonder in your grandchildren, this book is a must. Building on the legacy of her own grandmother, Lovejoy provides simple, inexpensive ideas for tapping into your grandchild’s curiosity and creativity. From setting up your home before your grandchildren come to visit to making bean soup into a lesson in growing, she will guide you through adventures that you’ll enjoy as much as your grandchildren will. The book itself is beautiful and well-written. Put Camp Granny on your wish list, or treat yourself to it today. Just make sure you read it before your grandchildren’s next visit!
Anyone else feeling sad that the trip to or from the grandkids just isn’t going to happen this summer? How about creating a virtual vacation?
Last year, we had an idyllic week by the lake with all of our kids and grandkids. We watched the 14-month-old learn to walk, pushing a milk crate around the deck. Pops had a ready helper for every chore and a willing companion for errands. We had long dinners outside, early morning kayak rides, and endless bowls of cherries. One evening a raccoon even came by and washed his hands in the stream on the property right in front of us, like the universe had gifted us a special memory.
I spent every afternoon luxuriating in having my family all in one place. I knew then that we were lucky to be able to gather everyone, and that I shouldn’t expect it to happen every year. It’s hard to get everyone’s schedule to align, and with their third baby in four years, my son’s family warned us that they won’t be traveling for a couple of years.
Still, I didn’t expect a pandemic to make it even harder to be together.
What if you don’t have a backyard?
Nature buffers the impact of life’s stresses on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits.” *
Our last post gave you some ideas for creating a nature rich experience for your grandchildren in your backyard. But not everyone has a backyard! Don’t let that stop you from sharing the wonders and benefits of the natural world with your grandchildren.
With a little effort, you can take them regularly to wild places. What counts as wild? Anywhere that lets them explore and experience nature. Let them climb boulders and balance on logs, let them try to dam up a stream, let them feel the power of a wave. Need help finding somewhere near you? Here are some places to look:
Botanic gardens and arboretums often have spaces designed for children to play and explore. Even those that don’t have plenty of places to roam and engage with nature. Click here to find one near you.
Nature preserves and wildlife refuges are wonderful places to search for lizards or wander through trees and over bridges. They range from redwood forests to coastal wetlands, and can be located here.
National Parks are home to over 17,000 miles of trails and habitat protection for endangered species, and provide bountiful opportunities to explore nature. Find a park here.
The shores of lakes, rivers and oceans are varied and fascinating to children. Sandy beaches provide the chance to dig, sift, and search for different kinds of shells and sea life. Rocky shorelines provide boulders to climb and tidepools inhabited by sea stars and crabs. The Travel Channel has a great guide to beaches.
Aquariums allow kids to see what’s under the sea, and most have touch tanks that let kids see and feel sea life up close. To find an aquarium near you, search here.
What’s your favorite place to take kids to interact with nature?
*Wells & Evans 2003
Do you remember playing outside as a child? I spent hours upon hours playing in the woods: making elaborate houses with fallen branches, shaping dishes out of the clay we found in the soil, decorating with flowers and leaves. I remember climbing trees so high I got dizzy and had to be coached back down. There were games of hide and seek in the tall grass of an empty lot across the street, and in the winter, elaborate snow forts and all-neighborhood snowball fights.
Children need nature. And not just seeing it, but experiencing it: the feel of grass under their feet, the sound of the birds in the woods, the smell of wet dirt. Studies have shown that children who play regularly in natural environments exhibit more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often*. But for too many children, time playing in nature is a rare treat.
So how can we, as grandparents, help?
Make your yard a place for exploration.
Provide them with natural elements for creative play: sticks and stones and leaves and dirt and water. Keep a place for them to dig for worms. Let them make forts in your bushes and move the rocks in your border. Let them climb your trees and hang from the branches. Let them lie on the grass and watch the bugs. Let them go barefoot and let them get dirty.
It can be that easy. But if you want more ideas for making your backyard into a child-friendly play space, I highly recommend Molly Dannenmaier’s book, A Child’s Garden. She provides dozens of ideas and inspiration for creating natural play areas that fit into adult gardens.
For more about the crucial role nature plays for all of us, read The Nature Fix by Florence Williams.
No backyard? No problem. I’ll share ideas for connecting children to nature in my next post.
*Grahn, et al. 1997, Fjortoft & Sageie 2001
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Whether your grandchildren live across the world or just next door, writing them notes and letters creates a place for them to share their lives with you, and for you to share yours with them. Even today, with our ability to see and hear our grandchildren instantly no matter where they are in the world, there is an important place for the written word.
If Your Grandchildren Live Far Away
Did you ever have a pen pal as a child? Do you remember the thrill of getting a letter in the mail? (Let’s face it, it’s still exciting to get real mail!) If your grandchildren live in another city, state or country, establishing a habit of regular postal correspondence can bring you closer. Even before they can write, there are ways to make a pen pal out of your grandchildren.
If Your Grandchildren Live Nearby
Just because your grandchildren live close enough for frequent visits doesn’t mean there isn’t room for written exchanges. In addition to the ideas above, there are some special ways to engage your grandkids.
Do you have other ideas for making written correspondence a part of your relationship with your grandchildren? Please share in the comments!
My mother-in-law has always captivated her grandchildren with the stories she tells of her childhood in a small mid-western town. Whether it’s about the time she burned the popcorn at her grandmother’s theater or the time her older siblings locked her in the basement, she is able to make another age and place come alive. But those stories do more than just entertain the kids. According to research, children and adolescents who know more of their family history have higher self-esteem, higher social and academic competence, and fewer behavior problems.
Researchers at Emory University developed the “Do You Know…?” scale to study how families pass along their history. Sometimes called “The 20 Questions”, the DYK Scale is comprised of questions that tap into different kinds of family stories. Questions like “Do you know what went on when you were being born?” and “Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?” are starting points for sharing family stories. It’s not passing on the knowledge that is most important, it’s the telling of the stories that connects the generations and provides the sense of self and belonging that promotes children's well-being.
You can find the full set of twenty questions here. The last one made me laugh ("Do you know a relative whose face 'froze' in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?"), but they all sparked ideas for stories to tell. Next time you talk to your grandkids, why not use these question to guide your conversation?
Duke, M.P., Lazarus, A., & Fivush, R. (2008). Knowledge of family history as a clinically useful index of psychological well-being and prognosis: A brief report. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 45, 268-272.
Do you want to be the grandfather wrestling with your grandkids, or the one who can’t lift them because of a bad back? Do you want to watch them play superheroes, or help them vanquish the bad guys? How many years of your grandchild’s life do you hope to be around for? If you haven’t been motivated to take good care of yourself, perhaps being a grandparent is the inspiration you need. Would you take up exercise to squeeze out a few extra years?
I’ve always hated exercise. That endorphin rush that you read about has never happened for me, and the only physical exertion I’ve ever actually enjoyed is kayaking in still waters. Which, since I don’t live near still waters, is not something I can pursue as a regular workout. I was lucky: my genetics meant that even without a vigorous exercise program, I stayed healthy and strong for the first fifty years of my life.
Eventually, however, my excellent genes began to age. I found myself having trouble lifting my suitcase into the overhead bin. I got stiff if I sat on the floor too long. And then my grandson arrived. I realized that to be part of his world I would need to be able to carry 30 pounds and spend long stretches sitting on the concrete with a fat piece of chalk in my hand. And I joined a gym for the first time in my life.
Pilates, yoga, weight training: these are all excellent ways for older adults to keep fit enough to play like a toddler. The average age that someone becomes a grandparent today is 50, hardly a senior citizen. No matter what your age, though, staying in shape is a powerful gift to your grandchildren. Getting down on the floor allows you to see the world from their vantage point and be a part of their world. Being able to get up again without difficulty is a bonus!