Grandchildren are a blessing from heaven and many of us agree with the humorist who commented that if they had known how much fun grandkids were they would have had them first! As grandparents we have the opportunity to be a positive influence and constant source of love to grandchildren. We can fill in some of the gaps caused by the pressures of the world on parents and their busyness that limits their abililty to fill all their children’s needs.
But let’s be honest: Once our children are grown and we get used to having a peaceful, quiet environment, having a house full of grandchildren can be hard on the nerves. Would you like to steadily increase your joy in being a grandparent and decrease the stressful parts? Consider the following ways to make you home a place where grandchildren feel comfortable and welcome by offering plenty of good activities.
Plan Age-Appropriate Areas
The idea that has helped me most is providing a special room or area in a room for the grandkids. If you have grandchildren of varying ages, plan play spaces with age in mind. In my house, the upstairs “yellow room” is designed primarily for babies and younger children. I have a downstairs area and a computer area for older children and teenagers. In addition I have cupboards and outdoor spaces filled with kid-friendly activities and games. Whatever your living situation, finding space to store toys and activities is important for fun, stress-free grandchildren visits.
Transform a Spare Bedroom into a Grandkid Room
Devoting a room to the grandchildren makes them feel important. But there are great benefits for the grandparents, too. For instance, grandchildren messes (and noise!) can be largely contained in one room rather than all through the house.
Because I have numerous grandchildren living nearby, and because spending time with them is one of my top priorities, I needed to make their time at my house as fun and as easy as possible.
My solution was to transform the upstairs guest room–the room where my mom lived out the last four years of her life–into a grandkid room. My helpful husband painted the room sunshine yellow, fixed and refinished my mom’s book cupboard and a child-sized rocking chair, and framed a big mirror that my son was discarding and gave to me.
Plan for Playtime
I began assembling toys, books, and games and bought a combination drawer and shelf unit to house dress-up clothes and some toys. Placing these toys at child level lets them play independently. I used the high shelves in the closet to store supplies that need supervision, such as paints and games with small pieces. Toy chests in the bottom of the closet offered good storage for the rest. A small table and the chairs for tea parties and a little play kitchen have been my small granddaughter’s favorite additions.
A daybed seemed perfect for relaxing and reading the many age-appropriate books I’ve collected, and many of the best church-related children’s books I could find and others from library sales. A trundle bed beneath the daybed pulls out in the case two grandchildren want to sleep over at a time. I love to lay with them and tell them stories of when I was young, especially ones with a spiritual lesson. Story and music tapes and a cassette player sit by the bed. I have Book of Mormon story tapes for younger children and Work and the Glory for the older boys. After “lights out,” the one approved activity is listening to tapes of CDs.
My friend, knowing my passion for my grandchildren, gave me an incredible easel for the room: one side is a magnetic board, complete with magnetic ABCs that doubles as an easy-erase marker board. The other side is a chalkboard, with a clip at the top for holding paper for wet painting. A no-mess activity the small kids love is to fill the chalkboard with colored chalk drawings then “paint” it all off with clear water. For messier poster painting I purchased child-size paint smocks from IKEA and placed the whole easel on a plastic mat so that spills are easy to clean.
One box in the closet contains ping-pong paddles and tennis balls for a favorite game we play in the hall. My grandson Thayne and I “invented” it because Grandma couldn’t run around to play regular ball, but he loved balls. We closed all the doors in the hallway. I sat against the end wall and he sat at the open end and was in charge of chasing all “runaway” balls. We battled the tennis balls back and forth and had a great time. Now all the younger grandchildren like to play that game.
The children love the “yellow room” and the parents do too. Small children play happily with minor supervision, leaving the adults free to chat and enjoy themselves.
I don’t have a T.V. in the “yellow room,”” although I do have one in the guest room downstairs where the older boys like to sleep. Good movies are available there, but I use them as a “last resort” activity when I’m too tired to supervise and need to lie down, not as a first line of defense. I figure kids can watch movies and TV anytime, when they are at my house. I’d rather keep them interacting with me and busy with more creative and educational activities.
Make a Discovery Cupboard and Fun Centers
We have a kitchenette in our downstairs family room that we rarely use complete with a sink. It seemed perfect for a discovery and experiment area for older grandchildren. So far I have purchased a magnifying glass and a chemistry experiment set. I keep supplies needed for the experiments in the upper cupboards.
The lower cupboards, those accessible to younger children, became a game, block, and puzzle center. I kept the Lincoln logs, plastic building blocks, and Construct building sets from my children’s growing up days, and the grandchildren continue to make good use of them. Their creativity astounds me!
My friend has devoted one end of her family room to attractive storage bins that fit neatly under a long padded bench. Each bin contains all needed pieces for a separate activity or fame for the grandchildren. My sister has devoted shelves in a closet in her great room to game and activity supplies; the grandchildren immediately go to that cupboard when they need ideas of fun things to do.
Create a Craft Center
Kady Wade, who has ten grandchildren, said she and her granddaughters turned a spare bedroom into a craft center.
Kady says this gives her grandchildren a place to experience their creativity and they love it!
First, Kady purchased an inexpensive rug to protect the carpet, set up a card table and chairs in the middle of the room, and covered the table with a plastic tablecloth. To store craft supplies, she bought bins, buckets, and baskets at thrift shops. The girls created a shopping list, and Grandma picked up paper, paint-by-number kits, scissors, paints, paintbrushes, muffin tin for mixing paints, coloring books, stickers, string, tape, cookie cutters, colored pencils, glitter, glue, etc. Kady watched for sales or took advantage of dollar stores.
The girls organized the treasure Kady bought into the labeled containers. The grandchildren clean up after themselves before they leave and usually take their “masterpieces” home. Kady says her grandchildren’s creativity is flourishing, and time together at Grandma’s house is now much more enjoyable.
So far all of the activities I’ve mentioned are for indoors (although we’ve sometimes done crafts and painting on our picnic table in the back yard.) But if you are fortunate enough to have a backyard for the kids to play in, you might want to consider some of the following activities that my grandchildren love.
Our hammock is the all-time favorite backyard activity. I purchased it online, and it is constructed of a durable nylon fabric that amply wraps around the children when they want to swing “high, high”! However, we hung it low between sturdy trees so there isn’t far for kids to fall in case of spills. (For those who have no trees, hammock stands are available.)
Our tool shed houses an old-fashioned croquet game that the grandkids enjoy, as well as Frisbees, various balls, and other outdoor fun equipment. For younger kids, we have several containers of bubble-blowing liquid and wands, sidewalk chalk, and a bucket of rice. Why the rice? I lay out a large tablecloth on the grass and then pour the rice in the tablecloth along with measuring cups and toys. (Wheat would work equally as well.) The preschool grandchildren love to play in the rice. They run their hands and the toy cars through it, measure and pour it, make grooves and piles of it. Clean-up is a snap. I just gather up the four corners of the tablecloth, get all the rice and toys into the middle, wrap it up and put it back into the bucket, ready to store until the children are ready to play again.
Over the years when I was raising my own children, my bottom line conclusion was, “Whenever I keep the kids busy with productive activities, I spare myself a lot of grief.” When I apply that philosophy with my grandchildren, time spent with them can also be a lot more fun. It’s so much more pleasant to suggest things they can do than telling them what they can’t touch. And I want them to remember time spent with me as pleasant time. If you try some of these ideas, I suspect you’ll agree that one of the best things grandparents can do to ensure pleasant grandkid visits is to provide plenty of age-appropriate activities.
I keep finding special teaching moments in the midst of these activities. When we are happily involved together, little ears hear and hopefully little hearts will remember some of the lessons of my life that I so want to share with these special young people I love so much.
Visit Darla at her website: darlaisackson.com to learn more about her life and her books.