Grandparents matter. As a site coordinator for the local Children's Literacy Center and in my own personal experience, I continually see ways grandparents make a difference—for harried parents, for folks who interact with the grandchildren now and in the future, and, most importantly, for the grandchildren themselves.
Specifically, I consider grandparents prime influencers who can and should take advantage of the endless opportunities to instill and encourage, among other things, these three very important life skills:
READING: As coordinator of a program that requires participating students to spend 15 minutes a day reading to or with an adult, of course I'm going to say that grandparents can help their grandchildren read. But I'm not talking just about kids with reading challenges. And I'm not talking just about sharing a book together now and then. I mean that always and in all ways, grandparents should stress the importance—and the enjoyment—of reading. It's possibly THE most important life skill a child can and should master. Every chance you get, read to him or her, or have the child read to you. Read books, comics, websites, the newspaper, magazines, recipes, road signs, maps and more. Long-distance grandparents can share books on Skype and through online services such as Readeo, Story Time For Me and others. Give books, magazines, graphic novels, how-to guides as gifts, and request the same when asked what you want for Mother's Day, Christmas, birthdays. Have reading materials on hand, as well as in hand.
Lessons are always reinforced by modeling, so model the life of a reader. Grandchildren will remember such things as seeing Grandma reading craft instructions and the daily news—online or in print—and Grandpa poring over maps, manuals, cookbooks. Model, model, model! It's the simplest, most subtle way of effectively instilling a desired behavior.
MANNERS: Politeness goes beyond "please" and "thank you" and table manners, although those are indeed biggies. But manners include things like punctuality, thank you notes, and RSVPing—one way or the other—when requested. How best to encourage such behavior? Again, by modeling such behavior. Be on time, send thank you notes, and RSVP when invited to a grandchild's function, even if an RSVP wasn't specifically requested. Point out the importance—and benefits—of being on time, whenever you have been, whenever possible. Send thank you notes to grandchildren when they give you ANYthing. Every.Single.Time. Those cards will be cherished as much as the lesson. And never fail to RSVP, even if it feels silly. Calling a grandchild to say "Hey, I just wanted to RSVP to your program (or party or recital or game)" makes it clear how easy, appreciated, and downright awesome the whole RSVP thing can be.
SPEAKING: Everyone likely agrees that kids should read and be polite. But I also think kids should be capable participants in discussions...or at least capable of speaking for themselves when spoken to. One of my pet peeves is kids who cannot (or will not) respond when adults say "hello" to them or offer little beyond a perfunctory glance and a reluctantly mumbled "hi." Toddlers are toddlers; I understand. But they should know from an early age that when an adult friend or family member speaks to them, the polite thing (see above) is to respond. By the time a kid is a teen, there's absolutely no excuse for not responding.
When my girls were teens, a few of their friends thought nothing of never acknowledging parents in the room—even when I spoke directly to them with something as simple as "Hey, how are you?" Gah! I currently have students who when asked what they've been reading or what their favorite part of a story was, Mom or Dad (and sometimes even Grandma) will tell me that little Junior loved this or that. No, I want to hear Junior tell me. Just let kids talk. The more they do it, the better at it they'll be come. Even the shy kids. Honest.
Grandparents can encourage grandchildren to comfortably and appropriately speak up by allowing them to place their own orders with restaurant servers or speak to librarians and cashiers themselves, and by not allowing grandchildren to slip in and out of a room without politely saying "hello" or otherwise acknowledging adults who are present, be they friends or family. Most importantly, grandparents can and should have discussions with their grandchildren about nearly anything of interest to the child, teaching grandkids what enjoyable conversing looks like, feels like.
Fortunately grandparents—in most cases—are not responsible for the day-to-day tasks and challenges of raising their grandchildren. But with myriad opportunities to instill and encourage important life skills, grandparents can certainly have an impact on some of those challenges and be the difference that helps their grandchildren succeed.
Which of the three life skills above do you recall being encouraged by one or both of your grandparents?