Recently I was with a group of friends, and we were talking about our favorite topic—our grandchildren, of course! It always amazes me how we all love our grandchildren, but many of us don’t really ‘know’ them. For a variety of reasons, grandparents sometimes have little knowledge about what is really going on in their grandchildren’s lives, and that’s especially true when it comes to their education. Many grandparents would like to be more in tune with their grandkids’ schooling, goals, hobbies, friends, accomplishments and struggles.

I am fortunate to have 10 of my 13 grandchildren living in the same metropolitan area. This does make it easier to become involved in their schooling and accomplishments. However, grandparents who do not live close can still keep in touch with their grandkids’ education. Here are some ways that all of us can stay involved and informed:

FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCESgrandmother-helping-girl-homework

If you are fortunate to be near your grandchildren, I highly recommend volunteering at their school a half day a week or twice a month. 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 a new way.

Even if you aren’t always in the same classroom as your grandchildren, they love knowing you are in the building! Most school districts have volunteer programs like “Seniors Serving Schools” or the WATCH D.O.G.S. program for dads and grandfathers. You can be a tutor, a library aide, a lunch pal, a teacher’s aide who copies worksheets and helps with crafts, or someone who simply listens while a student reads to you. You can also help at school functions and carnivals, or since so many moms work today, the classroom teacher might even need a room grandmother.

There are a number of different roles or positions you could fill—and they are all very rewarding. Most schools welcome any volunteers! You’ll probably just need to fill out paperwork and be approved in advance. Check with the school principal or contact the district volunteer coordinator to see what you need to do to be a volunteer.

Also, be sure you attend a variety of your grandchildren’s school events like concerts, games, plays, and school fairs. If you cannot attend or you live far away, ask your children to film parts and send them to you. Some schools allow grandparents to receive the school newsletter and calendar of events (usually with parent permission), which will keep you informed.

Your grandkid’s school might have a Grandparents Club. Check to see if they do … and join. If the school commemorates Grandparents’ Day, don’t miss it. If it doesn’t, ask the principal if you can help start one with other grandparents or with the PTO/PTA. Most Grandparents’ Day activities only last a couple of hours. There is usually a brief orientation session with coffee and muffins, followed by an hour of visiting classrooms, and ending with an all-school assembly where each grade level performs a poem or song for you. A small inexpensive take-home favor is a treasured gift.

Attending programs and helping in the school not only keeps you connected to your grandchildren, but also allows you to see what your grandchild’s world is like.

COMMUNICATION

You already know how important communication is, and it is vital with your grandchildren. You can learn a great deal from them, and vice versa. But first it’s best to communicate with your adult children, letting them know that you want to stay in touch with your grandchildren, and allowing them to establish boundaries. You don’t want to overstep your role or harm the relationship with your children.

Once you’re clear on expectations and boundaries, there are many ways to keep in touch with your family and grandkids using technology and social media: Facebook, Skype, Instagram, Snapchat, texting, and so on. Find out which apps and tools they are using and sign up, then learn them and utilize them.

Of course, the best way to communicate is still face-to-face or by phone. Set up a time, maybe weekly, to call and talk. Or, if you’re able, schedule an ice cream outing with a grandchild several times a month. Find out what is going on in their lives—at school and with other activities. If you weren’t able to attend a recent school event, concert or game, be sure to ask them about it. Tell them how important learning and school are. Ask questions and share your stories and experiences. What are their struggles and joys? What books are they and their peers reading? Ask them what they are learning and offer your help and support. Be creative. Instead of asking, “How was school today?” and getting the same one-word answer (“Fine.”) every time, be ready with some better questions. There’s a great list of them online at The Huffington Post here. There are ways to equip yourself with fun questions that your grandkids will not be able to answer with one word.

Although I recommend asking lots of questions, perhaps the most important part of this communication is listening. Let them do the talking! Encourage them to tell you things. Sometimes grandchildren will tell grandparents things they don’t talk about with their parents. You can have a great conversation by briefly sharing the way things were when you were in school (bullies, homework, clubs, dating, morals, curriculum, etc.), and then ask them how things are different today. Be careful not to be judgmental or smothering. Say positive things to them and say positive things about their parents!

The key is to show interest in them and keep the lines of communication open.

OTHER IDEAS

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There are other ways you can encourage your grandchildren’s education, whether or not you live nearby. One is to offer rewards for good grades. Some grandparents do this and some do not, and this too should be discussed with the kids’ parents. The bigger point is to encourage, encourage, encourage them in their academics. Remember that all kids have strengths and weaknesses, and no matter what grades they receive (if they tell you their grades), be sure to let them know you’re proud of their hard work and ask how they became so good in certain subjects.

Finally, another way to support their education, with their parents’ approval, is to set aside financial help for their future education—technical school, junior college or college. There are many ways to do this on a monthly or yearly basis. Or you can provide more immediate help during a time when their parents may be stretched financially. Maybe you can provide a laptop or tablet, a special calculator or other school supplies, a uniform, sports equipment, music lessons, club fees, and so on. Many times these smaller gifts are a big help.

It is true that grandchildren can keep you young! So the more you are involved in their lives—especially in their education—the younger you will feel … right!? Make that step today to connect with your grandchildren on a deeper level.

tom-eddy-1Tom Eddy was a school administrator for 27 years and is currently a school counselor. He and his wife Marty live in Overland Park, Kansas, and are proud parents of four married children and grandparents of 13 grandchildren (10 in Overland Park and three in Eugene, Oregon).