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Grandparents Can Be Mentors by Passing on Their Skills

This guest post is by Mark Karlins, author of six picture books, including his most recent Kiyoshi’s Walk. Mark offers writing courses for adults and presents programs and workshops in elementary and middle schools.

My two-year-old grandson, Jay, carries an egg, cupping it carefully in the little nest of his hand. All the way from the kitchen to the dining room table, he is aware of the risk he’s taking. On the dining table is a bowl to break the egg. Next to that is a larger bowl into which we have already poured two cups of flour. He’s touched and smoothed the flour, noticing its softness, a discovery, a two-year-old’s Eureka moment, one of many in this life of wonder he’s leading. We’re in the first stages of making pasta, but we could be creating a poem or discovering a planet.

In his monumental study, Creating Minds, Howard Gardner discusses how creative people — from Picasso to Einstein to Martha Graham and Gandhi — did much creative exploration in their childhoods. Early on, Gardner adds, they also found role models. Although our grandchildren will probably discover other role models, we, the grandparents, can be some of their first models. In doing so we can give them the initial tools to later be creative in other ways — in the arts, in business, in living a satisfying, interesting life. From cooking to writing poetry to playing a game of chess, there are many activities that can lay out the groundwork. These activities may be remembered throughout the child’s life, even into adulthood.

Teach Your Grandchild the Joy of Discovery

Risk, discovery, the Eureka moment — words I used in describing our pasta making could have as easily been used for other acts of creativity. But there was one more word I didn’t mention, Jay’s comment as he tasted the finished strands of pasta: yummy. Jay’s response wasn’t just about the literal taste. He was expressing, I’m sure, the delight, the satisfaction, the sense of self-worth that comes from being creative. With my guidance and belief in his abilities, he accomplished something important. I did this with him because I enjoy being around him, but it also fulfilled one of the roles of being a grandfather. I was a mentor passing on a skill.

The transformations of my little chef are similar to the transformations of the poet. I’m writing about this in my recent picture book, Kiyoshi’s Walk, a story about a grandfather showing his grandson how to write a poem.

Kiyoshi’s Walk begins with Kiyoshi watching his Grandfather Eto writing a haiku. Kiyoshi wonders out loud, “Where do poems come from?” His grandfather responds by taking his grandson on a walk, where they listen, see, imagine, and Kiyoshi finally writes his own poem. It’s a moment at which Kiyoshi realizes that poems come from the feelings inside you joining the world outside you. And he realizes that, for those who see with the eyes of a poet, everything in the world is poetry.

The Delight of Creativity

Similar to my own grandson Jay making pasta, Kiyoshi’s poetry walk with his grandparent involves, among other elements of creativity: risk and discovery (within the loving and secure realm of a grandparent), alchemy (transforming the world into poetry) the Eureka moment (realizing that being creative involves a joining of the inner and outer world). And, yes, it’s all yummy. It’s the delight of creativity and, yes, as Kiyoshi’s grandfather knows, and as I know with my own grandchild, I want to be there and be a part of it.

For a few specific grandparent-grandchild creative activities, visit my website (markkarlins.com) soon and check the page called My Hungry Little Poet. I’ll be posting some poetry and food recipes, including going on a poetry walk, a recipe poem, the elements of writing a haiku and renga (a family poetry project), as well as the pasta recipe and Jay’s favorite Pad Thai recipe.

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