By Karen L. Rancourt
After watching Micky, her eight-year-old grandson, stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), Grandma Lee commented that it sure looked like a fun thing to do. Mickey said, “Grandma Lee, I can teach you how to SUP.” And he did. This grandmother and her grandson continue to enjoy paddle boarding.
Although it is a bit of a role reversal when a grandchild is the teacher and the grandparent is the student, it’s not all that unusual. When a group of grandparents were asked for similar instances, their responses were numerous and varied.
Many grandparents said they turn to their grandchildren some as young as four to teach them how to use electronic devices and applications. for example, using Skype to stay in touch or playing digital chess or Scrabble together. Others describe how their grandchildren taught them activities that they otherwise would not have taken up, e.g., mountain biking, archery, and fantasy football, and so on.
Then there are times a grandchild teaches by example: the grandmother who was inspired to overcome her fear of the water as she watched her then-three-year-old grandson give her the thumbs up as he was having a swim lesson; or the grandfather who realized that he needed to park the anxiety he was bringing to his grandchildren’s sports games and dance recitals.
His grandchildren were having fun and they didn’t care if they missed a ball or flubbed a twirl. He learned from them to lighten up.
Sometimes a grandparent requests the instruction, other times a grandchild offers. In all cases the end results are the same: closer interpersonal connections between the grandparent and the grandchild; spending more time together; getting to know each other in different ways; sharing experiences that form the basis of lifelong memories. In addition, being a teacher helps the grandchild feel competent, confident, and respected: “I have skills and knowledge to share that are of value to someone important in my life.”
There is a Japanese proverb, “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.” As it turns out, a great teacher can be a grandchild of any age.
Karen L. Rancourt, Ph.D., writes an advice column for parents and grandparents at