When I received my review copy of Lynn Wilson's A Handbook for Grandparents, Over 700 Creative Things to Do and Make With Your Grandchild, I expected to find within its pages a lot of cute pictures, some children's drawings, and a few notes to Gramma and Grandpa about how to go about making collages with their little grandchildren.
I expected a sort of Arts and Crafts for Dummies.
Instead, this must-have work is so multi-dimensional, it would behoove both grandparents and parents to stow a copy on a shelf which is within easy reach at all times.
While there are many tools available to teach parents how to shave balloons and make papier maché, very few also have "above the fold" advice stressing the importance, and the delicate balance, of a parent/grandparent relationship. Before I discuss the encyclopedia of activities which comprise the vast majority of the book's pages, I would like to mention how important I found its opening section.
Lynn's book begins its journey with several pages devoted to helping grandparents understand that, yes, they play a vital role in these little people's live, but most important decisions lie with the child's parents, and must be respected. Also within that first chapter are wise words for parents who must come to understand that the older generation are no longer the parents they grew up with. They are now grandparents who have earned their retirement years, and whose joints and energy levels are not what they used to be:
Parents must also have realistic expectations about the amount of practical help some grandparents are willing and able to provide given their own plans for their retirement or their work commitments. Grandparents' involvement will vary significantly between families.
I especially like these passages, which speak to grandparents of how different modern-day parenting may be from what they were accustomed to a generation ago. These are delicate words which are often more easily transmitted through a book suggestion than spoken in person:
Family dynamics are always changing. Over time there may well be many changes in your immediate and extended family. There are many challenging transitions that can affect families, and it's important to be respectful of each unique circumstance. A new baby, an adopted child, a move, a new school, illness, death, separation and divorce, another set of grandparents to build relationships with; these can all have a drastic effect on the members of any family. In many of these situations, your daughter or son will need your support as never before.
As our children find partners who may be from different ethnic or religious backgrounds, grandparents will be exposed to various cultural influences and differing social conventions. This may influence the parents' beliefs, attitudes, and expectations to child rearing. Whatever the circumstances, successful relationships between all parties will depend on open communication.
Sometimes it's nice to have someone speak for us, isn't it?
The early chapters of the book even go as far as teaching grandparents that a visit by their grandchildren does not translate to a behavior free-for-all. Ms. Wilson offers specific methods for ensuring there is a continuity for the child as far as an expectation of respect and responsibility, and several ideas for how get a child to clean up after themselves once all the toys have been given a run-through. In other words, even at Gramma and Grandpa's, there are House Rules.
Now, on the to the nitty, gritty.
Before I explain how magnificently this book offers what must be thousands of ideas to be shared between and a grandparent and a grandchild, I will make the suggestion that this is a book which is best consumed in small doses. This is definitely a reference guide, not a novel. It can be overwhelming if a grandparent, upon receiving the book, feels he or she must digest all this information and react immediately to call to make your house safe, acquire age-appropriate toys, and buy all the classic children's books. (Ms. Wilson actually actively discourages grandparents from rushing out and purchasing a "truck load of toys," and, for that, we thank her! There is even a fantastic section of gift suggestions...other than toys!)
I would inscribe this book "Dear Mom and Dad, to be used only as needed. Love, Me."
The meat of the book is divided into sections and subsections of indoor and outdoor activities, ideas, and crafts.
The real genius of this work is its rhythm, simplicity and the repetition of its layout. (Just how kids like things!)
Each section has a master theme, for instance, Bath Tub Fun. There you will find at least a dozen ideas, each rarely more than a sentence in length. There are always "Simple Ideas" for young children, and "More Complex Ideas" for older kids.
In each section I found ideas which were very different and wonderfully original when compared with suggestions I've read in best-selling magazines and on the popular websites. These sections are also decorated with children's drawings, memories and thoughts from children, parents, and grandparents, as well as children's book suggestions which match each chapter's theme.
There are sections dealing with recipes, nature, rainy days, technology, books, and even some suggestions for what to do on snowy days (this book does work for us Canadians!)
One of the great things about this book's building block—its heart—is it can generate as much excitement and interest in a grandchild as it can in a grandparent. If I were a grandparent (my kids are 11 and 9-years-old respectively, so I'm in no hurry!), I would definitely encourage my grandchild to "Grab the handbook off the shelf and pick something to do!"
There are literally years of what-to-do within its pages.
I especially like the chapter about extended stays at Gramma and Grampa's, because that means a little quiet reading time for mom and dad, or, as I like to call it, Naptime for dummies.