Warmer weather is arriving, and we grandparents hope for some quality time with our grandkids.
Sometimes that means full-fledged vacations complete with air travel and exciting destinations. Other times it may mean a road trip and lots of sightseeing. But sometimes it can mean a simple, but extremely satisfying time spent doing down-to-earth activities in your own back garden space.
Here are some ways to have tons of fun with the grandkids without leaving your own home, and the more engaged you become, the better. Remember children love it when we oldsters play right alongside them and allow our imaginations to fire up just as we did when we were children.
Yes, waterplay and playing in the mud can be a dirty proposition, but it is extremely satisfying for young children. And it’s relaxing. Set up a basin of water or mix up some mud for mud pies and then prompt for creativity. “Is that leaf going to float on the water, or will it sink?” or “I like chocolate chip pebbles on top of my cookies, how about you?”
We grown ups often shy away from taking part in the messier activities, but if you play in the water or the mud right alongside your grandchild, you’ll find that the fun is worth the mess.
Your grandkids can create their own masterpieces before your very eyes. They will often draw flowers or animals. Perhaps you can spark an idea by reading them a poem or recite a nursery rhyme to give them ideas for bright, chalks on your sidewalks.
Painting is also a very relaxing and enjoyable activity. You can choose from watercolors or finger paints or go big outdoors with a large piece of butcher paper and poster paints and brushes. Nothing is a mistake when creating this sort of art. The brilliance of the colors is enough of a reward and every creation is “ready for prime time.”
Children love to hunt and collect outdoor treasures: pinecones, rocks, leaves and the like. And when they have a collection of treasures, it’s time to classify them. What is alike and what is different? What is bigger or smaller? What sort of rocks are they and are the leaves maple, oak or something else? Placing the collection on cardboard with labels or taping the items to paper and putting it in a picture frame makes it ready for display in your home.
Purchase a small magnifying glass or box and go on a creature hunt. Turning over bricks or rocks is sure to find at least a few roly polies (pill bugs) and possibly ants, worms, and maybe a beetle or two. If you trap them carefully and place them in a magnifying box, your grandchild can observe them for a while. Add a twig and some grass and watch them move in their mini-habitat. Children learn a lot from such observations: how the creature moves, how it looks up close, the body parts and the like. Your questions will add to the learning. “Isn’t it interesting how that worm moves?” “How many legs does that beetle have?”
After enjoying the observations it’s good to help your grandchild release the creatures back into their natural habitat and talk about ways to preserve our natural world while enjoying it.
School-age children are ready to learn to identify local birds. You probably have some in your own back garden, but if not, take a trip to a woodsy area and have your binoculars ready. A simple field guide will help you identify the birds by color, markings, beak style and so forth. Birding is a very satisfying hobby for both young and old. Follow up the birding trip with a chance to further study the birds seen, and perhaps attempt to draw one of them. Colored pencils are a good medium for this project.
You wouldn’t think that something as simple as reading out of doors would be special; but give it a try. Take out a blanket or chairs, get all comfy with a favorite book and read aloud to your grandchild or allow them to read to you. Talk about the characters and the plot. Why did Goldilocks enter the Three Bears’ home without permission? What do you think will happen next or how would you change the ending of this story?
Read a chapter a day to increase interest or add some simple snacks to the reading time. Make it something to anticipate and your grandchildren will love it.
Once again you can rely on nursery rhymes, fables or fairy tales to give you ideas for a stellar backyard puppet show. Use finger puppets made of paper or bits of fabric or use cardboard rolls to create characters. Tape drawn characters onto popsicle sticks or drinking straws, and then allow the grandkids to “act out” the stories creating their own dialogue.
If Grandma and Grandpa agree to either join in the acting fun or be a welcoming audience, the fun is magnified.
It doesn’t take much to create a backyard fort–some old blankets or tarps, a few pieces of lumber or branches, some found objects such as rocks or leaves. Children love to create their own outdoor spaces.
Make their fort the place they eat their lunch or snacks. If appropriate, allow them to take their sleeping bags to their fort for an overnight sleep.
Children need outdoor play and creative experiences. In today’s virtual world, there are real benefits to playing in nature and in allowing creative juices to flow. And the time you spend with your grandchildren on any of the above activities, the closer you’ll become and the more memories you’ll make.