Grandparents and Intergenerational Activities Resource Guide

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 18 July 2011

“A child needs a grandparent, anybody’s grandparent, to grow a little more securely into an unfamiliar world.” – Charles and Ann Morse

Charles and Ann got it right. Even if you never knew your biological grandparents, having a grandparent-figure in your life adds a richness and security that is beyond measure.

(That being said, anytime we use the words grandparent or grandchild from this point on, know that it can also apply to an intergenerational relationship.)

Grandparents have an immediate advantage in the knowledge that comes from having lived a greater span of years. Of course, living longer doesn’t automatically make one wise, but you cannot deny the fact that the longer you live, the m ore you learn, know, and grow.

In 1978, Jimmy Carter established a new national holiday: Grandparents Day. Held annually on the first Sunday after Labor Day, Carter saw fit to celebrate these influential people who shape many lives, even beyond those in their own family circles, often without even knowing they’ve done so.

The Numbers
When a child is born, so are grandmothers.  – Judith Levy

Officially, the United States is home to 70 million grandparents, which represents one-third of the population, say the experts at Grandparents.com. And every year, 1.7 million people hear the life-changing news: “You’re gonna be a grandma/pa soon!” and are added to the grandparent roster.

Some Grandmas and Grandpas are miles away from their families, but in 44 million American households, grandparents rule the roost. Grandparents are raising grandkids – and even great-grandkids – for any number of reasons, and the numbers are expected to grow. By 2015, says Grandparents.com, 50 million households will have Nana/Pop-Pop as the head.

Even if they are not raising their grandkids, 72 percent of grandparents regularly provide care for their grandchildren, and this care takes on many forms: changing  diapers, accompanying grandkids for doctor’s appointments, driving them to/from school or other activities (I have many fond memories of being picked up and dropped off at school by my grandparents), making meals, and more.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population survey discovered that 5.3 percent of households (6.2 million) in the United States are multigenerational, up 5 million since the year 2000.

The Nomenclature
It’s such a grand thing to be a mother of a mother – that’s why the world calls her grandmother. – Author Unknown

Grandma, nana, grandmother, grammy – the names represent the diversity of grandparent-types and the grandkids who often bestow these sometimes-wild, always-endearing titles.

Glam-ma, Popsi, and John: those are just a few of the newest, hippest grandparent names on the block, as a new wave of boomer grandparents opt for a twist on the old classic.

Tips for Selecting a Grand-Title
If you’ve just received the news that a grandbaby is on the way, start thinking about what you might like to be called. Talk it over with your kids, try a few names on for size, but be prepared: whatever you decide may be trumped by what comes from the mouths of babes.

Have fun with this process. Classic names like Grandma or Nana are perfectly fine, but push the envelope a bit and explore the world of possibilities. Grandparents.com breaks their lists down by category, offering traditional (Grandad, MomMom), trendy (Ace, Coco), playful (Upsy, TeePa) and internationally-themed names (Lola, Deda).

Grandparents & Technology
Our grandchildren accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us, as no one in our entire lives has ever done, not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends – and hardly ever our own grown children. – Ruth Goode

Perhaps one of the most brilliant titles I’ve seen of late headlined this Wall Street Journal piece: OMG! My Grandparents R My BFF! The article itself is fantastic, too, covering the positive shift in grandparent-grandchild communication (even competition) via social media, online games, Skype, and other technological advances.

Writing a letter to Gram about summer camp or getting a birthday card from Poppy are still meaningful activities, but of course, those events happen only a few times a year. For all its negatives, today’s technology fosters daily connections between grandparents and grandchildren that were simply not possible before.

Maybe it’s because more grandkids have their own phone at a much younger age, or because more boomers and seniors are online (75 percent of them, to be precise, as per Grandparents.com). But whatever the reason, Andrew Carle, professor and director of the Program in Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University, says this:

“When the baby boomers went to college and moved away, we lost an entire generation of connection between grandparents and grandchildren. They saw each other once or twice a year, and there was a real disconnect. Now with technology, we are regenerating those bonds. People say technology is so impersonal, but we are watching it being used to reconnect one of the most personal and important relationships of the species.”

So if you’ve been avoiding the Verizon store, apprehensive about downloading Skype, or unwilling to give Facebook a go, think twice. You could be missing a great opportunity for getting to know your grandchildren – and without your adult child’s supervision. Because according to Sam Levenson, “The reason grandchildren and grandparents get along so well is that they have a common enemy.”

Resources for Connecting with Grandkids, Virtually
Consult these sites for online communication opportunities beyond the usual suspects, or to stay up on the latest & greatest in the gadget world (thereby improving your chances of snagging the coveted World’s Coolest Grandpa title).

What Grandparents Want
Being grandparents sufficiently removes us from the responsibilities so that we can be friends.     –Allan Frome

Ask any grandparent if they see their grandchildren enough and they’ll probably say no (with the exception, perhaps, of those who are part of a GRG – grandparents raising grandchildren – family or multigenerational household).

About 60 percent of grandparents live close to the grandkids, and 46 percent wish they lived closer.

Grandchildren are often the major motivating factor for older adults making a move, as a number of recent articles have indicated. Many empty nest boomers that consider downsizing to a smaller home or moving to an active adult retirement community may base their decision on how close they can be to the grandchildren.

Why do they want to be so close? The experts at Grandparents.com estimate that 72 percent of grandparents say their role is “the single most important and satisfying thing” in their life, and 90% are more than happy to break out the brag book on any occasion and talk about what their little ones (and grown-up ones) are doing.

Building the Grandparent-Grandchild Bond
Some may prefer to keep a comfortable physical distance between their children and grandchildren, but most grandparents want to be involved in tangible ways, no matter how many miles are in between.

Traveling with Grandkids
Grandparents are there to help the child get into mischief they haven’t thought of yet.                  – Gene Perret

As many as 81 percent of grandparents enjoy spending all or part of their grandkid’s summer vacation together, and 66 percent travel with their grandkids, as per Grandparents.com. The fact is, many grandparents have more money, more time, and less responsibility than their children, and they’re happy to spend it on grandkids.

Each year, $77 billion travel dollars are spent by grandparents. And the only thing that could be more fun than going to G-pa and G-ma’s house for summer break is to go on a vacation trip with G-ma and G-pa. Of course, trips like these take some planning and coordination, but not much more than any normal vacation would.

Resources for Successful GrandTravel
Check out these sites for tips, checklists, special packages, and ideas on taking a safe and successful intergenerational vacation.

It’s hard to top going to summer camp with Grandpa, but a great way to maximize intergenerational travel is to let the grandkids plan the trip. Read more about it in our recent blog post on this not-so-crazy-as-it-sounds idea: Letting the Grandkids Plan Your Summer Vacation.

Intergenerational Activities at Home
A house needs a grandma in it. – Louisa May Alcott

Traveling is grand, but nothing beats home sweet home, and if you have to fly there, drive there, or go over the river and through the woods to go there, Grandmother’s house is a wonderful place to be.

I have countless memories of being at my grandparents’ homes over the years – sleepovers with cousins that included watching back-to-back episodes of Green Acres on Nick at Nite, baking in Grandma’s kitchen (she’d let us experiment and never imposed a recipe on us unless we asked – consequently, there were many inedible creations produced), the smell of Italian sausage, meatballs, pasta and parmesan cheese, long summer days (and nights) in the pool. They should really amend the famous quote: “There’s no place like Grandma’s home.”

Resources for Playing at Home
Playing on the Wii, cooking in the kitchen, tinkering in the garage, a game of chess, rounds of hide and seek, or a quiet afternoon reading books together – there is no limit to the fun you can have when the grandchildren come to play. But for rainy days, days when the kids are bored no matter what you suggest, or just for general reference, check these sites.

Intergenerational Activities in the Community
Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do.  Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.  – Alex Haley

They make great mentors, tutors, counselors, therapists, coaches, community leaders, and companions. Grandparents are hugely influential, super-dependable volunteers with a lifetime of experience to offer. I mean, who wouldn’t want a Grandpa to hang out with at school, or to serve soup with at the shelter? And it’s pretty hard for CEOs and directors to say no to such invaluable help.

Resources for Getting Involved in Your Community
Organizations, businesses, communities, and individuals count themselves blessed when volunteer grandparents are around. Explore the opportunities for blessing at these sites.

  • Part of the mission at DOROT USA is “bringing the generations together in a mutually beneficial partnership of elders, volunteers and professionals.”
  • Senior Corps connects willing volunteers over the age of 55 in a number of venues: the Foster Grandparent program, the Senior Companion program, and RSVP, to name a few.
  • Find the needs in your neighborhood that you can help meet at VolunteerMatch.org. Why not make an extra special memory by volunteering together? Search VolunteerMatch or Idealist.org to find service projects you could complete with a grandchild’s help.

Grandparents & Alzheimer’s
Elephants and grandchildren never forget.  – Andy Rooney

Sadly, though, grandparents afflicted with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia do forget. And while it’s absolutely heart wrenching for a child to watch their grandparent succumb to these cognitive disorders and diseases (and conversely, for the grandparent to realize they’ve forgotten their grandkids’ names, among other monumental losses), visits should not be stopped, communication should not be cut off. Children are incredibly resilient. They will remember what their Grandpa was like before he got Alzheimer’s, and they will remember what he was like with it.

Resources for Dealing with a Grand’s Dementia
It’s painful to go through it, but it’s a necessary growing experience. Ease the sting with these books and programs.

  • A children’s book by Maria Shriver, What’s Happening to Grandpa? is most appropriate for young children (ages 4-8).
  • HBO’s Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am? is at times extremely difficult to watch, but as the five stories of children ages 6-15 unfold, viewers get a clear picture of just how much “the kids” do understand.
  • Mem Fox’s Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is one of the most beautiful, most tender, most natural portrayals of memory loss I’ve ever seen/read – a timeless classic for all ages.

Just Can’t Get Enough?
If becoming a grandmother was only a matter of choice, I should advise every one of you straight away to become one.  There is no fun for old people like it! – Hannah Whithall Smith

  • For more fun facts on grandparents (i.e. how often they’re having sex, how many have a tattoo, how many write blogs), check out Surprising Facts About Grandparents from Grandparents.com.
  • The Stage of Life site takes you from high school all the way through empty nest and retirement. Check their Grandparents page for links to other great online resources.
  • GrandLoving compiled a fantastic list of web resources just for grandparents.
  • A national membership organization, Generations United’s goal is improving lives through intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies.

We know there are hundreds of other wonderful resources for, on and about grandparents/grandchildren on the world wide web, but we can’t list them all. Please feel free to add your favorites to this list!

-Michelle Seitzer

Your Turn: What’s the best thing about being a grandparent? Or your best memory of/with a grandparent/grandchild?

There are 4 Comments about this post

  1. Gwen Coggeshall says,

    I love this article, Michelle. My grandchildren are the treasures of my heart. I am part of the generation who only got to see their grandparents once a year.They lived on a farm in Illinois and my Aunt and Uncle lived across the road on another farm. Those visits were looked forward to all year long. So different from living in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.

    I am lucky enough to have my grandhildren close by. We have grand adventures and the smiles that light up their faces when they see me and yell, “Grandma!” make my heart swell like a sponge in water!


    on 18 July 2011 / 4:12 PM

  2. Gwen, thank you! I love your comments, especially the analogy of your heart swelling like a sponge in water. Based on the way you give hugs, I know you are a very special Grandma to your grandkids and they are as blessed to have you as you are by them! Thanks so much for reading the post and sharing your thoughts.


    on 18 July 2011 / 8:25 PM

  3. Kaye Swain says,

    Your newest resource on GRANDparents is as GRAND as all your other excellent resources. And YES, I would say that even if I wasn’t in it – BUT THANK YOU for putting me in it :) :) :)

    As you know well, working with my grandkids, near and far, is one of the mega joys of my life. I love leaving a special spiritual legacy for them with all the fun Bible memory verses projects I love creating for our grand children; I have so much fun running around playing tag and hide n seek with them (they’re my personal trainers!). And oh, the joy-filled hugs I treasure so much!

    I was blessed with wonderful grandparents – related and not-related and treasure sweet family memories of times with them. I am enjoying the same and more with my own grandkids and being blessed immensely as a result, and love sharing ideas with others as well.

    Speaking of which, another sweet book to add to your list for grandparents who are developing or have Alzheimers Disease or other dementia symptoms is “Hugging Grandma” by Zina Kramer. :)

    Thanks again for another excellent resource. Y’all are such a great team and such a great help to all of us grandparents who are also caring for elderly parents.

    P.S. Can you smell those yummy and easy sugar cookies we decorated?


    on 19 July 2011 / 4:43 PM

  4. Kaye, thank you so much! We think you’re GRAND, so of course we’d put you in it! :) But thanks for the kind compliment and your ever-faithful support.

    We do know well that working with your grandkids is a source of extreme joy in your life, and we love your approach to being the best Grandma you can be. I know that your grandchildren must feel truly blessed to have you in their lives (and if they’re too young to know it yet, they will someday)!

    I am so glad to know that you had wonderful grandparents (related or otherwise) that enriched your life, and I’m sure that is why you feel so blessed to give back and have the same wonderful relationships now that you’re in the role of grandparent.

    Thank you so much for suggesting that book – it sounds sweet!

    You’re more than welcome, Kaye – it’s our pleasure, especially when we get to interact with people like you! We hope that our resources do make the job of caring for grandkids, aging parents, and other loved ones just a little bit easier (or at least keep readers well-informed).

    YUM! Sugar cookies sound great, but it’s too hot to run the oven right now… ;)


    on 21 July 2011 / 10:14 AM


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