BTS tradition: 10 ways to support school-bound grandchildren (plus a few extra)

Ah, back-to-school time. The past few years at this time, I've shared the following post from my archives. It's always gotten a great response — because grandparents are awesome and want to be involved in the education of their grandkiddos — so I hereby pronounce this post an annual BTS tradition.

This time around I've updated it in a few ways, including adding suggestions from other grandmas who shared tips in comments on the post in the past. (Thank you, ladies!)

Originally published August 6, 2013

My daughter Megan is not only the mother of my awesome grandsons, she was also an elementary school teacher for several years before MOM became her full-time job. Here are a few suggestions she and I came up with for supporting school-bound grandchildren in ways that will garner an A+ not only from the kids, but from their parents and teachers, too.

back to school ideas for grandparents

1. Send a care package to be opened the night before school starts. Consider adding new cozy jammies to help ease pre-first-day jitters (or to cuddle in after a rough first day), new pencils emblazoned with favorite characters, and a greeting card expressing best wishes for a fabulous start to the school year.

2. Ask Mom or Dad for a copy of the school supply list as well as suggestions on what you can purchase to check off the list.

3. Offer to buy the all-important backpack or lunch box — but only if the child goes with you to pick it out. Fads and styles come and go in an instant, and if your grandchild doesn't get a box or bag donning her favorite character or what's hot among her peers, chances are she won't be lugging either to school.

4. Speaking of backpacks, recruit your grandchild to help you purchase and fill a backpack for a less-fortunate child. Most schools will gladly accept such donations for their students in need, plus a handful of charitable organizations conduct backpack drives. Check around in your city for such opportunities or do a Google search for "backpack donations" to find an organization near you.

5. Request a copy of the school calendar so you can mark important dates and events you may be able to attend, such as the back-to-school open house, fall programs, field days, sporting events and more. The calendar should show Grandparents Day events, too — which, given enough notice, even long-distance grandparents may be able to attend.

6. Sign up for email newsletters and blog updates from the teacher. Every school should have a website with reams of information of interest to parents and grandparents, and many teachers are now required to keep a blog for those who want to stay on top of what's happening in the classroom.

7. Email the child's teacher to introduce yourself. This first seemed a tad stalkerish to me, but Megan assured me she and most teachers are delighted when grandparents want to be involved. Parents are given the teacher's email address at the start of the year, so ask Mom or Dad if they mind sharing it with you.

8. Go beyond simply introducing yourself to your grandchild's teacher and offer to volunteer in the classroom. One of the most active and admirable grandma volunteers I've come across is Grandma Kc, who wrote the blog Amaraland. Her posts on the topic of volunteering highlight the rewards for all — students, schools, and grandparents — when grandparents pitch in at school. Long-distance grandparents who can't help at their grandchild's school can make a difference by volunteering to be a grandparent helper at a nearby school. Just as your grandchild is far away, there are many grandchildren whose grandparents are far away — kids who would be thrilled to have a stand-in for their Grandma or Grandpa (their teacher would, too).

9. Stock up on postcards or gift cards to send to your grandchild throughout the year to show your support for their hard efforts and your wish for their educational success. Adults often take it for granted children just know we want them to do well in school, but having our wishes in writing to hold in their hands and re-read when studies — and peer pressure — overwhelm can bouy kids in tough times we adults may not even realize they're having.

10. Show genuine interest in their lessons and encourage further learning outside the classroom. Have an open and ongoing dialogue about what you most enjoyed about classes at the child's age, ask what he's excited to learn or most challenged by, find out what he wants to know more about. Then plan outings related to subjects they're especially interested in to supplement lessons with fun and educational activities, road trips and more.

Plus tips from grandma commenters:

• I print out my granddaughter's school district calendar that is online so I can keep updated on what is going on. ~Debbie E.

• Teachers also love grandparents to work with small groups on various skills. I have also joined the PTAs of their schools. ~Joan Stommen

• When my granddaughter was in pre-school, my daughter would forward me teacher emails. I donated carnival prizes because I knew about the need this way. ~Joyce

Back-to-school time can be scary and challenging — though exciting, too — for all students, from those just entering kindergarten on up to those who've been at it for years. No matter their age, be sure your grandchildren know they can count on you to cheer them on as they hit the books this fall.

Today's question:

What tips would you add... for inclusion in next year's annual BTS posting?