How much can your kids tell you about Grandma and Grandpa? Do they know what Grandma or Grandpa did for a living? What about other special skills the Grands have mastered (other than how to tickle a kid helpless)? Can your kids tell you any real facts about Grandma or Grandpa’s life at all?

Although they may spend many happy hours with their grandparents, a surprising number of kids know very little about their grammies and grampas, omas and opas, nonnis and poppas.

And both generations are poorer for it. Grandparents deserve more than two lines in their grandchild’s family narrative, and generally speaking, kids are stronger emotionally when they have a good understanding of their heritage and feel it’s something to be proud of.

NSW Grandparents Day (presented by the Department of Communities and Justice) is held on the last Sunday of October to celebrate the contributions grandparents make to their families and communities. As a National celebration, though, Australia’s Grandparents Day has never really caught on.

Regardless, there are some good reasons to think about hosting your own special “getting to know the grandparents better” afternoon. And now might be the right time to put some plans in motion.

Hold back that rising wave of overwhelm for a second and think about it this way:

  • planning the whole shebang shouldn’t fall to you; a special celebration of grandparents should be planned by the grandkids

  • it’s a great opportunity for your kids to think about how they could bless someone else, an exercise to help them grow in kindness, service, hospitality and all those good things

  • it doesn’t need to be elaborate or Pinterest perfect – letting Nana and Pops know that the kids have planned “a little something for them” will set their expectations at the right level

  • lastly, letting your kids plan the occasion might be just what you need to keep them busy and off screens. (Okay, maybe that is just a little self-serving, but in the end it’s a win for everyone, right?)

There’s no magic formula, but here are some ideas that both kids and grandparents should enjoy.

Ideas for a Back to the Future afternoon

Kids can’t imagine what it’s like to be an adult – either in today’s world or in yesteryear. But kids do understand what it’s like to be a kid. So hosting a “back to the future” afternoon might be just what’s needed to open your kids’ eyes to a new and nifty side of the Grands.

Play some old-time outdoor games

Surprise, Kids! Grandma and Grandpa played plenty of cool run-around-and-scream-yourself-silly games in their childhood! Invite them over to coach you in some of their old favourites – games like Mother May I, Freeze Tag and What’s the Time Mr. Wolf (the unrivalled best of the best from my childhood). Turn down the volume a little with games like Piggy in the Middle, Jump Rope, Hop Scotch and Four Square.

Play some old-time indoor games

No mobile phones? No TV? No problem! As kids, Grandma and Grandpa could amuse themselves for hours indoors. Ask them to share some of their tech-free pastimes – games like Charades, Sardines, Musical Chairs or simple paper games like Dots and Boxes, Hangman or folding a chatterbox. Don’t forget to ask about their favourite pretend play too; it might give your kids new inspiration. (My sister and I ran a pretend café for hours on end, prompted by the simple gift of two white baker’s hairnets. Ah, the memories!)

Bring out some retro toys

If you’re prepared to splurge a little, surprise Grandma and Grandpa by sourcing some of the toys they played with as children, then let them crack open the seal and introduce the games to your kids. Someone will need to make veiled enquiries first, to find out what Grandma’s and Pops’ picks might be, but be ready for some of the gotta-haves from the 50’s and 60’s like marbles, checkers, jacks/knucklebones, pick-up sticks, yo-yos, magic slates, Spirograph, Mastermind or Barrel of Monkeys. High-energy kids will take a shine to hula hoops and skip balls. For teens, let Grandma and Granddad introduce them to games like Euchre or Crib.

Blast from the past movies

Do Grandma and Grandpa have any 8mm movie reels stashed away? They just might have a movie projector too – or you could have the 8mm film transferred onto DVD. Blow the kids’ minds with movie of Grandpa’s 10th birthday, or his home in the old country. Or maybe Grandma could dust off that old slide projector that’s so retro cool now. Want to keep it low key? Simply watch one of Grandma’s and Grandpa’s favourite TV shows from their childhood. Gentle Ben or Lassie anyone?

Radio interview

You won’t know if you don’t ask! How about setting up a pretend radio interview that explores Grandma’s and Granddad’s childhood? You can make this as formal or informal as you like, but be sure to record it for posterity. Here are some questions your young interviewers could ask:

When you were my age . . .
Did you believe in Jesus yet?
When did you start believing in Him?
Where did you live?
What did you like most about your neighbourhood?
What chores did you have?
What toys did you have?
What was your favourite after-school pastime?
What did you look forward to in the summer? In the winter?
What was your favourite TV show about?
Did you have any pets?
What were your birthday parties like?
What kind of work did your parents do? How did your parents discipline you?
How did you get to school?
Did you have a school uniform? What did you like wearing to school?
What did you take to school for lunch?
Who was your best friend in school?
Why did you like your friend so much?
What did you play at recess?
What kinds of sports did you play?
What was your favourite subject in school?
What was one time when you got into trouble?
What lesson have you learned that might be helpful to me right now?

Questions teens could ask
Who taught you to drive?
What type of car did you learn in?
How did you listen to music?
What social activities did you do with your friends?
What was your first job?
How did you decide what your career might be?
How did you meet Grandma/Grandpa?
What have been some of your biggest aha! moments?
What were your parents like?
What did your parents do for a living?
What’s your favourite Scripture passage?
Do you have a life verse? How did you come by it?
What’s your favourite worship song?

Timeline adventures

Grandma and Grandpa have lived through some awesome moments in history – even some that kids will care about! Like, say, the first-ever moonwalk, the first-ever Star Wars movie release, discovery of the wreck of the Titanic, and now ships from the Franklin expedition too. Reel out a roll of craft paper and make some of this history personal for your kids. Have them create a timeline of major events of interest to them, then present it to the grandparents and let Grandma and Grandpa add their own personal “major life events” on the timeline too. It’ll make a great keepsake, and might even draw out some surprising personal connections to historic occasions!

Passing on skills

Grandma and Grandpa have some talents that are becoming rare: they can do multiplication in their head, and a whole lot more! Your teens may be interested in an afternoon learning how to take notes in double-quick time in shorthand, or learning how to make ginger beer, how to can fruit or how to use a sewing machine. Maybe they’d like to learn some Morse code from Granddad, or a little about being a ham radio operator. The tutoring’s sure to come free of charge!

Younger kids might enjoy a store-purchased construction kit or craft kit that becomes a special project that’s reserved for working on with Grandma or Grandpa only. For bonus points, choose something that ties into Grandma or Grandpa’s past, like models of cars Grandpa once owned, or a watercolour painting kit, if painting’s been one of Grandma’s passions.

Here’s hoping these ideas are the start of a really fun afternoon for your family. And if you’re a grandparent, don’t wait to be asked; you can host your own back to the future get-together for the grandkids. You’ve got plenty worth sharing, and the kids will love it!

© 2018 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Catherine Wilson

Associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

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