Years ago families gathered at Grandma’s for Sunday lunch and spent the afternoon eating, playing games, and catching up on the week’s events. Today families rarely follow the days-gone-by format that includes a Sunday afternoon visit to the grandparents.

However, some grandparents spend many hours a week with their grandchildren since both parents are at work or have a single-parent family. What’s the best way for grandparents to make use of time with their grandchildren? How can they use that time to pour their wisdom into the little ones and teens? What are some suggested activities that create teachable moments grandparent to grandchild?

Amy and her husband, Les, both work the night shift. They work every other weekend, so their four children are off to Grandma’s from Thursday through Monday. The children are happy, parents don’t worry while they are at work, and Grandma and Grandpa get to know their grandchildren.

Elyse, Amy and Les’s oldest daughter, recently discussed this subject with her grandmother, and it went something like this:

“Elyse, we love having you and all your siblings stay with us when your mom and dad are working. We would just like to make things easier for you as well as share some of the things we have learned. Y’all are growing up so fast and our time with you is limited.”

“Yeah.” Elyse turned to look at her grandmother with a grin. “You don’t know how much time you have left!”
With a shocked look on her face, Grandma replied, “Well, as long as I have breath, I am going to enjoy being with all of you and try to help you learn and grow into the people God made you to be.”

Elyse nodded. “That’s a good idea since you don’t know how much time you have!”

Grandma laughed along with Elyse as this new theme to their conversation emerged.

Because of the closeness that comes from spending a lot of time together, Grandma and Elyse can talk about any subject, even joke about some of the serious ones. When children are cared for by their grandparents on a regular basis, grandparents are more than just a place to spend the night. They must parent the grandchildren, see to their needs, carpool to various activities, and sometimes even oversee homeschooling. When grandchildren spend extended times at Grandma’s house, here are a few things to help the time go more smoothly:

When you talk to your grandchildren, speak on their level—not only with vocabulary, but also physically. No one likes to speak to someone else’s knees. So with small children, kneel or squat in front of them, sit on the floor, or pull them up into your lap. Talking eye-to-eye with older grandchildren will help them to open up and put them at ease.

Remember: when you are with your grandchildren, you are a family unit, and as such, must operate with respect and good manners toward each other. You are probably aware of the courtesies the children practice at home. Do your best to use the same courtesies.

Maintain the same routine at Grandma’s house that the children follow at home. You may need to have a chat with the parents to find out specifics, but it will pay off to keep schedules as normal as possible. Things to discuss with the parents are bedtimes, dietary restrictions, phone or computer privileges, medications, and schoolwork that must be done, such as outside reading, science projects, and so on.

If the children have outside activities during the time they are at your house, make sure you know where to take them and the times for pick up. Ask for any special things you need to be aware of. For example, does Mom always bring a snack for the dance carpool line? Does Dad always stop for ice cream after Trail Life?

Grandnannys need to remember that time with grandchildren is far more than just babysitting. It is a privilege to help the grandchildren mature and develop during their growing years. When grandchildren come to visit, for whatever reason and for whatever length of time, Grandma and Grandpa can “pour” wisdom into their little ones. This doesn’t mean sitting them all in a row in front of you with a whiteboard for diagramming. Pouring into your grandchildren involves getting on their level and sharing a life lesson through stories and visual examples similar to object lessons. Pouring into them is fun and builds memories that will never be forgotten. Someday grandchildren will say to their children, “When I was a little girl/boy and stayed with my grandparents, I…”

How can you pour into your sweet grandchildren? By taking hold of every teachable moment.

When you walk to the mailbox, stop to watch the ants scurry around their hills. Marvel at how even the smallest creatures are self-sufficient.

When you remove the mail from the box and see a personal letter, talk about friendship and how to be a good friend. Stories of you and your friend who wrote the letter may provide unexpected lessons for the day.

When you cook dinner, enlist some young helpers and give them specific jobs to do. Mealtime affords opportunity for everyone to be included in the preparation. Once children are walking, they can carry silverware to the table with a little assistance. Toddlers can “stir” things. (They usually tire easily and will relinquish the spoon, so you can finish up.) You may have a bit more mess to clean up, but you will also have diners who proudly enjoy their meals more because they had a part in making it happen.

For preteens and teens, give them the opportunity to share what has been going on in their lives. Away from the family group, they are very likely to tell you about the things that really bother them. Sometimes a road trip to an activity or the store can create that time. Just ask a question or two to get started and you will be amazed at the places the conversation will take you.

Preteen Abigail and Grandma had been discussing friends. There was one special person that Abigail really wanted to become friends with. The next time Grandma picked Abigail up to go somewhere, Abigail jumped in the car with a smile on her face. “She asked me to go to the movies with her!” There was no need for explanation as to who “she” was or anything else. Grandma and Abigail had been talking about this for a while and they just continued the conversation where it stopped the last time. When you have a close relationship with a grandchild, they will welcome you into the most important parts of their lives.

Do you live in a city? Or on a farm? Use your location to instill history or nature lessons. For instance, on a farm when you go outside to the chicken yard to gather eggs, take the grands along and let them look for eggs in the coop. They will learn about the food chain and specifically learn about chickens or any other animals around the farm.

At bath time or bedtime for the younger children, tell them stories of when you were a young person their age. Relate the stories to modern days and point out to them how things have changed. Talk about how much easier or harder things were then and now. For older children, bedtime could be a short time of sharing and reflecting on the day. When keeping the children for more than night or two, make sure to establish a routine that works for you.

A visit to Grandma’s house should always include lots of fun. But in some cases one or both grandparents may still be employed or work at home. You may have to use a little old fashioned bargaining to get your work done. If the children want to play a game, play the game in exchange for 30 minutes of computer time. Most grandchildren don’t need to be entertained every minute as long as you treat them fairly and give them periods of undivided attention.
Games are fun for all. Some of the ones that work for most ages are hide and seek, go fish, Yahtzee, and kick ball.

If some games are too hard for the youngest, play in teams. If some games are too strenuous for Grandma or Grandpa, pick the ones you can do. Hide and seek works well for most people because you can play it indoors or out, you can hide behind a door standing up (so you don’t have to get on the floor), and all ages can play. If you have an infant who is awake at game time, hold him or her in your arms to hide or seek.

When parents come to pick up the grandchildren, remember to praise the children in front of their parents for the things they did correctly or for times they were especially helpful, considerate, or kind. Point out times they interacted well with their siblings or when the older ones helped you out with the younger ones.

Unless there is a matter of safety or real need-to-know involved, don’t recount every little squabble. I’ve heard it said, “What happens at Grandma’s, stays at Grandma’s.” In most cases that’s good advice.

Grandnannying is not a new concept. Families have helped each other out for centuries. But it may be new to you. You can be the best grandnanny ever. Embrace it, be creative about it, be intentional about making memories, enjoy it, and most of all, thank God for the privilege of pouring into your grandchildren.

Linda Gilden is a freelance writer living in South Carolina who loves every opportunity to grandnanny her six grandchildren. She and her husband live on a farm and do their best to make memories every day. Find out more at lindagilden.com.