This guest post is by Lynnae Allred, co-founder of Playdatebox, designed with grandparents in mind to help connect generations through books, play, and family stories. Playdatebox curates a group of themed supplies every month that you can use to simplify the time you spend with your child or grandchild.
The day Charlotte died and slipped into silence at the back of a crate at the State Fair, I was sitting on a pillow, watching out the window and hoping no one would see the tears threatening to spill over. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Phyllis Eberhard, had read Charlotte’s Web to her classes annually for a couple of decades, but the tragedy still made her weep, and we all felt Wilbur’s anguish. I remember nearly every book Mrs. Eberhard read to us. Second-grade Storytime was a magical and memorable part of my childhood.
Recently, I hosted two of my granddaughters overnight and the 6-year-old proudly presented me with a brand new copy of James and the Giant Peach and said her Dad had requested that I read it with her at bedtime. This was a symbolic gift from my son. Giving me the opportunity to read Roald Dahl’s classic with my grandchildren was my son’s way of thanking me for reading it to him when he was a child. It was time to introduce a whole new generation of my family to Mrs. Eberhard’s read-aloud library. I am still reaping the benefits of what she sowed half a century ago.
Becoming My Grandchildrens’ Favorite Teacher
I believe there may not be any more important habit for a parent or grandparent to establish than that of reading aloud regularly with a child. The cognitive and academic benefits are well-documented by researchers, but you only need to hold a freshly-bathed child in your lap once while reading a beloved picture book to know that reading aloud is as much about the connection between two human beings as it is between the child and letters and words.
It comes down to this: I want to become my grandchildrens’ favorite teacher. And although they are too far away for me to enjoy a bedtime ritual on a daily basis, I’m hoping that with some creativity, a laptop can become a decent substitute for my lap.
Connecting Through Words on a Page
My methods for connecting with my grandchildren are evolving as they grow up, but one method still works every time. My sister, Marilee—a gifted early childhood educator—collaborates with me to design fun activities based on a favorite children’s book. We gather a few inexpensive supplies based on the theme of the book and ship a Playdatebox to the grandkids each month. The box contents are simple enough that we can play together in-person, or remotely via videoconference.
What I didn’t anticipate was that I would come to appreciate the contents of our Playdateboxes as a very real form of “self-care.” I am reliving the very best parts of my own childhood and simultaneously enhancing my golden years.
Play-based Learning Is Also Good for Grandparents
During the past two years, my grandchildren have helped me modify my kitchen table into an orbiting space station, taken me hunting for spiderwebs, taught me to draw penguins, and planted and harvested a crop of cantaloupe and Zinnias. When we play remotely via Zoom or FaceTime, we mod podge birdhouses or build gingerbread train cookies, or pizzas topped with black widow spiders made from black olives. We’ve built mosaic coasters out of seashells we found on the beach, filmed popcorn popping in slow motion, made art out of pancakes. And every time, it starts with a book.
Mrs. Eberhard taught me much more than second-grade reading and math. She gave me the tools I would need for connecting generations of my own family. This fall, I’m recording myself reading Charlotte’s Web. My grandchildren will receive their own hardback copies for Christmas, along with access to the files of “Grandma Nae’s audiobook version.” Charlotte and Wilbur and Fern and Templeton will teach my grandchildren the values of loyalty and generosity, how to find creative solutions to real problems, and how death is part of living. As the author of Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White wrote, “All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”
I’d add a postscript: “all that I ever hope to say is that I love the world…and I do that by loving my grandchildren.”