Learning alongside your grandchildren

I can remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was 30 years ago. My Grandad would take my younger brother and I down to his farm. We would feed out hay while sitting on the back of his Ute, help him solve problems with fences and water pipes, and learn about the life cycle of animals.

There was a steep gravel hill we had to scale on the way home. It always felt touch-and-go whether we would make it up. At times we needed multiple attempts. Grandad would put the Ute into four-wheel wheel drive mode, then rev it to the hilt, and up we would go. The wheels were spinning and the engine sounded like it was going to burst out of the bonnet. But we always made it up in the end. We knew our Grandad would find a way.

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Other times it was fishing, music, and watching rugby together. He was President of the New Zealand Rugby Union in 1984. He taught me the value of hard work, honesty and the importance of family. Every afternoon at 4pm, he would sit with Grandma as they sipped their gin and tonics and told us stories about their younger years. These experiences, etched in my consciousness, were a valuable part of my education growing up. As a father of four children and a school teacher, I would like to offer some practical thoughts about how you as a grandparent can support the learning of your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Firstly, thank you to all those grandparents who take an active interest in the education of their grandchildren. This is the foundation – a relationship must be built, a connection made. Talk with your grandkids about what they are learning as you help them with their homework. Allow them to explain, perform and show off. Children embed their learning by explaining it to others. Most schools have an events calendar on their website, where you can plan the events you would like to attend. Celebrate and enjoy your grandchildren as they participate in school competitions – be the leader of their fan club. Also, look out for the annual Grandparents Day that a number of schools now facilitate.

Learning opportunities are all around us. Like my Grandad did, include your grandchildren in your hobbies. Whether it’s fishing, gardening, music, golf, cooking, there is a vast amount of learning that can be garnered from new experiences. Through these we develop confidence, creativity, cooperation, and we grow as people. As you teach them, they will also teach you. Children energise us, keep us fit, and help us understand different worldviews.

Unstructured play, especially with under-fives, is so important for development. Let them dress you up as the king and queen as you role-play with them, have a tea party, or play card games like memory or snap. Read to them and listen to them read. Try and facilitate some specific, focused one-on-one time with each grandchild whenever possible. Nothing beats a spontaneous smile or hug from a child.

Modern technology is not a silver bullet for learning. Don’t worry if you are not up to date with the latest technological developments. Computers and personal devices are no match for a thoughtfully delivered story by a grandparent – especially those of a personal nature. Tell them funny stories about when you were young.

Traditions create lasting memories. In mid-January each year, our extended family have an annual blueberry picking day, where we pick enough blueberries to last for the next 12 months! We also have an annual family picnic which has a different theme each year, such as the Pirongia Clydesdales, Waitomo Caves, or the Waihi Goldfields Railway.

Having lived through a number of life’s stages, you are able see the big picture. Parents of young children can often get caught in a survival-mode mentality, and at times need someone with a wider, long-term view to come alongside. We appreciate the support our parents provide to our children. My parents live in Nelson and Angela’s in Hamilton, and they are both involved in different ways. We all need a sense of connection and belonging, and families are one of the best ways to provide this.