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Your fondest memories of your own grandmother may be afternoons spent with her in the kitchen, in the garden, or at her table for a tea party.
While it may seem as if today's grandchildren are interested in little more than playing video games and watching princess videos, they're eager to make similar memories with you. Sharing some of the skills and values you learned at your grandmother's side — and which kids may not be picking up in their own harried homes — is a great way to strengthen your relationship with your own grandchildren.
Be a Kitchen Companion
Your grandchildren may be used to lolling around while waiting for you to prepare and serve them dinner. Next time they visit, invite them into the kitchen, and show them that preparation can be half the fun of a great meal. Start by letting them help you with simple tasks, like measuring or stirring. "If you are baking together, there are certain things that appeal to young children, like sifting flour, or separating yolks from the whites of eggs," says grandmother of five Adele M. Brodkin, Ph.D., a psychologist, author, and senior child-development consultant for Scholastic Inc. "And Grandma can offer a running commentary about why 'we do this' when we bake." As the kids get older, encourage them to start a recipe book in which they can record each recipe you bring to life together.
While teaching them cooking skills, Brodkin suggests, take time to model and encourage courtesy and good manners, too. "Respectfully asking a child whether [he or she] would like to make a vanilla or chocolate cake and with what color icing, for example, is bringing the child into the process in a kind, respectful way. And if you shop together, the child is observing your demeanor toward other people — the store staff, for example." If you're cooking with several grandchildren, and there's only one egg beater, encourage sharing and problem-solving.
Lessons learned: There's more to teach in the kitchen than how to frost a cupcake. For one, cooking is not as easy as you make it look and like any skill, it requires training and practice. And as you talk about the way you cook, you can teach grandkids about your family’s culture and heritage through the foods that are special to you. "It may be a great way, as people get very assimilated, to bring back something about tradition or ethnicity," says Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who works with children and families.
Get Your Hands Dirty
As more people extol the benefits of locally-grown produce and self-sustainable homes, gardening suddenly looks like a pretty cool hobby, especially to grandchildren with an environmental bent. It's also a terrific way for you to arrange blocks of quiet, one-on-one time with the kids. Give your grandchildren their own patch of land to cultivate within your garden and have them select a fruit or vegetable that they want to grow; blueberries, pears, plums, and blackberries are among the fruits that grow easily in backyards. As you shop for seeds and tools and then get down in the dirt to plant your crops, share memories of your own childhood gardens.
Besides helping them acquire a valuable skill, maintaining a garden benefits grandchildren in other ways. "There is a big movement in this country to get kids outdoors," Brodkin says, "away from screens and snacks and into active enjoyment of such things as picking berries — provided you are sure they are safe to eat — to use in a pie."
Lessons learned: First, that the best foods come from the earth, not from a snack factory. But there are larger lessons to be found in the soil as well: Waiting for crops to grow instills patience in a world focused on instant gratification. Growing and eating their own produce helps grandchildren understand the circle of life, acquire healthier eating habits, and resolve not to take nature for granted. And how wonderful will you look in their eyes after helping them grow a prize-winning tomato where once there had been only dirt?
Invite Them to Tea
Little girls love playing dress-up, and what better excuse is there to go formal than a tea party at grandma's? Start with the planning: Set a time, create an invitation list of friends real or imaginary, and then create a menu — finger sandwiches and scones, anyone?
Grandmother of nine Carol White, 61, a writer in Wilsonville, Ore., has thrown many tea parties with her granddaughters, and even lets the girls set the table with her finest china. "I just hold my breath and hope everything survives," she says. "After all, if you can't use your beautiful things, what good are they?"
Lessons learned: It may seem outdated at a time when most kids communicate via text messages, but there is a skill to sitting, dining, and socializing in a polite, even formal manner that could benefit grandchildren one day. Also, allowing children to use some of your valuables at the party shows that you trust them, which boosts their confidence. And are you surprised that your grandsons want their own place at the table? Don't be. It's not about the tea, it's all about precious time with you.
To discover what grandfathers can teach their grandchildren, click here. Elsewhere on Grandparents.com, find six more parties you can throw with your grandchildren, discover ways to cook with the produce you and your grandchildren grow, learn how to make the most of late-summer bounty, and see the 25 reasons kids love their grandparents.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.