My grandmother was a schoolteacher who loved history and wanted everyone around her to love history too. Growing up, my family would often accompany my grandparents to Colonial Williamsburg. As we walked the cobbled streets, my grandmother would share all kinds of exciting stories about the colonial era. All these years later, I still remember many of the things I learned during those trips!
I have benefited first hand from the joys of intergenerational learning. And that’s why I am a strong advocate for incorporating intergenerational learning into education, whether in school or homeschool settings. In fact, I even wrote a four-part blog series on intergenerational learning.
Grandparents in Structured Learning
More recently, in the education space, more and more educators are thinking about the opportunities for elders to be more involved in structured learning. In an article for The Atlantic entitled Grandparents Could Ease the Burden of Homeschooling, author and grandmother Robin Marantz Henig highlights the role that grandparents can play in helping connect with kids amidst the challenges of this year’s remote learning. Henig notes that:
Elders have volunteered in the classroom for decades—for their own benefit as well as the children’s.
She explains that in addition to this being a rewarding experience for kids, this volunteering is also really good for older people, “leading to demonstrated improvements in stamina and memory, and a sense of what the psychologist Erik Erikson called the primary developmental task of older adulthood, the need ‘to be needed.’”
Henig observes that this kind of connection is even more important given the loneliness of retirement in the midst of a pandemic. She writes that for many people:
The pandemic has taken away so many familiar routes of connecting with others—the Sunday family dinners, the weekly card games, the religious services, the regular tutoring sessions at the neighborhood school—all ostensibly for the elder person’s own good.
And of course, kids and teens who also thrive on social interaction are also dealing with loneliness and stress as well, and this inward suffering can sometimes be hard to see. Connecting with a wise and emphatic grandparent can thus be of great comfort for students as they deal with the challenges of this year.
So how might schools invite grandparents to get involved, in the context of remote learning? Henig highlights remote-tutoring services like Eldera which connects kids and grandparents via Zoom. She explains that “Eldera recruits mentors in their 60s and older, and pairs them with children from the ages of 5 to 15 whose parents have come looking for help. The weekly Zoom calls that follow are pretty free-form: The mentor might read stories aloud to the child, go over math homework, show the child how to draw, or listen to him practice the piano.” This kind of learning environment allows kids to get focused attention, while giving primary caregivers a break, and it allows grandparents to feel needed, and to utilize their skills. Henig writes that “it’s a classic win-win: The elders get a way to combat loneliness and bring a sense of purpose to their days, teachers and parents get teammates with experience and time, and children get another grown-up to help them through the difficulties of remote learning.”
Grandparents matter. And now is the perfect time for us to reimagine the role our elders can play in the education of our kids. By rediscovering the joys of intergenerational learning, I believe we can help to lessen loneliness, lower stress, improve education, and strengthen families.
Do you have beloved memories of learning with your grandparents? Do you have ideas for how to include grandparents in this year’s learning? Share in the comments section!