As we are now into the summer holidays our minds turn to how to keep children occupied, we thought we’d ask a few Mamas & Papas friends what they are up to this holiday season. Our first guest post is from presenter and actress, Janet Ellis with her thoughts on spending time with the grandchildren.
With grandchildren of different ages, it makes sense to alternate the amusements to suit first one age, then the other. There’s much to be gained from the little ones watching the big ones at play- and the big ones can be a huge help with their smaller siblings. Children aren’t very good at imagining the passage of time, especially little ones, so have something on hand for them to do to occupy themselves. Buy each child a small cardboard case, and fill it with crayons, pads, a book or two and a favourite toy. These little cases are invaluable as diversions when you’re waiting for the bus or the train, or while someone else finishes lunch. Depending on your budget and the ages of your grandchildren, you can pop a little purse with a little bit of money in them, too – ideal for the end-of-visit ice cream or museum shop. Put aside plenty of choosing time, though!
There will be obvious holiday attractions on offer in every neighbourhood: the new cartoon perhaps, or the football classes in the park. Local museums, art galleries and attractions run plenty of holiday projects, often free, so it’s worth picking up timetables or going online to plan ahead. Planning ahead involves planning travel, too – do you need car or booster seats? Can you book family tickets ahead to save queuing? Of course, you’ll need to be stocked up with wet wipes and nappies but don’t forget things like spare change for the coin op loo or the photobooth! Where possible, make the journey part of the fun by leaving plenty of time and researching routes. Have some treats and snacks available too (including something for yourself).
If you’re not setting off on a major expedition, just let your grandchildren spend time with you while you go about your daily chores. Walking the dog is a whole new experience with a small person in tow. Routes and sights you’ve taken for granted are seen with new eyes when your grandchildren question and observe. One of my friends took her granddaughter to the hairdressers with her when she was suddenly ‘in charge’ for the afternoon. The visit was such a success (her granddaughter was made a lovely fuss of, and they both enjoyed the talking time they shared) that it’s become a regular fixture. If you don’t try and hurry things along, you’ll all enjoy simple outings, whether it’s looking in shop windows –where you can play the ‘If I Had To Choose One Thing’ game for ages, or going to the park.
I highly recommend a chat with the children’s parents before you set off – especially if you haven’t seen your grandchildren for a while. An update on their particular likes and dislikes, habits and abilities can save a fraught discussion when you’re alone later. Trying to persuade a reluctant child that they should eat something they hate, or not realising how likely a toddler is to go off running and climbing can make for a very unhappy outing. If your grandchildren’s parents feel very strongly about a particular aspect of childcare- no lollies before lunch, for example, it doesn’t make sense to disregard it. There are plenty of opportunities for grandparents to be –delightfully- a bit ‘naughty’ that everyone will enjoy, but that won’t cause upset or worry later.
Don’t feel you have to keep up a relentless pace or programme of activities. Even if your grandchildren are past the afternoon nap stage, everyone appreciates a bit of quiet time. Having spent a large part of my career in kid’s TV, and with three well- adjusted (I like to think!) grown-up children of my own, I can vouch for some television viewing. Quite apart from the chance for everyone to have a sit-down (and a cuddle), knowing what your grandchildren like to watch will keep you very up to date with what they’re talking about. Having a few dvd’s on hand for wet afternoons, or if your charges are a bit poorly, can be very useful, too.
Telling stories – especially about what their parents used to do when they were little – is always popular. Why not go through old photo albums, both as an inspiration for stories and as a wonderful way to spend time. You don’t have to be a fully-fledged storyteller to keep your grandchildren amused, just don’t mind too much if they become distracted. That goes for all your outings and activities – once you’re not with little ones all the time, it’s easy to forget how short their attention span can be. Be prepared to be flexible, within limits: reminding a grumbling child how much you’ve been looking forward to/spent on/prepared for an outing will only leave you frazzled. Distraction is the key, change the mood and you’ll both benefit.
Be honest about what you can achieve – don’t go on a trip to the funfair if you’re only going to stop them going on rides. But do play to your strengths – there’s no point in preparing a three course meal if your grandchildren have got tiny appetites, but if cooking’s your thing: – why not make cupcakes together?
As a grandparent, you’re allowed to look forward to the summer holidays as much as your grandchildren do. It’s time to do things together, time to be entertained and delighted by each other and a time to build a store of shared, unrepeatable memories. Take a lot of photos, keep a diary – and enjoy!