My grandparents were intensely passionate about education. Both highly educated, they spent the first halves of their adult lives as teachers, principals, and school administrators. Some of my earliest memories include my grandmother busily shuffling into my mother’s classroom, where I was sitting beside her desk as she taught her first-grade students.
Despite their passion, Grandmama and Granddaddy left their last school when I was about 5, and their new education journey began that same day.
They chose to support their children when they decided to homeschool the grandkids.
And that’s how their involvement in education evolved. They embraced this new role wholeheartedly! The extra bedroom was transformed into a “cousins’ schoolroom.” My grandfather spearheaded music lessons, hiring a highly qualified music teacher and purchasing instruments. My mother and aunts worked alongside Grandmama to educate us, and we had a literal homeschool. Honestly, it was some of the best years of my life and a time I remember fondly.
Over time, my grandparents’ role in our education changed. As the number of grandkids grew and we got older, our “classrooms” shifted from my grandparent’s home to our own dining room tables. But, this didn’t keep my grandparents from being involved!
Granddaddy continued encouraging our music, offering incentives, financial aid, and equipment. Meanwhile, my grandmother suggested that she help with certain aspects of our education—like art, state history, foreign languages, and additional music.
One day each week, we would all meet at her breakfast table in shifts, completing our studies and gleaning from her wisdom and many years of teaching. At the end of the school day, we’d all gather together and learn to play our musical instruments and sing together in a group, with her leading our efforts.
It was a truly ideal educational experience with the best that a multi-generational academic focus could give! I’ll always be so grateful for my grandparents’ interest in my education, and I know that I’m better for it today.
As idyllic as my education was, it’s not always possible for grandparents to be quite so involved in their grandchildren’s education. But this doesn’t mean grandparents have to sit on the sideline!
Check out these seven ways that you as a grandparent can get involved.
If you want to be involved in your grandchildren’s education, the first step should include talking with your grandkids’ parents. Make sure they are on board with your involvement, and set expectations and boundaries. The role of a grandparent in a child’s life is priceless, but your enthusiasm shouldn’t cross any lines or disrupt the family dynamic. Communicate your hopes, goals, and intentions and listen to any hopes or concerns on the part of the parents. Together, you can formulate a plan to maximize your involvement without upsetting the apple cart.
If you live near your grandchildren, you may be able to volunteer at their school. Schools always have volunteer opportunities, and you can be near your grandchildren in their educational environment. From helping in the library to being a teacher’s aide, or perhaps offering to be a lunch buddy, volunteer opportunities abound in today’s school system.
Grandkids Matter encourages grandparents to take advantage of these opportunities. “Being a volunteer at school helps you develop a strong relationship with the younger generation and lets you feel connected to their fast-changing society. It also allows you to see the world in a new way.”
You can still get involved if you don’t live near your grandchildren! Kids in your area may need a grandparent figure in their lives, and you could fill that void. Groups like the Experience Corps specialize in this type of work.
Express an Interest
Kids crave acceptance and validation. Even kids who claim not to care actually do care. Grandparents are wonderful people to offer this unconditional relationship. This doesn’t mean you can’t express disapproval or offer your wisdom, but it does mean that grandparents have the freedom to cultivate a relationship without the pressures that come with parenthood.
“Being a grandparent is very different from being a parent,” explains Conrad Plimpton of Veritas Press. “The pressure is off since presence is our purpose. We let go of parental vigilance, correction, and direction that was so long ago our responsibility. We must not be patronizing or parental in any way. Our sole purpose is to love, encourage, nurture and inspire our grandchildren’s interests by simply listening.”
What better way to do this than by expressing an interest in their educational pursuits?
Communicating with your grandchildren is essential. Keep the lines of communication open and initiate a relationship. Communication can happen whether you live with your grandkids or you’re worlds apart. Kids are often specific about the types of communication they choose to use regularly, so you might have to make sure you’re up on some of the latest technology.
Ask creative questions that will lead to a comprehensive response vs. one-word answers. Include topics related to their activities, their friends, and what they’re excited about. HuffPost offers a wonderful list of question suggestions here.
Feeling heard is a critical aspect of a child’s relationship with the adults in their lives. Two effective strategies are listening and ensuring that your grandchild knows you’re there for them.
Jump Into Action
Discover your grandkids’ interests, passions, and pursuits. Offer to help them with projects. Lighten their parents’ load by running the kids to and from practice. Attend concerts, plays, and games.
Another tremendously effective approach for participating in your grandchildren’s education is making yourself available to help with homework or to prepare for exams. Their parents may welcome the help, and it will help bring you and your grandstudent together.
Your involvement doesn’t have to stop with helping your grandkids with their formal schooling. Education includes nearly every area of life. You’re in a different stage of life, with advanced life experience. You have wisdom, skills, and perspective to offer! Don’t be afraid to share.
“Grandparents can be wonderful role models for children by demonstrating how to be lifelong learners,” Senior Services encourages their readers. “Read with your grandchild, visit the library together, cook together, take a class on a topic that interests you.”
Be an active part of your grandchild’s educational support team.
Kids experience a wide range of frustrations, emotions, successes, and failures in their education. Grandparents are uniquely qualified to engage their students in conversation about these ups and downs. Without the parental strings attached, you can be a friendly ear, a comforting hug, and a reassuring smile.
Encourage your grandchildren in their education. Be their biggest cheerleader when they succeed and a steadfast pillar of inspiration when they fail. Grandkids Matter explores this concept. “Students inevitably fail; it’s part of their learning and development. We can help turn setbacks into positive learning experiences—rather than embarrassments or failures—by being unwavering sources of confidence and support for our kids. They’ll begin to recognize and count on that support, the relationship will be strengthened…”
Encouragement can come through words, physical touch, a written note, or even incentives. My grandfather was great with encouragement. He was supportive and present, using every tool available. During some of the most challenging times in my musical education, his incentives are what gave me the determination to push through. He was great at reminding us that we could make it independently, but that he would be there when we finished!
One summer, he told us that if we completed a certain number of practice hours every week for 2 months, he would take us all ice skating at the local skating rink. Since we lived in Florida, that sounded like an absolute dream! Although it was a huge challenge, each and every one of us completed the required practice time! However, the reward seemed that much better because we knew it meant that he cared.
Grandparents can inspire their grandkids to do great things! The best thing about encouraging your grandchildren in their education is that it can be done in person or from afar. Don’t let distance get in your way!
If you’re able, investing in your grandchildren’s education through financial contributions can be a blessing to your family. From helping with expenses during grade school to participating in a college fund, investing financially is a tangible way to participate in your grandkids’ education.
Forbes notes that many seniors prioritize contributing to their grandchildren’s college education, with 72% of grandparents believing this is an important step. About 53% of grandparents are currently contributing or are planning to when the time comes.
Here are some other ways grandparents can invest financially in their grandkids’ education:
- Gift a zoo or a museum membership
- Fund field trips through the school year or over the summer break
- Incentivize effort through an experience
- Help out with extracurricular expenses
- Ensure lower-income grandchildren enjoy proper school meals
- Pay their way to competitions, workshops, conferences, or other educational events
If you’re local, the experiences you fund are great opportunities to get extra involved. Go with the grandkids to the zoo. Plan the field trip with them and experience it together! Participation is one of the best ways to be involved; these are wonderful times to make that a reality.
Often, grandparents have the financial ability to add that cherry on top. You can be the reason your grandchild succeeds in a big way!
Adopt a Grandkid
If you’re a grandparent who isn’t local to your grandchild or a senior without grandkids of your own, don’t forget the “orphans” in your local school yards! Millions of kids don’t have involved grandparents and would benefit from having an “adoptive” grandparent involved in their education.
We don’t recommend neglecting your own grandchildren, but perhaps once you’ve done all that you can from a distance, you can turn your eyes closer to home.
Worth the Effort
Whether you’re near or far, related by blood, marriage, or have a relationship based simply on affection, the influence and impact that you can have on education are undeniable.
Kids and their families face many challenges, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a different world today, and they will benefit from your wisdom, perspective, love, support, and resources. With creativity and determination, you can have a long-term impact on the young people you love the most!